for my mother

What are you now ? Ash, a vine, a por­tion

left to sleep, cry­ing in your sleep.

They want to take your leg.

Your oxime­ter chirps behind you, above you

Ban­dit steals a kiss from the Frog.

We don’t speak.

Neglect is our com­mon tongue. We smoke

and snort our way into the same bed, moth­er

and son, until one sec­ond before the only sec­ond

that counts. If the Snow­man and Fred could see us

from the TV on the wall, they’d choke and chew

each oth­er to the bone. We can win any race

where you have to beg to fin­ish.

Tanked

It is ear­ly in the morn­ing, and I am in the base­ment of the base­ment of one of the tow­ers at the UCLA Med­ical Cen­ter. I have been here for forty-five min­utes, but with­out day­light, with­out the pulse of air and sound as doors open and close, time is sloughed. Nobody has hard-soled shoes down here. The clin­i­cians are on their feet all day, I guess, or they love to make chirpy squawks when they turn cor­ners, and the patients are in wheel­chairs with masks over their faces. When I walk in the Gon­da Hyper­bar­ic Cen­ter, my steps per­cuss. I am here to see if I need hyper­bar­ic ther­a­py to heal the skin graft on the back of my left calf. It’s been two years. Frankly I haven’t cared much. It hurts only occa­sion­al­ly, and after I put a ban­dage on it, I go about my day. But after see­ing my moth­er go through some anguish and mis­ery in the hos­pi­tal — much of it the result of gen­er­al self neglect — I am moti­vat­ed to heal this hole.

I didn’t know who to expect to see in a place like this but I didn’t think I’d see a cadre of healthy young men in wheel­chairs with masks over their faces. It turns out they are con­struc­tion guys who were doing some demo in a com­mer­cial build­ing and were exposed to car­bon monox­ide. They all start­ed get­ting sick the next day and now they are about to slide into a mas­sive steel tank cov­ered with NASA stick­ers for two hours. And after anoth­er ses­sion in the after­noon they will be good to go.

I leave with­out see­ing the inside of a cham­ber. I’m not dis­ap­point­ed. I know that most things that seem cool aren’t cool when you’re inside them won­der­ing if your blood is boil­ing. By the time I get home it’s still ear­ly morn­ing. My neigh­bors are leav­ing for work. My dog is hun­gry. By the time I walk to cof­fee to read the paper I’ve almost for­got­ten that there are caves of sci­ence and suf­fer­ing two sto­ries under the streets.

The Clap

When I was six I could shred the shit out of a gui­tar. My old man had one from when he was a kid, a cher­ry red Suproson­ic 30. He couldn’t play it to save his life but he kept it any­way, big sur­prise, and when we moved in here, he shoved it in the attic with all his oth­er trash, big­ger sur­prise. We lived under a sag­ging roof because he thought every­thing he touched need­ed to be saved. He took his belt off so fast when he caught me with the gui­tar that he tore some loops off his pants before he laid in to me. I was four. I didn’t care.

I climbed up the next day and got it down again. There was no amp, but I strummed it with a quar­ter so that he could hear it all the way in the kitchen. I could hear him throw down the paper and clomp down the hall. When he came in, I was going to swing it across his knees and bring his ass down, but he stopped out­side the door and didn’t come in.

We were liv­ing in his girlfriend’s house, and I thought maybe she told him not to come in. She hat­ed our nois­es : laughs, cries, whis­pers, yawns, chews, burps, farts, swal­lows — it all made her apeshit. So if he was going to make us cry, she’d tell him to do it lat­er when she wasn’t home. But she was at work, so it couldn’t be her. I just kept play­ing as hard as I could, and he nev­er came in our room. My sis­ter was three. She killed our mom when she was born, so when she woke up and told me to stop play­ing I told her she killed our mom so shut up. I always told her that.

The next day, the old man didn’t say any­thing about the gui­tar. He knew I was already kick­ing ass. That baby was mine from now on. He gave me an amp when his cousin died and every­body got some of her stuff. My sis­ter would sing real­ly loud when­ev­er I prac­ticed. Sier­ra sang so good some­times I played just to lis­ten to her.

We played par­ties. We played at the the U-Wash Dog­gie because the own­er was Sierra’s teacher’s hus­band. We played on the news. When­ev­er peo­ple clapped for us, Sier­ra would start laugh­ing and shak­ing. She would say, “I love the clap.” The old man thought that was hilar­i­ous. He called us V+D and made up posters. We didn’t under­stand since my name doesn’t start with D but we didn’t care either. Lat­er when we were a lit­tle old­er and I fig­ured it out, I didn’t tell Vera. She liked to say get­ting the clap was the best part about singing. That was fun­ny as hell. Now we’re old­er, and we don’t play or sing any­more. I think she’s still pissed at me for nev­er telling her what the clap meant, but she can go to hell. She killed our mom.

Hippity Hoppity

Why I should not write hip hop lyrics. I woke up last night with some rhymes in my head. That doesn’t hap­pen very often, so I pulled out a pen and wrote them down. You’re wel­come.

Whether I’m rock­ing pas­ta fazo­ola

in clam­p­down Ashtab­u­la,

or earn­ing ras­ta moolah

behind the vestibu­la,

It don’t mat­ter. I’m takin’ you out

of school and let­ting the truth

unspool like a silent movie.

Pierced To The Root & No Liquor In The Veins

So April came in like a bull with its horns in my nuts. I start­ed this post on April 5th, but I just delet­ed every­thing except the first line and am start­ing over. Why ? Because time + tragedy might equal com­e­dy, but time + time, for me, = glad. Joyce need­ed Tri­este to write about Dublin, and I need at least a week to write about any of the shit that means any­thing to me. A right­eous­ly pissed-off let­ter to some half-wit ene­my, a poem memo­ri­al­iz­ing a still-tran­scen­dent roll in the hay, a fresh take on a script or a sto­ry after see­ing a film — I’ve fired them off count­less times, and every time it was a bad idea.

April 4th was my mother’s birth­day. My broth­er and I drove up to join them for din­ner. Join who ? My moth­er shares her home with her full-time care­giv­er, Maria, who cooks cleans and dri­ves her to her hair dress­er every week. She also col­lects stuffed frogs and over­feeds the birds so much the back patio looks like a tiny guano mine, but over the years, Maria has become fam­i­ly to us, and so have her two sons and a daugh­ter, all great and kind peo­ple, who Maria dotes on and wor­ries about much the way she does on my moth­er. She is a Fil­ip­ina, and the agency who found her for us is run by a jovial Fil­ipino cou­ple. So for her 77th birth­day, my moth­er had din­ner at a faux-French bistro in a strip mall sur­round­ed by Maria and her chil­dren, the agency cou­ple, Tere­sa her hair dress­er and her hus­band and their kids, and my broth­er and me.IMG_1777

All of these peo­ple love my moth­er, despite her some­time short fuse and her weak body. When she was younger, she stood near­ly six feet tall because she nev­er went out with­out heels. She didn’t talk to you, she spoke at you, and God help you if you didn’t lis­ten. My father sold her his half of the com­pa­ny they owned when they divorced, and she grew it ten fold in a decade. She trav­eled the world, ran char­i­ties, and yet now she seems almost like a plush toy of her­self : soft, short, a lit­tle crum­pled. But she is still the sharpest mind in the room, and she seems to have an almost infi­nite capac­i­ty to treat my broth­er and me like princes. Con­tin­ue read­ing

Athwart the Weir

Every delay is a screech­ing halt. Every hour my mind unspools aim­less­ly requires sev­er­al more sim­ply to reel it back in. The gains are min­i­mal and the loss­es mon­u­men­tal. That must mean I’m onto some­thing good.

Pope on a Rope

I wish I could gloat with delight about Ratzinger’s “ear­ly retire­ment” but I’ve been slammed with a nasty food poi­son­ing. And, no I do not think the lat­ter is pun­ish­ment for the for­mer, in case any tongues were cluck­ing. I’m still hap­py about it, I just don’t have the strength for the actu­al gloat­ing.

Prolly a Sprollie

For the past sev­en years, I’ve had a black and white dog by my side. He is called Bud­dy, but I didn’t name him. My friend Julia had asked me to fos­ter him for a few weeks, and since I didn’t plan on keep­ing him, I didn’t both­er com­ing up with a bet­ter name than the one he came with. So he is Bud­dy.image

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He was two years old, and like most res­cued dogs, he must have suf­fered a host of indig­ni­ties and cru­el­ties, because every chance he got, he ran out the front door and as far as he could go before I caught up with him. He ate through the cage I left him in while at work and he chewed up the blinds and the french doors. He uri­nat­ed if I touched his col­lar. It was clear he didn’t want to be here, and

.

I looked for­ward to giv­ing him back to Julia.
Then one day I fig­ured I’d take him to work with me rather than leave him behind to tear up my loft. That made all the dif­fer­ence. He was still skit­tish, he still had a hard time know­ing where to pee, but he quick­ly became a good boy. And even­tu­al­ly, he became a great dog.

.

When I say he has been by my side for sev­en years, I’m not exag­ger­at­ing. When I’m home, he’s nev­er out of my sight, or, more accu­rate­ly, I’m nev­er out of his. When I run up to my bed­room — two flights of stairs either to work or to grab some shoes or a sweater — he runs next to me, nev­er ahead of me, and when I run back down, he does the same. If I for­got my keys and have to run back up real quick, he’s right there. He goes down to the garage with me, out to the mail­box, over toward the kitchen, and if I’ve been ignor­ing him for awhile, he’ll sit behind me on the sofa so my hand has to rest on his ears and give him a rub. When I sleep he jumps on the bed and cud­dles, but soon he jumps off again and sleeps in the hall­way so he can keep an eye on me and on any­body else who might be in the loft too.

.

Some­times I have to leave him home to run some errands, which is fine now. No more trau­ma or destruc­tion. But he does go ba-nay-nay nut­balls when I come home, jump­ing on me and run­ning through the house like I’ve been gone for days. Even if that’s hyper, it’s not a bad way to be wel­comed into your own home. I’ve had many good dogs who I love and miss, but Bud­dy is by the far the best dog I’ve ever had and real­ly the best dog I could ever ask for.

.

But I have nev­er been able to fig­ure out what sort of dog Bud­dy is. He has the size and some of the col­or­ing of a bor­der col­lie, but he doesn’t have the more aggres­sive­ly shaped head, the crazy hyp­no-eyes, or the herd­ing instinct. My first dog was a Brit­tany Spaniel we called Coco, and I always felt Bud­dy had a lit­tle of that tem­pera­ment. Not because I know spaniels so well, but because Coco and Bud­dy have a lot in com­mon.

.

So the oth­er night, when we were walk­ing down Abbot Kin­ney, a woman stopped me and asked me what kind of dog Bud­dy is. Before I could say any­thing she said he looks just like their dog, and that she just learned that her dog is a Spro­l­lie. We chat­ted a bit but I didn’t think much of it until I got home and looked up Spro­l­lies online.

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Spro­l­lie” is a term used for dogs that are mix­es of springer spaniels and either col­lies or bor­der col­lies. It’s not an offi­cial breed or any­thing, nor do I think peo­ple are try­ing to cre­ate one. I think it’s just a way of iden­ti­fy­ing their dog, and I have to admit, I’ve nev­er seen so many dogs that look like Bud­dy. This is a dog named Oscar (already con­fus­ing, since my youngest boy is Oskar) and he looks like a close cousin. Maybe even a half broth­er. image

.

It’s odd­ly sat­is­fy­ing to know where my dog comes from. It makes me feel like I under­stand him a lit­tle more, it makes me appre­ci­ate his instincts and his lim­i­ta­tions, and it makes me for­get how much I hate words like labradoo­dle and spro­l­lie, so that’s some­thing.

(I) Mean (All) Girls

I heard Tina Fey on Fresh Air today. She was talk­ing about a scene where her char­ac­ter Liz tries to con­vince a new writer, Abby, that she doesn’t have to use a baby voice to get ahead. “You can drop the sexy baby act. And you can use your real voice.”

This is my real voice, and I this isn’t an act. I am sexy, baby. Get used to it.”

Tina goes on to to say, “That, to me, was what the sto­ry was about, that it’s just such a tan­gled-up issue, the way women present them­selves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cov­er of Max­im. And the way women judge each oth­er back and forth for it. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue…”

She also men­tioned the dif­fi­cult reac­tion Olivia Munn had received for hav­ing sexy pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos tak­en for her work on The Dai­ly Show. “If she were kind of an aggres­sive, kind of heav­ier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mus­tache, pos­ing in her under­pants, peo­ple would be like : That’s amaz­ing, good for you. But because she is very beau­ti­ful, peo­ple are like : That’s — you’re using that. It’s just a mess. We can’t fig­ure it out.”

This isn’t new. I’ve heard women com­plain for years about how their harsh­est crit­ics are oth­er women. My most recent ex-wife is beau­ti­ful in a strik­ing way, and more than once I’ve over­heard her friends swear at her under their breath when she walks in the room before giv­ing her a warm wel­come.

Books have been writ­ten, stud­ies com­mis­sioned, class­es taught to explain this Janu­sian behav­ior in women. From the idea that some women have more testos­terone, which makes them more accept­ed by men and less tol­er­ant of a domes­tic life — and which makes them loathed by all the women who have more estro­gen — to the notion that the fem­i­nist rev­o­lu­tion wasn’t pow­er­ful enough to remain vital among women over time, which reminds me of col­lege lec­tures about how the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion petered out as it hit the jun­gles south of Oax­a­ca. What is in those jun­gles that makes it so hard for the ideals of fem­i­nism to take hold ? Shoe trees ? Rivers full of skin­ny water ? I nev­er real­ly bought these expla­na­tions, but I didn’t have one of my own that was any bet­ter.

But then the oth­er day I was catch­ing up with a friend who is a ter­rif­ic writer and a new mom. She was telling me about a younger male cowork­er who hits on her and who she believes needs help for his sex­u­al “addic­tion”. “It’s revolt­ing. He always talks about ‘bang­ing’ chicks. I always feel so bad for the girl in that equa­tion.”

Absent­mind­ed­ly, I said some­thing like, “Unless she likes it, of course.”

Non­sense. Any woman who claims to enjoy sex with­out hav­ing the goal of falling love is delu­sion­al and I can guar­an­tee you she was molest­ed.”

I was pret­ty tak­en aback by that. There wasn’t much use in argu­ing the point since I’m not a woman and couldn’t prove to her sat­is­fac­tion that’s so wrong it’s com­i­cal. But lat­er that nigh it struck me how often my women friends explain their feel­ings about a sub­ject by speak­ing for all women.

Hey do you want to go with me to the gun range and shoot some rounds,” I asked one of my women friends. She had nev­er done it before and had no inter­est, which was fine, but instead of say­ing no, she said, “I’m a girl. Girls don’t shoot guns for fun, David. That’s a part of the man-penis-indus­tri­al com­plex,” which I have to admit is a great line.

Of course women shoot. Even some of her friends shoot, but she doesn’t real­ly acknowl­edge that, or she’ll make a qual­i­fi­ca­tion like, “Of course Kat­ri­na has a gun. She was car­jacked when she first moved to LA.” But that is an excep­tion that proves her rule. I could explain that the shoot­ing range is packed with women on their lunch break who like to let off a lit­tle steam, that shoot­ing a pis­tol is actu­al­ly ther­a­peu­tic and relax­ing. But there is no use in say­ing any­thing like that because there is noth­ing a man can say to con­vince a woman she doesn’t speak for all women.

When Oskar was a baby, I often took him with me on errands around town. I can’t remem­ber how many times I was stopped in the mar­ket or at the car wash by women who were con­vinced I was hold­ing him wrong or had swad­dled him incor­rect­ly. “How do you know?” I learned to ask, after hear­ing some­thing like that more than a dozen times.

It’s a woman thing. We just know,” they’d say. Nev­er mind that I’ve been a father three times and have changed count­less dia­pers, can swad­dle in my sleep, and know how my sons like to be held so that they are calm and com­fort­able. Nev­er mind that I know many women who would find hold­ing an infant to be nerve wrack­ing and unpleas­ant.

I think why “it’s a com­pli­cat­ed issue” for women like Tina Fey is that women tend to assume all women are the same as they are.

Men don’t do that. A man will crit­i­cize oth­er men, but not because they aren’t like him. Instead, he’ll do it because he has an idea how all men should behave, includ­ing him­self ; more often than not, he’s hid­ing the fact that he isn’t liv­ing up that that ide­al. We aren’t sur­prised that the secret­ly gay Repub­li­can Con­gress­man is a man or that the abu­sive meth addict Priest is a man, because men are Janu­sian in a whole dif­fer­ent way.

What’s wrong with men is prob­a­bly far more tox­ic and dan­ger­ous than what’s wrong with women, but the fix is the same. Stop think­ing we know any­thing about any­body else oth­er than our own self. And even then don’t be too sure.

Don’t Do Me Like That

While Oskar was zoom­ing down the slopes this week­end, I spent a lot of time in the lodge. I am still wait­ing for a skin graft on the back of my left calf to heal, and until then, I can’t wear boots. So instead, I watched Oskar board, and when it got too cold I went into the lodge, and in the lodge I real­ized some things.imageThe first thing is that ski­ing and snow­board­ing are a young man’s game. In three days I met a lot of peo­ple and the only per­son near my age was the 71 year old woman who worked in the Guest Rela­tions kiosk. Even the old­er non-ski­ing par­ents were younger than me by a decade. I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s an exer­tion to get up into the moun­tains, espe­cial­ly when you have to put chains on your car in 8° weath­er while your ten year old sits in the car and shiv­ers. Yes, it costs more mon­ey than you think. But there are maybe two or three times dur­ing a typ­i­cal day when the beau­ty and the qui­et of the world sneaks up on you. And that’s more than usu­al­ly hap­pens in a week back home. I can’t wait until next sea­son when I can be up there with my son and enjoy that frosty bliss.

The sec­ond thing is that noth­ing like that hap­pens in the lodge. Ever. Espe­cial­ly when there is a playlist of late 70s rock pumped every­where, indoors and out. I not­ed the fol­low­ing list of songs that played in one twen­ty minute stretch : ACDC’s Back in Black, Athena by the Who, Heart­less by Heart, Freewill by Rush, and Stroke Me by Bil­ly Squier. Which is real­ly some­thing if you con­sid­er my first real­iza­tion above. None of the thou­sands of peo­ple on the moun­tain that day were around when that music was new or rel­e­vant. Why has that par­tic­u­lar era of sta­di­um rock ossi­fied into the sound­track of most ice sports ? But the lodge is a great place to drink bad cof­fee, to eat weird­ly deli­cious omelets, to lis­ten to pods of teenagers share sto­ries of sick rails and fucked up falls, and to read.

The last thing I real­ized is that I am sick of being lied to. What I read was Ben­jamin Schwarz’s “The Real Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis” in The Atlantic Month­ly. I had heard some things over the years about how the truth wasn’t quite what we thought it is, but I nev­er thought it was seri­ous enough to war­rant a seri­ous look. I was wrong.

Schwarz’ arti­cle is a review of Shel­don Stern’s “The Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis in Amer­i­can Mem­o­ry.” Stern has lis­tened to and stud­ied the Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee tapes record­ed dur­ing the Cri­sis and he reveals that the cri­sis was as much a polit­i­cal cre­ation of the Kennedy broth­ers as it was a gen­uine threat from Khrushchev and the Sovi­ets. Khrushchev didn’t decide to put ICBMs in Cuba out of the blue. The US had deployed Jupiter MRBMs in Turkey in 1961 aimed direct­ly at Moscow. We already had nuclear Thor mis­siles in Britain that could attack the Sovi­et Union. And in 1961, Kennedy launched the failed attempt to oust Cas­tro from Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs. The place­ment of the mis­siles in Cuba were a response to Kennedy’s aggres­sive pos­tures toward the Sovi­et Union and to our nuclear mis­siles in Turkey.

And while Kennedy’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee under­stood this, we were made to see it much dif­fer­ent­ly. The Amer­i­can peo­ple were led to believe that Khrushchev act­ed spon­ta­neous­ly and uni­lat­er­al­ly in a way that threat­ened our coun­try and our exis­tence. While the mis­siles in Cuba looked bad, they were actu­al­ly less of a threat than the many SLBMs that the Sovi­ets had a hun­dred miles off our shores. And we had even more on our subs parked in the Atlantic and the Mediter­ranean. The mis­siles in Cuba would take hours to pre­pare to launch, while the sub-based mis­siles could be in the air and on their way to an Amer­i­can city before NORAD could respond.

Instead of nego­ti­at­ing a mis­sile trade (which Khrushchev him­self had sug­gest­ed, because he nev­er real­ly believed that his actions were any­thing more than a tit for tat move toward equi­lib­ri­um), Kennedy pre­sent­ed the Sovi­ets with an ulti­ma­tum that promised anni­hi­la­tion if the Cuban mis­siles were not removed.

I was born a few months before this all went down. I was a tiny Amer­i­can, voice­less and unaware that the world’s fate hung in the bal­ance. And I wasn’t the only one. Mil­lions of babies, chil­dren, and peo­ple all around the world were pawns in the hands of a hand­some mega­lo­ma­ni­ac and his less hand­some coun­ter­part. Great Britain, France, and oth­er coun­tries were dis­mayed that a nuclear show­down had occurred when it could have eas­i­ly been nego­ti­at­ed and resolved through nor­mal diplo­mat­ic chan­nels.

Stern recounts how Kennedy even­tu­al­ly accept­ed the nego­ti­at­ed mis­sile trade, but he insist­ed it nev­er become pub­lic knowl­edge. His broth­er returned or destroyed all cor­re­spon­dence on the mat­ter in case it ever came back to bite him lat­er in his polit­i­cal career. Kennedy even kept it a secret from most of his cab­i­net and his Vice Pres­i­dent. He unnec­es­sar­i­ly drove us to the brink of nuclear war and then he cov­ered up his acqui­es­cence in order to appear like a bad ass — forc­ing the Sovi­ets to pull out or face destruc­tion.

This is all bad enough, but Schwarz points out that this kind of blus­tery pos­tur­ing became the tem­plate for most of our impor­tant for­eign pol­i­cy over the next 50 years. Rea­gan and Bush espe­cial­ly are famous for their tough talk and unwill­ing­ness to nego­ti­ate for peace. It’s become axiomat­ic that in order for Amer­i­ca to be strong we have to be will­ing to go to the brink and nev­er back down. And that’s utter bull­shit. Kennedy didn’t do that, but he nev­er allowed the truth to be revealed, and now his lies have put count­less more Amer­i­can lives either in dan­ger or in ear­ly graves.

When I was ten years old, the same age my son is now, I remem­ber my moth­er cry­ing as she watched Richard Nixon resign the Pres­i­den­cy in dis­grace. She was dis­traught because it was incon­ceiv­able to her that the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States could be a liar. Let that sink in for a sec­ond. Thir­ty-eight years ago, peo­ple wept because they real­ized that the Pres­i­dent lied to them. That seems laugh­ably naïve now. But clear­ly I must have had a resid­ual flake of par­ti­san naiveté left some­where inside, because while I didn’t cry, I def­i­nite­ly want­ed to yell and scream when I learned that our gold­en boy Pres­i­dent was just as impeach­able, if not more, than Tricky Dick Nixon.

I prob­a­bly should have yelled, because nobody would have heard me over the Tom Pet­ty song in the lodge.