First a father, then a friend

See ya, Dad! Glad you could finally get the hell out of that memory care crap. As much as those people are saints and angels, it was a living hell for you, sir. You spend the last thirty years of your life on 13 wooded acres with streams and deer and fox and bears and a view of “the largest fresh water lake in the world,” as you were wont to say, then the last three months in a glorified hospital room, dubbed your “apartment”. You were a “resident” but I preferred a “guest” hoping your stay wouldn’t really add up to any sort of actual residency.

And it didn’t. It was as if you looked around you and said, “No, thank you.” You rallied for a few weeks and seemed darn good – if all the mumbling, confusion, hallucinations and falling down constitutes darn good. But it’s all relative, and you quickly crumpled and exited with great class.

You and mom must have had quite a connection. She up north suddenly struck with the thought – the compulsion – that she needed to get down here to see you on Friday. “Mom,” I said, “you’re coming next week.” “No, I need to see Bob.”

We saw you Friday early and you smiled when I whispered to you, “Dude, mom’s coming today and it would be a perfect time to get the hell out of here.” When we left you almost broke my hand squeezing it and you almost hugged Jana and I inside out. I wondered if you didn’t have a plan.

She came, you sat on the deck in the sun together – as you did on various decks, docks and beaches throughout your 57 years together – you had a little dinner and when she ran to the store, you took the opportunity to leave this strange little planet in the care of the nurses, who gussied up the old bod in some nice pajamas, combed your hair and laid you down on the bed like the best of open-casket moments. Brilliant! Mom got to be there and you know just how important that was! God, I love you, Dad. And Mom.

I know you had no time for religion, the afterlife and all the rest. You were a scientist – a surgeon who had to go into work at 2 am and piece together some poor kid whose parent’s station wagon was t-boned by some drunk in a big old Buick. That boy never did anything to deserve a skin-bag full of crushed bone. And you did everything you could. And mostly it worked, but sometimes it didn’t. And the little boy, or girl, or teenager, mom, dad, grandmother – whoever – would die. There was simply no room for some sort of caring god who answers prayers in that world. What god would answer this mom’s prayer over here for the new couch and then allow this mom’s kid to be crushed to death on a dark highway, whether or not she thought to pray.

We talked about the afterlife and you were curious – as any good scientist would be. But you knew you could not know, nor could anyone else without proof, real proof; stories in old books and old men’s promises from pulpits do not constitute any sort of proof whatsoever.

So we left it at that knowing we didn’t know… but now you do! I’ve no idea where you are – let me rephrase that: I’ve no idea where your soul is (if that can be separated from the body; if there is such a thing as a soul) but your corporeal self is lying in a drawer awaiting the great cremation oven. It’s got to be great, and by great I mean, big. Some a bit more religious might see that as a metaphor of you burning in hell for your agnosticism. I see it as the incredibly unselfish choice of someone who really doesn’t believe they should take up 28 square feet of earth for eternity.

We’ll toss the ashes out on Lake Superior and maybe some on South Long Lake. I know you think that sort of thing is silly, at best, but we’ll enjoy it. I’ve got to tell you that the guy at the cremation society said that if you’re tossing ashes outside anywhere you should “mind the wind!” Can you imagine? We make great speeches, open the lid, toss the ashes that are you (not really) and whoosh! It all blows back in our faces! You’d love that just to drive home just how silly all this is. I know you would.

So where are you? Can’t you give us a sign? Move a chair, or a lamp, jeez, how about the cursor? That can’t be all that hard. Are you IN some sort of heaven? Or OUT there in the firmament? Jetting from star to star, universe to universe? Are you everywhere? Flowing with the energy that moves all things? Or will you be reborn a black bear? (Colin came back as a rabbit. I see him everywhere.)

I’m just like you, Dad, I’ve no idea how that all works, and will never take it on faith from any man – ever. You instilled that bullshit alarm in me from an early age and it’s there and it’s calibrated and it has never, ever failed me. For that, I thank you dearly.

I also thank you for that sense of wonder and curiosity that is the flipside. You instilled that in me as well and it’s made my life richer than I could imagine. In fact, we had many a cocktail conversation about the existence of the god concept and what that might look like if it did/does exist. These were wonderful conversations that, of course, didn’t really lead anywhere. Instead it was the journey, as they like to say.

So now you know – or at least you know where death leads us – all you dead people know! Good for you, dead people. But maybe in death you learn what death is, but all of you are still knocking around wherever with no more proof of a god than we have here on earth. Who knows? Well, you do.

I’ll keep that curiosity and sense of wonder at the world, nature, the universe(s) and pass that right on to Olivia and Ben. I’ll hold my hand out in front of me, like you did, and think, “Look at that thing, it’s absolutely brilliant!” And it is! I told that to some people at work just the other day and they also looked at their hand, moving their four fingers and the mind-blowing opposable thumb, and I’m pretty certain that they will also never see it the same again. You taught me that there’s enough right here in our physical world to explore, learn from, and wonder about without conjuring all-knowing and eternal gods and the like. We don’t know how gravity works, but we’re running around telling people what the creator of everything thinks? Good Lord.

We were best buddies at the end. Even after that sick disease wrecked your brain to a place where I only got glimpses of you, we still connected. We could sit in confusion for an hour and then you’d suddenly give me a look that said, “Don’t worry, Luke, I’m still in here.” I loved those moments. I loved all the moments. I even loved the shitty moments that pepper the care of a guy with your disease. I learned a lot in the last year. You taught me right up to the very end.

I love you. I will always love you. Godspeed! (Yes, I had to say it!) And don’t forget to stay in touch! I’ll be listening, my friend.

Lewy Body Dementia

There but for the grace of God go I. Lewy Body Dementia. Look it up if you’re looking for yet another chink in the armor of this loving God of grace. Or if you’re more modern, explain to me why evolution would evolve such a thing. It’s a cocktail, not to be enjoyed surely, but jammed down the throats of the unsuspecting; a mix of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease with a double-shot of hallucinations tossed in for good measure. Shaken. Stirred. Scared. To death.

“Dad, are you all right?”

Eyes of terror, hands shaking, trembling in the middle of the familiar family room.

“No.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah, a casket.”

It’s one of the sickest parts of the sickness, this in and out of reality, with little of the blissful ignorance that can accompany some forms of dementia. Just confusion, then awareness, then terror, then anger, then anxiety, then awareness, then frustration, then and again and again and again.

The hallucinations started out fascinating, even funny. “Do you see that garden party over on the Johnson’s lawn?”

“No.”

Or

“Do you see the couple standing on the rocks down by the lake?”

“No.”

“Well, then, what about their dog?”

They got less funny over time. Long, complex hallucinations he recounted later. The three women who put him in a car and took him across the country, stopping at gas stations, not letting him out of the back seat. The same three women who would show up unexpectedly in the house. “I don’t know how they get in here.” Then maybe funny: “But damn they work hard around here. Never seen anything like it.”

He’s moving into memory care now and if anyone’s memory needs some care, it’s his. It’s the sickest thing I’ve ever seen, this Lewy Body business. Reduce a once proud, hyper-intelligent, orthopedic surgeon, to a trembling, mumbling “resident” (read “patient”).

There are moments of transcendence, fewer and farther between these days, but, still, and occasionally.

I love my dad. I hate this fucking disease.

I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?

One day I will have a website – idontknowdidyoupayattentioninschool.com – which will sell all sorts of items – from coffee cups to t-shirts to bumper stickers (trinkets and trash) – all of which will say just that: “I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?”

Because I’m convinced that most of the problems in America are due to not paying attention in school. Think about it, if you look at the kids who really paid attention in school when you went to school, you are now looking at adults with fewer problems than those who did not pay attention in school. It’s like this almost foolproof anti-problem process. The more you pay attention in school, the better your entire life will be.

I know, it sounds too simple, and granted, it’s not entirely foolproof. Other extenuating circumstances come into play certainly and some people who pay attention in school end up with many a problem. And even more sadly, for some kids the problem is the inability to pay attention in school for one reason or another beyond their control in the first place.

But there’s the big group in the middle – the big bubble of people who didn’t pay attention in school – who could have paid attention in school but did not pay attention in school and are now wondering just what went wrong. What happened?

I don’t know. Did you pay attention in school?

I don’t know. Do you wanna buy a stress ball?

Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina

(And how it applies to the Winter Olympic Games)

My younger brother Daniel and I were talking on the phone last night and commenting on the Winter Olympic Games. He said, “The U.S. is kind of sucking this year.” And I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t it blow your mind how many of the athletes are such freaking Hotties?” And he said, “Yeah, and they’re all fucking each other all the time! As soon as they finish their events they go back to the Olympic Village and fuck each other over and over!” He’s right, by the way. I read about that years ago. If you don’t believe it, look it up.

Anyway, when he said that – PING! It popped right back into my head: Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina. I remember the exact day of its origin. Many years ago my two brothers, my sister and I were riding in the back of our parents van and passing through Edina. Edina is a very wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, and at the time, around 1976, it was the quintessential wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. So I looked out the window of the van at a group of girls standing in front of the Edina Theater and said, “Man! Why are there so many hot chicks in Edina?”

My other brother, Jonny Pie, looked up from whatever technical manual he was reading (for fun) and said:

“It’s really quite simple. The fathers in Edina are wealthy men and their wealth gives them certain advantages in picking a mate. One of those is in the looks of the women. In other words, they can choose more beautiful wives – whether they are handsome themselves, or a troll. So it follows that, over time, the prevalence of beautiful children will increase. And it follows then that if the families stay in Edina for generations, the genetic probability for good-looking children continues to increase. Therefore, ergo, you are absolutely right: there are ‘so many hot chicks in Edina’. Simple as that.”

Bam! He knocked that fucker right out of the park! His simple logic stunned my young mind. It was suddenly obvious. Rich men = hot wives = more hot chick babies! Simple as that.

“It’s not the same in Minneapolis where we live,” he added, and we all glanced up to see if Mom and Dad had heard that.

So now I see that Jonny Pie’s Theory can easily be applied to the prevalence of Hotties at the Olympic Games; and it’s not because they are all having sex in the Olympic Village like Daniel was quick to point out, as you might be thinking. That story was actually about all of the condoms that are provided by the US Olympic Committee for all that sex which would, hopefully, avoid any unwanted, albeit off-the-charts cute, babies.

It’s because the Olympic athletes in the winter games are all basically Edina kids. Every last one of them. Yeah, yeah, NBC likes to drag out the one story of the middle class kid from Indiana who mowed lawns to afford to become a snowboard sensation, but seriously, how many lower or middle class families can afford to send their kids to luge camp, or snowboarding school, find them a Romanian skating coach, or buy them a four-man bobsled? None. That’s how many. Most of those families couldn’t afford a day pass at one of the Utah ski areas these actual, and decidedly hirsute, snowboard sensations no doubt basically live in.

You don’t learn how to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever the hell they make up to call that shit, in a few runs. It takes hours, days, months and years, and ain’t no poor kid gonna get that opportunity. No, sir.

So, really, we have Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina, Postulate 1 (As it Applies to the Athletes at the Winter Olympic Games), and it really simply states: There are so many Hotties at the Winter Olympic Games because they are all the offspring of rich parents, therefore, rich kids, ergo genetically predisposed to be Hotties. Rich Parents = Rich Hottie Kids = Kids with the time, money and resources to spend a lifetime learning to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever.

Simple as that.

Vladimir Hitler (okay, that’s over the top)

Kudos to the Russians for the Olympic intro. God bless ‘em, yes, it was an extravaganza, as it always is. Beautiful and poignant and then, ultimately, please make it stop, super bowl halftime style. But I think they made some recognition of their own not so perfect history, which was good. I’m not sure even we juggernaut Americans would have done so. Some recognition of a not so Pollyanna past which they’ve been prone to as Soviets and now new Russians. Something tells me we would have draped a flag over all of our own ugly past. But there’s still the 50 billion dollar price tag (what happened to that?!), which the Chinese would have parlayed into an Olympic games and then maybe Disney Beijing. Putin’s a megalomaniac, no doubt. And this is his moment. But is it enough? I don’t think so.

But let’s watch the games!

Sadly in the end, Putin will do what Putin wants to do. Shit, Hitler had the Olympic games at his peak and look how that turned out, how history sees it, Vladimir.

But let’s just watch the games!

I Resolve to Tweet More?

I struggle with the social media landscape only because it moves much faster – quicker – than I do. My mind is old school. I prefer a conversation or an article and find a tweet or a post lacking. I know that’s the point – the whole 140 character limit and all that with Twitter, particularly – but sometimes it feels like someone walking by the house, opening the door, shouting “Check out this great article on winter bicycling!” slamming it and leaving. “What? Who? Where?!”

But I’ve made it a resolution to embrace it as best I can. Hashtag that, my friend, and wish me luck.

I dig resolutions. I dig New Years entirely. It’s an opportunity to do a time-check. Feels a bit like flipping that Etch-A-Sketch over and giving it a good shake. (RIP Etch-A-Sketch inventor, Andre Cassagnes, who passed in 2013.) I can make grand statements about what I plan to do better, more, less and so on. And sometimes, though not often, they stick, a little.

Every year I resolve to be more focused, follow through, drink less, run more, yell around the house less, hug the kids more (impossible, they’d be smothered), eat out less, eat in more, drink less (that deserves a second nod), pay more real attention to my lovely wife, fix up the house, fix up the yard, …

And I feel hopeful, like it might happen – or some of it. And why not? It’s a brand new year! The perfect opportunity make today the first day of the rest of my life! (That’s from an old commercial, I think. God bless the marketers.)

I told my kids this morning that 2014 is “The Year of Daddy.” They said, “No, it’s not.” “The year of listening more to mom and dad!” “Nope.” “The year of being nice to one another!”

How about that? That’s a good one for us all – politicians, priests, family, strangers, friends and foes. Let’s resolve to be nice, accept differing opinions – we can disagree without demonizing, tearing one another a new one, lying, cheating, bitching, complaining, or even blowing up a teeming marketplace.

Less horrifically in the particular instance, but plenty rotten in the aggregate: What inspires someone, say, BlueBlood42, to feel the need to rip into, say, LadyFirst63, in the comments section of some article? BlueBlood42 hides behind a pseudonym and attacks another pseudonym. The result is simply, well, there is no result. Resolve that crap out of your life.

I lift my beer (struggling with the drinking one) while burping up a little Taco Bell (ditto eating better and eating in more) and say to one and all, Happy New Year.

Stay tuned for my next tweet. It will be momentous! Although frustratingly short, at least, for me.

The Blue Light Flickers

Each night I wander
through streets mostly empty
and speak to the lights
at the tops of the poles
radiant and still
measured and steadfast
the voices that passed
reach to my present

How real is that nexus
trustworthy the voices?
Am I just a mad man
who’s made the wrong choices?
Who walks in the night
A ventriloquist of wishes
conjuring dead folk?
Highly suspicious!

Terrorized.
Superstitious.
I walk on.
I watch out.

And in every house
the blue light flickers
casting erratic shadows
broadcasting
transmissions
and jittery realities
belying the stillness
the stilted stiffness
of interest coupled with indifference.

To the history of the dead folk
Hubbard’s among them
first to connect us to
the sound and the vision
Like splitting the atom
breaking the silence
smashing the walls
Severing space.

A fine hocus pocus –
And all the world turned
and focused.

But they’re lonely, the dead folk
The ones that you know
They wish you would listen
Pay a little attention
They know that you’re busy, but, really?
You speak to your gods, you stare at your screens
but find not a moment to say what you mean
to the ones who know you
the ones who know now

if you listen, they will speak
if you speak, they will listen
take time. be quiet. talk. wait.
repeat.

And the other dead folk – the pioneers!
they broadcast the future
to eyes and to ears
like sneaky disease
slips in through the breathing
bypassing the mind
dissecting the meaning.
Red, Green and Blue
is plenty for you
native man
lotus eater.

And in every house the blue light flickers.

The sky is eclipsed
by a star machine
manufacturing gods, heroes and
heroines, heroin, mescaline,
vicodin, maryjane,
alcohol, cocaine,
fame,
ecstasy, baby,
you’ll be king!
A queen.
A pawn.

An old man stifles a yawn.

Beneath my feet the sidewalk retreats
the oncoming traffic of life in the seats
and the chairs and the sofas
the idle, bystanders,
loungers and loafers
(bumps on a log
lumps in a bog)
extinguishing stories
personal glories
and staring.

A fine hocus pocus –
And the world turned
and focused.

But the others, the headmost,
ahead of the curve
who colonized the minds
of the hoi polloi,
they were as surprised as you and I.
This technochimera
spearheading and primitive
could (high)jack right into
primordial you and I
inventing the gaping maw
and glassy eye.

And each night I wander
through streets mostly empty
surrounded by dead friends
and family just waiting
for us to discern
them from the gods,
the gods from them,
one is unknowable
one is at hand.

Meanwhile…

A man suddenly stands,
stretches and leaves the room

a woman leans back
and lifts her arm

a guy rubs his eye
and contorts his face

and I see in these moments
what they’ll never see
scenes in the movie
starring the man who stands,
the leaning lady and rubbing guy.

Watching and walking
I’m on to the next.

Please don’t shut your curtains
Please don’t look my way.

the republicans have been robbed!

Part of me wants to say “Hip Hip Hooray for Rob Portman!” The republican senator from Ohio came out yesterday in support of same-sex marriage – which is gutsy in a party that generally thinks homosexuals are deviants, the earth is seven thousand years old, and all you need are bootstraps to be as fat and happy as Wall Street CEOs.

It seems Rob’s son came out to him and that is what changed his mind. This is all still laudable, but when you are unable to have empathy for any sort of person until there is one of those sorts of people in your own family you might be lacking a sufficient amount of empathy. I’m not even sure empathy is what we feel for our own children considering the absolute closeness we feel with them. The sadness and joy we feel when our own children feel sadness and joy seems closer to some sort of Vulcan mind meld than something called empathy.

Either way, I’ll go with “Hip Hip Hooray!” And add, “Welcome to the enlightenment, the 21st century, and common human decency!”

We’re just buggin’ the shit out of each other

It started out with stopping by, droppin’ in and poppin’ over. Cave to cave. Cabin to cabin.

Then we learned to write with letters and along came letters written to drop in the box and on to whomever.

The telegraph turned letters into tweets – instantaneous and terse.

The telephone turned everything else upside down, inside everywhere – voices over lines of metal – spoken in Spokane heard in Japan. Conversations across the universe. There was nothing more to say. And when they got into homes, there was nowhere to hide. They had you in your house. The perfect crime.

Then phones divided into cellphones and proliferated. Popping up everywhere, public spaces, intimate places. Joined at the hip. Cool shit. The crime perfected.

Emails hail down upon your desktop, your laptop, iPad and cellphone. Damage occurs.

But that was not enough – we’ve rebuilt the telegraph from man to man, phone to phone. Tweeting everything. Leaving out nothing.

We’re dropping by all the time.

We’re just buggin’ the shit out of each other.