Monday, October 30, 2006

Like pumpkins, we have mush for brains . . .

On Sunday's trip to get 3B's first pumpkin, we didn't forget to bring the baby or the dog, and we didn't leave them in the pumpkin patch, either. I'd be hard pressed, however, to name anything else that we didn't forget.

What we forgot:

  • To reset the clock in the car, so we sweated through traffic on the way out, unsure if we'd make it before the pumpkin patch closed.

    Surprise, surprise--parents running late, right? On top of that, 3B squawked the whole way out until we pulled off to feed him. Turns out he wasn't hungry, he just wanted out of his car seat. The break gave Barky a chance to poop, which I got to pick up with a plastic bag of unknown provenance whose previous contents had apparently been half a pound of garlic butter, which coated my hand and forearm. Lovely.

  • That on October 29, there aren't going to be many pumpkins left in the patch. In fact, when approaching the patch, it might appear that there are no whole pumpkins left at all, just fragments of what was left after an errant artillery barrage hit the patch. The advantage, however, is that you can't spend much time debating over this one or that one, you've got to snatch up any whole pumpkin that you find to prevent anyone else from stealing away with it.

  • The diaper bag. OK, not a big deal, since we always keep spare supplies in the basket under the stroller. So, we've got diapers, wipes, and hand sanitzer--what could we possibly be missing? How about
  • The camera--that's OK, it's not like we dressed up 3B in a special outfit so we could get a photo for our holiday cards or anything.
  • The disposable video camera--again, why would we want any remembrance of 3B's first trip to a pumpkin patch?
  • The stunt-double outfits in the event of barfing, pooping, or mud-wrestling the shouting goat that was guarding the entrance to the pumpkin patch.
  • The diapers that actually fit 3B--these days, the three Bs in his name are Big Beanstalk Boy, since he started out big and has been growing like Jack's magic beanstalk ever since. (For those of you joining this show while it's already in progress, 3B refers to his original moniker: Baby Boy Bradstein.)
  • A changing pad. You know, one of those handy mats that you spread out so you don't have to prop your baby, poop-filled diaper and all, on your lap in the front seat of the car to change him.
We could either whine and get pissy about it--my preferred reaction to stress when I'm hungry or tired--or we could shake our heads, laugh, and stick our legs out to trip the other parents running for the last whole pumpkin in the patch. We chose the latter (apologies to those other parents--those falls look like they hurt.)

And I did have my phone, so we were able to snap some shots:

Out standing in its field
Out standing in its field--one of the two whole pumpkins we were able to find.


Oh my god, that pumpkin's going to crush me!
Oh my god, that pumpkin's going to crush me!


. . .I love my Mom.
No it's not--silly pumpkin!


Dead tree branch and farm. A still life?
It was a good hike into the woods, with nice views of the farm.


Skeleton
How artsy-fartsy can you really get with a camera phone?

We did get two nice pumpkins and have a nice hike into the woods, thanks to 3B's new ride. Barky loved tearing up and down the trail, finding traces of every creature that had passed since the Civil War, and leaving his mark on every leaf of grass. On the way home, we used the new Google Maps application that I installed on my Treo to find what appeared to be a nice place where Mama could get the pizza she always craves and I could get, well, something other than pizza.

More on that in the next post, however. . .


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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Leaves

Ghosts of leaves

Saturday, October 28, 2006

All geeked up

Facial poo? Who every said that linguists aren't funny? Not me. Speaking of poo, they don't tolerate no shit about bullshit or the f-word--which isn't the f-word that you're thinking of.

Working with a group of editors, as I do, it's easy to forget that not everyone is a word dork and that not everyone reads blogs like the Language Log. But even among word dorks there is a dorkiness hierarchy, and I'm not entirely proud to say that I might be near the top--or the bottom, depending on your perspective. I was recently reminded of this when recounting to my coworkers how I spent one evening: flipping through the Nerd Baby Alphabet with 3B. (I believe that this should be called the Geek Baby Alphabet, but I won't quibble over that here.)

Because my boss was the one who tipped me off to it, nobody really wanted to make fun of the alphabet itself, but when I told them how long it took because I had to pause to explain valences and why hydrogen bonding works, there was a bit of mocking. That was nothing, however, compared to the snark unleashed when I explained that, in spite of our general ban on screen time for 3B, I took 3B into Googleville to show him animated fractals and to look up Kepler's third law so I could explain it to him. Hey, soon enough, he'll want nothing but Elmo from us--I'm just trying to get the good stuff in while I can. You know, before he realizes that his dad's an inveterate geek.

Working in a group of editors, we often swap particularly juicy bits of writing, both good and bad. If I were out of the blogging closet at work, I would often share my brother's writing. Unlike me, he paid attention in class, and it shows in pieces like this.

Pimp My BOB

Many thanks to 3B's great-aunt, who gave him this sweet ride. It arrived just in time for our journey to a sincere pumpkin patch tomorrow to find 3B's first pumpkin, which we're planning to follow up with a quick walk in the woods with Barky. It will be a good test of my stroller assembly capabilities.

To my credit, Mama did have it out for a two-hour test drive today--while Barky and I napped, either to recover from the week or knocked out, loaded on caulking fumes from our new windows and balcony door--and the wheels didn't seem to come off.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hump day quickies

A few quickies to bring everyone up-to-date in a busy week . . .

Roll Over. Sit. Stay. Poop.
Yesterday, 3B rolled over for the first time. Woo hoo, right? Well, although he's been working on his rolling skills for a week or so now, it was pretty much an accident caused by pooping. I was in the shower, so I wasn't there to see it, but Mama said that he got himself all curled over with the effort of pooping, then flailed just right and ended up on his stomach.

I suppose that I should have written an excited post about it yesterday, or even a letter to a future 3B about it, but things have been sorta' frantic around here this week, and it was more a fluke than an intentional move, although rolling over is a development that we're looking forward to.

My coworker warned me about wishing for him to roll over, saying that after he does, he'll soon be crawling, then we'll have to watch him like hawks, and so on. I know, I know, but he also sleeps much better on his stomach, which, for his safety, we only let him do when he's lying on one of us. If he can flip himself onto his stomach, he'll be much happier and sleep longer, which means we'll be much happier and sleep much longer too.


The Banana is Back!
Actually, she never left our lives, since she lives down the hall, but the other day, when Barky and I came back in from our early morning walk, the door opened on our floor and Barky's favorite person was standing there: Auntie Banana.

She was headed out to work, but she stopped to pet the little mutt, nonetheless. As soon as she got in the elevator and the doors closed, Barky started whimpering and shot off toward her door, which is in the opposite direction from ours. Even after I got him turned around and headed home, he spent all his time looking for her. Of course he did--Auntie Banana loves him and spoils him more than we do, I think. Whoever said that dogs are loyal was right. Whoever said that they're loyal to their owners was an idiot.


Back in Black
Speaking of morning walks, a short observation: At 6:30 a.m., Barky and I no longer go on morning walks. We go on late nighttime walks. When the stars are clear in the sky, which is pitch black, it is not morning, we are not strolling through the dawn's early light--it is night, and it is cold. Almost freezing, actually. I might as well take him out at 1 a.m.

Of course, by the time I get home, the sun is setting again, so unless I walk outside for lunch, I'm essentially a vampire until the winter solstice, when days mercifully start gettng longer again. I have the pallor for it, but the problem with the vampire months is that I love the sun to the point that it becomes a distraction to me when it's never visible. "A distraction to me" being a euphemism for "Papa gets cranky." Keep Mama in your thoughts and prayers until, say, springtime.


Warming Up for Winter
At least this winter we won't get icy winds slicing through our living room through the cracks in the seals around our sliding glass doors, because our building is putting in new windows and balcony doors in all the units. This has been the source of much grief for me, as a building board member, but I think that most people in the building are generally happier with the new windows, which are double-paned and argon-filled, than they were with the old, leaky, single-paned windows and doors. This should also keep water from pouring through our living room ceiling from the unit above because her terrace doors were engineered to prevent just that. In addition, when spring and fall roll around, we'll now be able to open our one window that is opposite the rest of our windows, creating a cross breeze through our place, which will be a pleasant change.

For all of the glass to be changed out, however, we've had to clear our balcony and clear everything inside at least three feet away from every window. We've used it as motivation to clean up the place, so it's been a good thing, but it's also been a lot of work, which Mama has somehow gotten done while taking care of 3B and Barky and cooking and baking for the lot of us. I swear that she uses magic to do this. Also, while they're replacing our windows and sliding door, none of us can be in the place. So Mama is shipping out to her friend's house tonight, and I dropped off Barky at daycare, which also provides boarding, where he'll be until tomorrow night. He'll be happy to see us when we pick him up, but much more sad to leave his friends. I'm telling you, he's loyal--just not to us. All that leaves me . . . lonely.

Sure, it could be my chance to go next door and watch the World Series with our neighbor, who's the only other sane person in the building besides Liberal Banana, but I'd keep feeling naked somehow, without my family around. Doesn't 3B need a diaper change? To be rocked? Read to? Put in his bouncy seat? Doesn't Mama need a hand in the kitchen? Help with the computer? A kiss? And who's going to give Barky the skritch behind the ears or the belly rub that he needs?

No? Nothing? Is it really possible that I can just lay down and sleep then? No, not really, but soon they'll come back to a warm house, one that will become a home with their arrival. Then, with all of the commotion, I'll at least be able to relax.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bloglines readers: Mea culpa, Je suis désolé, Ich bin traurig, Estoy apesadumbrado

Yeah, so all those short posts got a bit mixed up for you Bloglines and FeedBlitz subscribers. At first I thought that it was just because I was all thumbs with those posts, and therefore sending them from my phone.

Once the boy released his hold on me, however, I checked out Blogger to see if maybe the problem was on their end, and got that screen that you see above. I'm not a code geek, so I'm often unclear on the details of situations like this, but I'm pretty sure that message says that something on their end barfed. Fortunately, Blogger didn't lose any posts, so the thumb cramps weren't for naught.

That's fair, I suppose. Something--well, someone--on my end barfed. And pooped. And peed on the wall next to the changing table.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Why the short posts?


During the last presidential campaign, Mom called to tell me a joke she'd just heard on the Tonight Show:

John Kerry walks into a bar.

The bartender says, "Hi, Senator. Why the long face?"

************

Really, that's it.

Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Speaking of explaining, the reason for the flurry of short posts is that I'm currently trapped in Mama's comfy glider-rocker by a slumbering three-month old boy. I'd call some people, but that would wake him up, and although he needs this nap, he's sleeping too lightly for me to put him down to pursue other projects, like moving our computer and desk clutter to a new, smaller semi-disposable Swedish desk and putting the old one on Craig's List along with some faux semi-disposable Swedish chairs and other schtuff.

And why are the posts all so short? Because I'm typing everything with my thumbs, that's why.

The things we do.

An old married couple...

Yes, that's what we are. How do we know?

Because we're excited like kids before Christmas about the imminent opening of our new grocery store--that's right--it's ours, so don't you even try anything, punk.

Nothing more exciting to us than the creaking of new shopping cart wheels down shiny, untracked aisles full of attractive goods wrapped in plastic, much like Laura Palmer. What excitement this suburban family will have now on Friday and Saturday nights...

"Cool Ranch Doritos or KC Masterpiece Lay's, my dear?" (A small observation, if I may...if the masterpiece of KC is some smoke-flavored dust that's likely made in Jersey before being sprinkled on chips that are likely stamped out in Mexico, KC's got a long way to go as a city.)

"Let's be a little crazy--let's get both!"

"Do we dare?"

Really. Pray for 3B. Barky's already resigned himself to being tied to dorks for the rest of his life.

But seriously, this store not only has great produce, it's within walking distance, and it's right next to the dog park, so one of us can pick up papayas with 3B, while the other pick up poop with Barky. Yes, once upon a time, mountain biking to the hot springs inspired us; now, convenient groceries excite us.

The only sad news is that this store does sorta' bring down the neighborhood, since it replaces a much-loved porn theater, although it does pay homage to the past with its name, which Mama has already abbreviated to "Harris Tata."

The perfect gift...

..for the person who has everything. Or, for the person who wants to torment their kid by making their bowl suddenly and seemingly randomly vibrate from across the room.

Actually, it's for reptiles who, like our turtle, The Rock, prefer their food to be alive and kicking. And yes, even at his age, he's plenty fast enough to catch crickets on the run. This is one way of faking him out, I suppose, although he's deigned to dine on freeze-dried crickets, having given up hope of getting the real deal from us. He will be getting live ones again soon enough, however, since I snapped this shot while we were at PetSmart, buying him a sporty, smaller playpen for being inside in the winter--no, we don't hibernate him. Rock's current crib takes up a full corner of the room, which we don't have to spare, with the 17 bouncy seats, 11 play mats, and a playpen or crib--or three--in every room. Plus, it's going to be easier to keep clean, which is key, since we don't want 3B getting salmonella or any other nasty that turtles are known to carry.

Then again, would a turtle really like to sit in a vibrating dish while eating? I mean, would you want to sit on a vibrating...OK, forget I asked. I really don't want to know. Maybe we weren't in a PetSmart after all, although they did have collars, harnesses, and vinyl toys.

OK, OK, I'm stopping. This is a family blog, after all. Right?

Monday, October 16, 2006

What are words for?

I Love a Good Word Buzz Early in the Morning

"I ask you to pronounce s-o-w, and you ask me what kind of one. If we had a sane, determinate alphabet, instead of a hospital of comminuted eunuchs, you would know whether one referred to the act of a man casting the seed over the ploughed land or whether one wished to recall the lady hog and the future ham."

Mark Twain, Speech In New York City (9 December 1907), in Mark Twain's Speeches 367 (Albert Bigelow Paine ed., 1923) (as quoted in Mark Twain: His Words, Wit, and Wisdom 7 (R. Kent Rasmussen ed., 1997)).
Is it just because I'm an editor that I love the phrase "a hospital of comminuted eunuchs"? The happiness I feel doesn't stem from a sense of pride over the size of my vocabulary; I had to look up "comminuted" too. The happiness I feel came after looking it up and discovering how clearly it conveys Twain's sentiments. Sometimes there is nothing better than a 25-cent word to demonstrate your depth of feeling on a topic.

When a 1-Cent Word Will Do
Then again, there's strength in a string of 1-cent words too, as demonstrated by the fourth place Google ranking for my post on Pickles the Fire Cat. I'm sure that the publisher is delighted that their book is now so closely tied to the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and that my insightful critique (or insomnia-driven critique, according to MetroDad) is so popular. I found this out when flipping through my site counter stats for the first time in, oh, let's just say months. I didn't get much more out of it than a good laugh over those results and confirmation that I still have six loyal readers. What can I say? I'm a word guy, not a bean counter, and while I used to look at my stats regularly, I don't anymore because it's not about numbers, it's about people. Specifically, the happiness that comes to me from writing this comes from connecting and communicating with people--you, the readers.

Define X: If 1 Picture=1,000 Words, Then 1 3B Video=X
Before introducing the latest 3B video, I have to pause to thank Lonnae O'Neal Parker, who wrote this piece in the WaPo on why she gave up on hip hop. She clearly explains my dilemma. I loved the beats. I loved the sound. I loved the rhymes.

But, these days, I can't get around how deeply the words disturb me.

There are two reasons. One is that hip hop has been a ticket to ride for so many men, so many of who are now using their elevated economic status to sneer down at women. What good is it to raise yourself up only to spit down on others who are still climbing? How great a man are you that you use your newly bought powers to put down others just as you were so recently put down? When you rise to riches, is it really your goal to become a pale reflection of those who you had to struggle against to succeed? I'm not saying that hip hop has to become a social movement, just that listening to hip hop is as attractive as watching the Vanderbilts spit on their valets.

The second reason is that being clever in hatred is easy. What's hard is writing something that's catchy, cool, and compassionate. And by compassionate, I don't mean soft. I don't mean that you can't fight the power and still be compassionate. Compassion doesn't require forsaking resistance to and force against oppression, injustice, and hatred; compassion requires the strength to resist and rise up against them--in a way that raises all of us, not just the speaker. Kindergartners write clever rhyming couplets about hating boys/girls/school/vegetables. Write something that a five-year old can't, and maybe I'll come back.

Until then, here's 3B, doing some body movin' to some hip hop that I can hang with.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Turnabout

Wood recently described clearly the longing that pulls on every non-stay-at-home-parent, like myself, and how the SAHP can amplify the gravitational force a baby exerts on the non-SAHP by calling from an apple orchard or, as Mama does, sending pictures of the little bean that are unbearably cute.

So, I thought that it was only fair that, while she was out strolling through the aisles of the supermarket yesterday, that I send this shot of 3B that I took as he, Barky and I were headed out for a lovely autumn stroll.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Burp diaper white is the new black

Burp diaper white is the new black
This is at Mom's burial. Sister #1 is on your left. Mama is on your right. I'm the one with the burp diaper on my shoulder. The cute one with the "Daddy is a Rock Star" shirt is 3B. (Hard to tell on that last one, I know.)

Before the burial, all of us gave our cameras to our cousin, who shot lots of photos with them and with his own camera, from which this shot came. Brother #2 said it right about this day when he said that he was glad that he had all the photos, but that he never wanted to look at them.

It was hard enough being there once.

I am glad that Cousin #6 (is that the right number?) sent this shot along, however, ensuring that I saw it. It would be nice to have all of Sister #1's face in it, but we can't always have everything we want. There's enough to see that she's enjoying herself, as is Mama. Can't say the same for 3B, however. I was trying to teach him how to yell with a faux Brit accent "Thank you [insert name of city here]!" and wave, but he was having none of it. My lessons on throwing a drumstick or guitar pick went over about as well before I stopped them, realizing that I don't want my son growing up to be a rock and roll drummer.

Daddy may be a rock star--if only in his mind--but 3B's going to be a protest singer, singing a protest song. Or so he says . . . in the imaginary conversation I had with him in my mind in which he quoted Dire Straits. Unless, like most teens, he rebels against our music--a steady diet of blues, jazz, Ani, and Dylan--and listens to nothing but cotton candy pop. If he does, maybe I'll try a trick that worked on me in my youth--a guilt trip: "You know, your grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew that you were listening to that crap."

Except she wouldn't. Hell, Mom let me listen to Hall and Oates at full volume.

The best, however, was when I spun around in the middle of singing--I use the term loosely--an AC/DC song off of Back in Black at what I can only presume was full volume (I'll never know, since I had headphones on--the full 70's earmuff style, with a volume dial for each ear--bitchin') to find Mom and Sister #2 in the doorway to my bedroom, laughing. Laughing hard. I can't imagine what was so funny about a 12-year old boy, who was as scared of girls as he was attracted to them, screeching, in his best pre-pubescent Brian Johnson impersonation
She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I'd ever seen
She had the sightless eyes, telling me no lies
Knocking me out with those American thighs
For the record, even though I had the music turned up so loud that I couldn't hear my own voice, I know that I had nailed that song until I saw them. But judging from their laughter, even back then, daddy was only a rock star in his own mind.

We still laugh

I realize that you, as a reader of this blog, don't really know me. No matter if you've studied all 471 posts, pored over our Flickr pictures, and cross-referenced all my comments on other blogs--you can't know me because what I post here is just one piece of my life.

This fragment is limited by many factors, not the least of which is my motivation and the time that I have available to write. As MetroDad is fond of saying, and as many other writers have discovered, writing is a particular form of therapy. Sometimes I am writing as much to sort out my own thoughts as I am to communicate them to you, which I do with varying degrees of success. Unlike therapy with a professional, however, writing is often a therapy that is scheduled between other events, such as diaper changes and naps. As a result, I often end up writing during the quiet just after the sun and I arise or in the stillness just before I go to bed.

At both of these times, I am more contemplative than I am during the rest of the day, which certainly affects not only which topics I select to write about but also what I say about them and how I say it.

All of which is my long way of getting around to saying that while I appreciate all of your support, sympathy, and kind words--and I'm not just blowing smoke up your skirts here, every message of support has been like a ray of sunshine--life is not as consistently gloomy as you might believe if you only know me through this blog, as many of my six loyal readers do. I've got Mama, 3B, and Barky here to comfort me and cheer me up.

We still laugh, and we still revel in the gentle warmth of each others' smiles and embraces. We've been out to dinner, over to visit friends, and we're having friends over this weekend for euchre (and the boys will again dominate). And yes, in answer to all the questions, we did go to my 20-year reunion (more on that in a later post). Our lives go on happily, roughly, and haphazardly, just as they did before Mom died--just as she would want them to. She often said to me, when I was trying to make a difficult decision, "You've got to live your life."

That's not to say that some songs don't knock the breath out of my chest or that there aren't days that I'd rather spend with my head under the covers in bed, it's just to say that life continues, and that it continues to be a mix of the bitter and the sweet. To paraphrase what a family friend whose son took his own life once told Mom about her loss, I'll get over it, but I'll never stop missing her.

And I'll never stop appreciating the gentle kindness that I've been shown along the way, including all of your comments. Many of you have written that you don't know what to say. I don't know either. Having lost my father and mother and too many other close relatives to list here, I still don't know what to say to someone else who's grieving a death. What's most important to me is that you said something; you let me know that you're out there, that you hear me, and that you care. I don't need much more than that at a time like this.

I'm sure that I'll get back to the smartass posts, but for a little while anyway, they'll be mixed in with some that are a bit more contemplative than before, and maybe a bit more blue than before, but I want you to know that behind the scenes here at the Bradstein household, we do still laugh. It's perhaps a bittersweet laughter at times, tinged with the knowledge that we'll never share it with Mom again, but it's also perhaps bit louder and more loving, fueled by the knowledge that this life is ours to live to the fullest.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Desperate deals and an empty pillow

Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.
Bill Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
As I have in many other areas of my life over the last two weeks, I'm going to revert to instincts here. I'm going to start telling this story at the beginning, since I lack the frontal lobe capacity to approach it in a different manner, and hope that I catch up to the present day sometime soon.

The beginning is a bit perilous and may require some pauses to silently weep or even to break down into heaving sobs, but that's the advantage of reading all of this: you won't have to bear through those moments, just my disjointed tales. The middle bits aren't so bad, although the return home is a bit shaky, even up until today. The future, of course, is unwritten, no matter what Lawrence had inscribed on his mind.

Overall, however, I find that telling my tale helps me make sense of it. It helps me understand the feelings in my subconscious that I don't allow my conscious mind to apprehend. It helps me understand why I just can't get enough sleep, and why my stomach is constantly in knots, no matter if I eat regularly or forgo meals. It helps me understand why I can't think five minutes into the future and why reflections of the past, held in picture frames and melodies, burn my eyes.

It started over two weeks ago now. Mama, 3B, and I were headed back to my home, Palo Alto, for my 20-year high school reunion. Mama and I had talked to my Mom about a variety of things leading up to the visit, including the happy surprise that almost all of my siblings would be coming to town to meet 3B. Since Mom's house was cluttered with all of the material from her many concurrent projects, we also talked about where Mama, 3B, and I would sleep as well as where my siblings would sleep. Mom had decided that it would be best for Brother #2 and Sister #1 to stay in a local hotel, and that Mama and 3B could be in one room with our Pack N' Play, and that I'd be across the hall in another room.

Mom bemoaned the fact that she couldn't fit a double bed in either room--in part because of furniture that I had stored in one of them, she was quick to mention--because she thought it would be best if the three Bradsteins could all sleep in one room. (I use the term "sleep" loosely here. After all, 3B was going to be only eight weeks old while we were there.) I told her that it was no big deal. We'd be up half the night anyway, back and forth between the rooms, and it was only going to be for a couple of nights.

Since Mom was the communication hub for the family, I was sure that she'd tell my brother and and sister what her plans were. But when Brother #2 called early in the week before we were due to fly out to talk about other things, he mentioned that he hadn't talked to Mom about the arrangements because he hadn't been able to reach her. He mentioned that Sister #1 hadn't been able to either. I knew that I had called and her answering machine had been full, which wasn't unusual, since she almost never deleted a message, but it was sounding a bit odd, given that none of us reached her or got a call back. (Note: Sister #1 played back all the messages on Mom's machine, which went back several months and included one from me excitedly telling Mom that Mama and just felt 3B kick for the first time. Sister #3 later told me that Mom used to have her come over and listen to those messages because she was so excited to get them.)

By now, you all know how this story ends, but what you don't know is that as this all unfolded, I was swapping phone calls and emails with my siblings while I was at work. That's a frustrating enterprise, at best, since these weren't calls I wanted to be taking on my work phone, in my veal-fattening pen with its walls of tissue paper, and cell reception in our building is sketchy on a good day. I had to keep walking to a window or even down a floor and outside to check for messages and make calls back to either of them. From my end, there wasn't anything that I could do except try to keep a lid on my rising panic and wait for what was rapidly appearing to be a sorrowful conclusion to this flurry of communication. Knowing that they were doing everything they could out there, and that the waiting and the dread were just as bad for them as for me, I tried to let them go and just wait to hear back from them.

Finally, I couldn't wait any longer; I just had to move, so I took an early lunch break and headed down into the nature preserve, which (not so) coincidentally has good cell reception in case a call came through. On the way out of the building, I had to tell myself how to breathe, to keep from hyperventilating: "In through the nose, out through the mouth...slower...slower...in, then out."

Even with that, I was almost panting. I just couldn't relax enough to breathe deeply.

Down in the hollow of the nature preserve, surrounded by the beauty of late summer blossoms, the lake, the artificial waterfall and the soft, green light shimmering down through the leaves, I couldn't help myself any longer. I begged god for this one favor:
Please, please let my mother be alive.
Please let this be like it was on New Year's Day this year, when we panicked a little, and it turned out that her phone had gone out unexpectedly.

Please, god. I know that I'm not a religious man. I know that I'm not even as spiritual as I aspire to be. But please god, this isn't about me. Please god, don't be so cruel. I just want Mom to meet 3B. I just want her to hold him once. To see his sweet little smile, to be delighted when he smiles at her, to know the soft warmth of her hands and the sweet music of her voice. I want her to hear him coo and to see him sleep, and I want her to see how happy I am.

Oh god, I want Mom to see that 3B and Mama are everything I've ever wanted, and how happy I am to share them with her. Please god, I want my son to know my mother.
The thing is, god couldn't answer my prayers. He had already made up his mind, and at that point, only a miracle would allow Mom to meet 3B. That didn't keep me from desperate measures. I continued imploring a god that I'm not even sure I understand or believe in to save my mother. I tried picturing her laughing and walking around the house; I tried to picture her in bright, sunny places; I tried to surround her in my mind's eye with a golden light--I'm a Californian, I'm entitled to trying freaky shit in desperate times--but although I could see her laughing, talking, walking, still moving as though alive, I could only see her surrounded by a brilliant, flat, white light.

Perhaps that was just a failing of my mind's eye. Or perhaps that was god's way of telling me that a rider on a white horse had come for her. I don't know. I'll never know. But, at the same time, with every passing minute I knew--I knew and I couldn't escape it. I knew that Mom had died. It was getting harder to breathe as the minutes went by. I think that if I hadn't still been whispering instructions to myself, I might have simply forgotten to breathe at all.

At one point during labor, Mama had turned to me with a look that said, "I need to get out of here." She didn't mean the room or the hospital; she meant her body. Through her eyes and with her face, she told me as clearly as if she'd whispered it into my ear, "I cannot take this anymore. I need to get out of my body. I need to get away from this pain." It was a heartbreaking moment for me because there was nothing I could say or do. I couldn't take the pain away or even comfort her by telling her that it wasn't so bad or that it would go away soon or that I knew how she felt. But standing out there, alone, in the woods, with the rustling leaves, I suddenly knew what she had been feeling. I had to get out of there, but the there that I needed to leave was my body and my mind, from which there was no escape.

Somehow, I found my way back to the office, still reminding myself to breathe. Shortly after arriving, I saw that I had a voicemail from Brother #2. I walked downstairs one more time to get the news, pacing on the lawn in front of the building. He was already halfway to Mom's house--a six-hour drive--and Sister #1 was on the road already. I got off the phone with him and immediately started checking on flights for the next day, and extending our return trip. Upstairs again, I packed my desk in about 12 seconds, and after I couldn't find my boss in one lap of each floor of the building, I pulled aside the most senior coworker in our unit and told her, then left. I raced home to finally break down in Mama's arms, who was at first so happy to see me home early, then so sad it made me cry harder.

In the almost two weeks we were in California, I didn't think much of this brief time--the few short hours that day that seemed to stretch out over several days: the agonizing wait, the futile pleading with god, and the spinning laps through the building before my sprinting departure, all while trying to remember how to breathe. But when I pulled into the garage again, I was suddenly back there--torn apart by time, beseeching god, and trembling with every step. To keep from crying as I walked from the garage, past the lawn on which I paced as I heard the news, into the doors I had last bolted through two weeks before, I again had to tell myself: "In through the nose, out through the mouth...slower...slower...in, then out."

Even with that, I almost broke down in the lobby.

I made it through by telling myself that, although this would hurt like hell, I'd make it through--that this would pass, which is somewhat true. These days, the tears don't percolate up into my throat so often, but I do spend my days and nights with a dull ache in the bottom of my belly that keeps me from feeling hungry, and when I do eat, keeps me from ever feeling full. It keeps me awake at night, and threatens to pull me down and drown me in Hypnos' sea by day. I know from experience that this will pass. Slowly. And never quite completely, but someday I'll be able to eat again, become sated again, and sleep again--although never so restfully as before I'm afraid.

Mom and I had talked about our insomnia after Dad died. It just came up in conversation--one of us mentioning that we didn't sleep so well anymore, and the other agreeing. Mom said that she used the TV and crossword puzzles to help distract her long enough to let sleep overtake her. I get too caught up in the completion of either a movie or a crossword puzzle for those to work on me, but we both needed the same thing: a distraction, something to keep us from remembering.

Mostly the memories of Mom are good, and don't keep me awake; I still see Mom laughing and talking and walking around with us, but who I am now--a man orphaned at 38 years old--is what I'm reminded of every day when I walk into work and flash back to that day. And that's what I remember when I lay my head down on my empty pillow at night. I remember pacing in the woods, I remember desperate deals I struck with a deaf god, I remember that 3B doesn't deserve this.

And then I remember that deserve's got nothin' to do with it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Some people are all heart, but not Ruben Campoy

Update: Ruben wrote me a personal note three years after this form letter and explained himself when I asked him to. For the record, he's not a coke dealer; he seems like a reasonable guy; and he's not ashamed of being in the clown band. You can read his full comments.

Ruben, Ruben, Ruben. . .

A little tip, if I may, about doing business in the Google age: if your name is not unique, you might want to include a URL for your website when you send out your deeply felt form letters in your avaricious attempt to profit from the grief of others.

See, if you don't include a URL for your website, someone like me might have to Google you to find out just how reputable a person is who fires off form letters to a grieving family to drool over their mother's estate before the grass on her grave has had time to take root, and that someone, like me, might not be able to tell if Ruben Campoy is a trumpet player in a clown band or if Ruben Campoy is a coke smuggler.

Fortunately, you included your address and phone number, making it easy to find Ruben Campoy, the zany, trumpeting clown or call Ruben Campoy, the coke smuggler for anyone who wants to hear some zany brass, score a coupla' keys, or discuss his mother's estate with a total stranger who happens to be a hearse-chasing, opportunistic slug of the lowest sort.

As a matter of fact, next time I am in town, perhaps I will stop by for a visit. If you're not there, I might just have to check with your neighbors to see if they know which one you are:

Or perhaps you're all three--a renaissance man of sorts, a jackass of all trades and master of none.

Before I get there, however, perhaps Google will have found enough links to information about your clowning--or was it coke dealing?--to clarify to everyone just how trustworthy and sensitive you are.



Ruben found my blog and wrote me a note...
I read your blog from back in the day on Ruben Campoy,…I have no problems with the blog except that your coke dealer is not me…for the few months I tried after the seminar I went to…I found Probate is a very difficult and sensitive situation…your right about the internet..info is at a keyboard click…It was why I gave complete comps of the area to the people I worked with and I am not ashamed of helping the people I spoke with at the time, I gave them as up to date information as possible.. But I am not ashamed of playing the trumpet and yes I was in klown band 20 years ago in college. Again, I do mind that you have me linked to some drug dealer…please remove that link…appreciate this ..thank you…Ruben

I asked Ruben to explain why he wrote the form letter...
I sincerely want to apologize to and your family for any type of emotional hardship it might have caused you… I did it for like 4-5 months after attending a seminar. I am still in real estate, but the market has changed so there is plenty of inventory as opposed to awhile ago when you couldn’t find any property for investors. Probate is a tough gig. I guess its why I had my address and phone number on the letter…For the few who did have a problem, they could call or write me right away. I wasn’t trying to hide from anyone… And believe me… I got a couple of earfuls from some families…,but right or wrong, it is part of that business. And you would be very surprised on how many positive calls I actually did get from it. Believe or not, I actually met people who still call me to this day if they have questions about the housing market. but again, I apologize for your families inconvenience with the letter. Hopefully you can forgive and forget…Best wishes to your family…

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sometimes Serendipity Sucks

...or I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and I Don't Always Want What I Have Found Along the Way.

I'm sitting by myself in the balcony, awaiting the season opening performance of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra. In the seat to my right, where Mama would usually sit, is my hat; Mama is in Vermont for the week with 3B, introducing him to his great-grandma, cousins, great-aunts and uncles, and the farm, which is where Mama's Mom grew up.

With things being as topsy-turvy as they have been recently, we lost track of our symphony ticket until yesterday. Mama called me at work to let me know that opening night was tonight, but neither of us could remember, or had time to look up the program.

Turns out the first half is Midori playing Brahms' violin concerto, and the second half is Beethoven's 9th. My first reaction was to flash back to hearing the Brahms at the SF Symphony with Mom, which is where I heard so much symphonic music for the first time. My next thought was that this is a pretty easy, crowd pleasing season opener. Of course, they have bills to pay and, as someone who loves both pieces, I'm proof that their program selections put the butts in the seats, but sometimes it's nice to be stretched. I remember the time that Mom and I saw the SF Symphony play the score to Alexander Nevsky, complete with chorus in the balcony, which rose to sing just as the amassed armies on screen rushed headlong into battle, the motion in the symphony hall echoing and amplifying that in the film.

Music has the same effect on my emotions, echoing and amplifying them, especially these days. Or, as FunkDaddie, who recently lost his Dad, says, "Music, it's a motherfucker." It's not helping that in going over the last gifts that I got from Mom, I keep playing the Johnny Cash album that she got me. It's appropriately titled, as both she and I traveled down hundreds of highways together and separately, but with songs like "Further On (Up the Road)" and "Like the 309," it's sometimes a hard listen.

"I hear the sound of a railroad train
The whistle blows and I'm gone again"

Nevertheless, sitting here now, I'm hearing the Brahms and Beethoven in my mind, and picturing my young mother emerging from the Stanford Library, having just finished studying for her music appreciation class, dancing down the steps singing the melodies.

"One sunny mornin' we'll rise I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road."