Friday, January 29, 2016

Read this in Six Months

Spuds and his girlfriend have an early fight. I tell them that we will leave the house at 5:30. I wake myself at 4 and notice that there are loads in both the washer and dryer. I fold one load and dry the other and by the time Spuds wanders upstairs at 5:15, all of his laundry is done. “Thanks,” he says. If not for my insomnia I guess he would have either left half of his wardrobe here or lugged a suitcase full of damp clothes back to NY. Spuds is still packing his clean clothes when it's time to leave for the airport and girlfriend cannot find her shoes.

We make it to the airport on time. I help them get their suitcases out of the trunk. Spuds has been home for six weeks. It's the longest he's spent at home for nearly three years. I have to relearn that he loathes mushroom, raisins and olives but unlike his father enjoys brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Even with another fussy eater to contend with and sports blaring on the TV most of the time, I find that after this longer visit it's particularly difficult to see him go. Snarfly, fumbling for Kleenex, I pull away from the airport curb and there's a sudden pounding on the window. Girlfriend has run out into traffic. She's left her backpack in the backseat. It's funny that these kids live away from home around 80% of the year and seem to manage. I wonder if being around a mom triggers some sort of chemical reaction that obliterates life skills.

In addition to helping to plan Richard's memorial my week requires an inordinate amount of document retrieval. Richard, and his iron fist, for years protected me from my own deficit life skills by maintaining an impeccable filing system. I am able to lay hands on decade old tax returns, car registrations and proof that I passed the Cbest test in 1981. Having knocked off early to do some baking and alter my state of consciousness, I realize that a shitload of the documents that Richard meticulously classified and filed are left strewn over my desk. He won't be there Monday morning to yell at me and put everything back in its place. Before I have my first cup of coffee I swear that I will file every single document. Well, maybe before the second cup, but truly if I don't keep it together myself now I am totally screwed. Richard, I file in your honor.

Richard would also know the date of my mom's death. From now on I will have to refer to her death certificate which he'd dutifully filed. I guess she's been gone for around six years but like I said, I'm not at the office. Mom would make a paper list of things that were making her unhappy and file it away for six months. Half a year later she's always find that these problems had ceased to dog her, or at least were less daunting. Perhaps this writing here is my alternative to the six month list although I seldom go back and reread. I know that Mom was right though. In six months the rawness of my recent sorrow will have diminished. And I'll be filing everything and not leaving stuff to accumulate on my desk

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Meaning of Strife

The last thing that I can do for one of my dearest friends is memorialize him at a shindig that he'd be delighted to attend. I am pouring myself into this because when it's over all that's left is missing him. I am making a slideshow with music and pictures of Richard. I comb through a lifetime of his and my own snapshots. An envelope of photos is pulled from a high closet in his cottage. These are from the early 70s, before he'd moved to L.A. I've haven't seen them before. One of our strong bonds is that we've both had excruciating struggles with weight. I know he'd lost a ton but until seeing these pictures, I'd never realized how really fat he'd been. As I cull through my own albums searching for pictures of Richard, I find many fat pictures of myself and reject them. Even if they're great of Richard. I accept that fatness or thinness has no bearing on one's strength of character. I remember that when I was very fat people loved me and I had many wonderful experiences. So, is it hypocritical to jettison these pictures and virtually obliterate a long part of my life?

The thing is, I can't bear to see my fat self, and I presume, Richard, by virtue of having tucked away those photos, felt the same. I haven't actually shredded mine but I think about it. Even my wedding pictures and pictures of me with the kids when they were tiny are hard to look at. As a very fat person, I was well dressed and groomed. I even had dresses custom made from vintage fabric that I collected. I bought department store cosmetics while the thinner me is fine with drugstore. I was accomplished and laid the foundations for lifelong relationships. Maybe the collective consciousness has evolved, but before I lost 150 lbs. it was often unbearable simply to be a fat person out in the world. I felt constant pressure to prove my quality. Even in the briefest or most insubstantial encounter obligated me to assert that I wasn't stupid, or indolent or deeply flawed to be walking around in such a big body. The worst was that my kids were teased because their mom was so fat.

They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Having lived as an extremely fat person has indeed made me more resilient and socially nimble. But I still don't like being reminded what it was like to navigate in a very fat body. Seeing evidence that Richard too survived this, sort of complements his outre sense of humor and self assuredness. Still as mistress of the slideshow, there will be no fat pictures of either of us. Even if, as Richard would say, Krakatoa is erupting in the background.

The pictures I've chosen to include show what I consider the quintessential Richard, buoyant, arms open wide, huge grin and a naughty twinkle in his eye. And this is pretty much how he was. Though few months ago he called me, abnormally down in the dumps. As a single, childless man he felt a rush of aloneness and worried about money and aging and health. I just pointed out that he had more close friends than anyone I know. I assured him that no one would let him fall through the cracks. He thanked me a couple times for the pep talk. I simply told him the truth but remembering that it was comforting to him makes me feel a bit less awful about the times I couldn't get him off the phone soon enough or dissed him for arriving at a dinner party with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.

In the sad period following his death I have at least taken my own advice and have sought comfort, reaching out to stalwart friends. Spuds and I stop in Felton for a night with Chris and Bob. I likely can navigate their kitchen better than they can themselves. The house, encircled by redwoods, is redolent with sage and lavender. I cherish the refuge of this place of ancient trees and friendship. Eventually I suppose I'll even adjust to the “no shoes” policy instituted since the installation of a new floor.

The culmination of a week of old friends and old pictures is an interview for a (substitute) teaching job at an adult skill center. The dingy fustiness of a public school campus evokes another flood of memories. I wait and watch the parade of students registering for classes. Held in classrooms I imagine that do not have chalkboards and erasers and pull down maps. I taught for more than ten years but have been out of the classroom for more than twenty. There is a structured oral interview which serves only to reinforce what a relic I am. Still, I am hoping for a chance. The satisfaction of teaching will be a balm for the empty nest itchiness that still afflicts me.

I cannot imagine anyone, after the sudden death of a peer, not thinking, “Jeeze it could have been me.” So I'll try to find a couple hours of work that matters. Thank you God for the DVR. There will be other memorials to plan and someone's got to plan mine so I should be a better friend to the ones who are left. I'll invite them all to come and watch TV.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What It's Like

I go through my friend Richard's phonebook to call his other friends and announce his death. Hard news, of course but I notice that the older contacts, while shocked and sorrowed, accept his death with more equanimity. The hardest is my kids. They've lost four out of four grandparents but none of these deaths was a surprise and both, since birth, have spent far more time with Richard than all four grandparents combined. Losing Uncle Richard, particularly suddenly, is the biggest loss they've ever experienced. And when I chew it around, I realize that it is also the biggest loss I've had myself.

The morning I tell them is fraught with tears and emotion. That evening we sit on the couch watching tv. An episode of Nathan For You induces us all to hysterical laughter, perhaps amped up a bit from our rawness. After our gales subside, Number One Son takes a breath. “Oh, this is what it's like.” Unbearable loss and brilliant comedy happen on the same day. There are waves of deep sorrow, and still for me, four weeks from his death, I have teary moments each day. Oscar season is particularly poignant. Richard referred to the period between the nominations and the ceremony as the High Holy Days. As I clean his cottage I find enormous reams of carefully handwritten notes documenting each year of the awards with meticulous cross referencing. Himself has retrieved Richard's ashes from the mortuary, noting the atypical extravagance of a copper urn. Richard's cousin will be returning him to Minnesota to be interred next to his mom but for now, I've placed in a shopping bag what's left of my dear friend. As the sun rises, he is close, as this year's nominations are announced. I wonder if I will ever get used to not gabbing with him about happy surprises and shocking omissions. I think Brie Larson would have made him happy and he would have rolled his eyes about Jennifer Lawrence's fourth nomination.

Between the death of Richard, who's done my office filing for decades, and my bookkeeper's seriously ill son, I am to the wire on filing business taxes. Number One's son's car is totaled while I am on my way to take Ana, our former nanny, to the hospital. Two days later, while I accompany her son to a court hearing I get the call that Ana's to undergo emergency surgery. I doubt that I'll ever again get to be at the Criminal Courts and County General Hospital on the same day. One thing I notice is that almost everyone I encounter at the court and hospital is warm and nice. And while the uniformed hospital staffers are easy to distinguish from patients, some of the defendants at the court could easily be mistaken for attorneys and vice versa. The public defender we meet with is caring and attentive and he insures that the outcome is satisfactory.

Ana ends up at a tiny Chinatown hospital and the doctor is patient and sympathetic and the nurses are sweet. In addition to dealing with Ana and her family, insurance adjusters, and CPAs I've been applying for a bunch of teaching jobs. My age and lack of recent experience make this a long shot but after encountering the folks at the hospital and courts, who truly try to make navigating a world of complications a bit easier, I remember how satisfying teaching is. One bright spot in a difficult week is that I am actually called for an interview.

Writing here is to make sense for myself but also to remember. With death and taxes and all of the other obstacles I am a bit overwhelmed. I hope I hold onto this extended period with both of the kids at home. And I have kittens. They are growing too fast and have a skin condition. We give them pills and baths and they wail and bite and my arms are junkie-like from their razor sharp little claws. The moment I settle in to a warm bath they dive into their adjacent litter box and poop. But they cuddle and chase the birdie on the stick and rassle and defy me to be sad or anxious.

I write this from San Francisco where I've slipped off for a few days with Spuds. He has been home, marooned and carless. He will be off to visit his girlfriend and then they are returning together so it will likely be summer until I have him to myself again. We try to piece together a blur of other trips we've made here. The big but messy house near the park. The tiny squalid apartment with the impossibly narrow garage. The Metreon. The Exploratorium. The Aquarium. The Children's Museum.

Now we look at art. I drag him to the Beach Chalet to take in one of my favorite WPA murals, a vivid, if idealized, panorama of 1930s San Francisco. At Spud's request we attend a big contemporary show at Fort Mason. I separate from him and take in the many different booths briskly. Nothing speaks to me and most pieces are ugly and/or stupid. There is weird furniture that I don't know if you're supposed to buy or just sit in, although neither option interests me. I make another round, this time only looking at people. This is more satisfying. Sullen gallery girls in impossible shoes glowering at their phones. Dealers clad in bespoke suits with pricy haircuts and artsy eye glass frames. Spuds catches up with me. “You hate everything, don't you?” He is an Art History major and when I think about the amount of debt we're incurring for him to enter this world I get a bit woozy. When I sheepishly admit that I find everything and everyone farcically pretentious, he takes me around a bit and cogently explains the merits of a couple of pieces by artists that he's studied in school. He makes a good case. Still, I prefer my vivid representational murals, created under the aegis of a progressive government and intended to bring art to public places.

As we roam around bits and snippets of other trips to the Bay area come back to us. I probably won't remember car accidents or court dates. I will however never hear the news of a celebrity death (Haskell Wexler, Vilmos Zsigmond, David Bowie and Alan Rickman since he's been gone) without wanting to call Richard. I hope too that I will recall the serendipitous comfort that all four of us were together to mourn and remember him. I know that as the kids pair off and move on there will be fewer occasions of just us four, but our places at the table are indelible. The kittens will grow into languid big cats but I will remember them leaping miraculously high to catch the birdie or the vibrations of the tiny things purring, near my heart, as they cuddle close.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Resolutions I Can Keep

I resolve not to eat at restaurants with the word “veggie” in the name.
I resolve not to risk heatstroke by exercising when the temperature is above 75° Fahrenheit.
I resolve not to risk chilblains by exercising when the temperature is below 65° Fahrenheit.
I resolve not to watch Pitbulls and Parolees (unless Lockup and American Greed are reruns).
I resolve not to twerk.
I resolve not to consume licorice between the hours of 11 p.m. -7 a.m.
I resolve not to call anyone an asshole (to his or her face).
I resolve not to wear leggings.
I resolve not to valet park (unless there is no street parking within 25' of my destination).
I resolve not to drink kombucha.
I resolve not to read anything written by Thomas Pychon.
I resolve not to watch the Real Housewives of anywhere.
I resolve not to say aloud the words “Rooty Tooty Fresh 'n Frooty” or the name of any entree on the menu of the Cafe Gratitude.
I resolve not to set foot in Big Five Sporting Goods.
I resolve not to even think about pilates.
I resolve not to use a selfie stick.
I resolve not to imbibe anything“Skinny Girl.”
I resolve not to say “no worries.”
I resolve not to ride a hoverboard
I resolve not to use emojis (except in correspondence with clients who like that sort of thing).
I resolve to remember that when the kids say that the weed that they steal from me is “dank” that they mean it's good.
I resolve to clean up after my dog (when anyone is looking).
I resolve to drink eight glasses of water a day (after it has been boiled and poured over coffee beans or fermented into beer)
I resolve not to eat any of the cookies or cakes I bake (except for the purpose of quality control testing, which perfectionist that I am, should be extensive)