We started the day with a looooong neighborhood walk. Our departed companion was represented by his leash, which I put around my neck, his harness, which Nicole carried, and my trusty pocketed doggie doo-doo bag, because…well…at my age you never know. It just so happened that along the way we saw some folks walking a reddish dog with a flag-like tail and some seriously billowing bloomers. This brought back memories of a retirement idea one of our colleagues long ago proposed for us to bring to fruition collectively: we’d each employ our special talents in a one-stop wedding service called Groom ‘n’ Lube. My friends Karen Downey and Becky Sarrazin (the braintrust) would organize and decorate, I’d perform the service, Nicole would style the wedding party’s coifs, and our buddy John Steitz would take care of all the mechanical and security chores (“Call Guido: 443-KILL”). Anyway, watching this dog and remembering Louis, Nicole proposed a similar venture for us, Plume and Pantz: a grooming service just for border collies and their Aussie likes.
We hate this pandemic, but it enabled us to work together from home, and we really needed to do that yesterday. Fortunately, we each had our ugly cries at different times so we were able to calm each other rather than stoke the fire of our grieving with more coals of sadness. But just as nothing gold can stay, neither can anything black.
A story about Louie, which I’ve told before but I’ll try to spin a little differently: one summer day when Louis was a puppy, our friend George Frissell swung by to brainstorm with me about what would be the 1st and only Rock and Roll Quiz Bowl fundraiser. We were sitting at the kitchen table, I made a suggestion, and a look blossomed on George’s face akin to religious (or perhaps another kind of) ecstasy. I furrowed my brow as if you say, “The idea wasn’t THAT good”–then I peeked under the table to see Louis tongue-bathing George’s be-sandaled toes. I ’bout lost it. The dog could be a menace to visitors, but his true soul manifested itself in this case.
Streaming for Strivers:
Why not? We need it and it’s the anniversary of his birth.
“Are you ever too busy to write these,” you might ask. Well, I always write about yesterdays on my todays, and today I’ve been ON IT since I woke up at 4:30ish. I just realized I hadn’t, ahem, journaled. I’m hanging out with my mom Jane and watching Bubble Playoffs, so I must be brief.
Yesterday started pretty well. I accomplished something easy but important at work: I emailed 12 freshmen at Stephens to check on their start (students can choose to attend classes in person or on-line, with all classes available in real time on Zoom), their comfort level (Stephens is taking our health pretty seriously, and only has two recorded cases so far), and their need for tutoring. Amazingly, almost all of them wrote me back quickly with quite a bit enthusiasm for school. I will contact them intermittently just to make sure they know they have academic (and moral) support.
Then I learned Mom was having no luck simply changing her direct deposit information with the Social Security Administration, a necessity since Dad passed. She was just looking for a way to help, as my brother Brian and I have divided up the massive and labyrinthine administrative issues that confront every family when someone passes. I jumped in to help her, but met with just as much frustration–to the extent that it drove me into a moody state for the rest of the day. I’m fairly sure Nicole would agree that’s a state I seldom visit. I escaped into books and two nail-biter playoff games, including one that sent my Thunder home. I rolled over to go to sleep at a little past 11 and stared at the wall for several minutes, before, fortunately, I crashed.
To be continued.
Streaming for Survivors:
How I felt after setting up a “My Social Security” profile for Mom to no avail. Play loud.
Among the last things my dad made before he passed were two record crates. The guy loved to work with wood out in his shop, and lived to make things for friends and family. Despite my frequent recent attempts to whittle down my vinyl collection, it had returned like an enriching cancer and overflowed probably 100 or so outside its containment, so I’d asked him if he could knock a couple out for me. He carefully took the measurements of one of my existing crates, and a few months ago excitedly told me he’d finished them. This damned pandemic initially kept me from retrieving them, and I’d just loaded them into our trunk minutes before the accident that ended his life. Believe me, they were solidly and carefully built.
I’d put off sliding records into them until yesterday. Seems like an easy thing to have done quickly, but, see, I have a system: my stacks are fairly deep, so if I file new stuff into them, they can easily disappear before I’ve fixed them in my memory. Thus I have a separately alphabetized “new acquisitions” stack, the freshest additions to which I keep upstairs (along with regularly refreshed selections from the main stacks). Isn’t this fascinating? The problems had been twofold: one, the new acquisitions stack had grown larger than most folks’ total collection (if most folks had collections), and two, a symptom of my mourning has been I just haven’t felt like doing much other than what I have to. And I was just avoiding it.
Anyway, I decided to buck my ass up and make sure Dad’s work had not gone for naught, and chose to integrate the new with the old. Figured it’d take an hour or so; labored from about noon to 4:30, with a break for lunch–my back’s screaming at me right now. The record room is also “the kitten room” (I don’t have a choice), so Junior and Smokey were scrambling around discombobulated, especially since I was using their observation tower as a staging area. Of course, in the process, I came across items I’d almost forgotten about–Aura with Lee Scratch Perry, a live Wilson Pickett bootleg from the ’60s, two Slade albums–and somewhere a Johnny Bush album got swallowed up unalphabetically and resisted my strivings to locate it. But–’tis done, Dad, and your two sturdy ones are bearing the heaviest load. Thank you.
Streaming for Survivors:
Born in a favela, she just turned 83 and has a new single out, a musical middle finger extended at Bolsonaro whether she intended it or not. An international treasure. This is her most recent record.
Traveled to Monett for an up-and-back visit with my parents, to limit our exposing them to virus risk. As we were leaving, my dad experienced a dizzy spell, fell to the driveway, hit his head, and briefly lost consciousness. We followed the ambulance that spirited him away to Cox South in Springfield, where he eventually landed in the neural trauma ICU after a CT scan: brain bleed. He had been on blood thinners for another health complication, which wasn’t a great situation. But the last doc we talked to before we headed home sounded cautiously optimistic. Dad had spoken to us: “I’m ok.” “Where am I?” “Oh, God.” “Jesus.” But also garbled syllables…
At 1:15 a.m. Cox called to inform us Dad had taken a turn for the worse and would likely not last beyond Monday. Stunned, we returned to the hospital to begin a vigil. He did not regain consciousness. Calling Dad’s friends to tell them was exquisitely painful. We rotated by twos to sit by his bedside, though a few times we cheated and snuck in by five. Many readers have experienced the gradual succumbing of the unconscious by dying-gasp phases, which is among the most excruciating witnessing one can do; it was my second time. My dad was a hard-headed man, and twice conjured laughter from us out of despair by seeming to be ready to depart, drawing us together in tears and embraces–then beating death back. Finally, his exhalations faded, then stopped at around 8:45 p.m., 3:15 short of Father’s Day. Following the chaplain’s visit, we trudged out as if shackled to ball and chain, and drove home. Through it all, my mom was wondrously strong.
We vowed this would be a buffer day: no business. Only decompressing and dealing with waves of sadness, happy memories, shock, grim humor, confusion, relief, and the agape, frightening state of being overwhelmed. We were fortunate also to enjoy waves of support, though we could not finish my cousin Jim’s made-to-order truckload of delicious biscuits and sausage gravy. We were all surprised that we were so drained we could go right to sleep: it was as if we’d been hurtling smoothly down life’s highway, the driver had stomped on the brakes, and we’d mass-exited via windshield and were airborne in a blur of forward motion, just feet above asphalt stretching out of sight.
I am a big believer in routine and ritual in times of stress, as I’ve demonstrated in earlier commentary entries. I chose to continue teaching (my peers at Stephens had offered to cover for me), and my brother and I agreed to deal with three-four post-death imperatives per day maximum, so we would also have time for self-care. I almost regretted the former choice when an NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Alicia Keys left me sobbing two minutes before class started.
We met with the funeral director and knocked out details for the service, but totally preoccupied by tragedy might not have wrestled with the coronavirus factor thoroughly enough. I knew I would be writing Dad’s obituary after the Saturday early morning phone call, but I dreaded it. I found an isolated corner in which to write, poured some Canadian courage, plunged into the task, struggled, cried, had to pee, walked down the hall to the bathroom, and happened to notice the framed commendations of my dad’s service that have been hanging on the wall for almost 20 years. I took them all off the wall and back to my cubbyhole, where they fed me the linchpin segment of the obit. By the time I was finished, I needed a cup of Twining’s Extra Bold Breakfast Tea just to relax. After dinner we had a great religious discussion that drained us enough to go to sleep immediately again.
Mom awakened to the impact of sudden loss. She let it all out, then recovered after embraces and shared tears. She is tough–even tougher than I thought–and though this road will be long and full of potholes (it IS Missouri), I know she’s equal to it. I awakened and realized I had neither shaved or applied deodorant since Thursday–I addressed the latter. At the funeral home, we viewed Dad’s body one last time prior to its cremation–not easy, but we were together. I tried to grade papers through the masked and unmasked friends who streamed through Mom’s door, and succeeded, though I couldn’t (as usual) go full-medieval with editing commentary. Our dear friend Hiedi continued to look after our culinary needs and offer beaming smiles, laughter, and hugs, and the highlight of my day was wandering around Dad’s fascinating and slightly insane workshop with my brother, Hiedi’s husband and our honorary brother Greg, and his son-in-law Logan. I am the opposite of a craftsman, but as I watched them wander from skillsaw to lathe to air compressor to sander, remarking on their qualities and vintage, I told them, “Dad’s lucky to have three people who know exactly how special and how unique these machines are, and how special this spot is. Some folks leave things behind only to have survivors complain, ‘What do we do with this junk?'”
I’m trying like hell to keep this commentary going. I’m nervous about the crowd coming to Thursday’s service. Dad had many friends, but these times are threatening. Folks need to be cool.
Streaming for Survivors:
For my brother Brian, who I watched the Netflix ZZ Top documentary with, but who hadn’t heard of this band, which was mentioned as a kind of influence.