Archive for April, 2010

Chapter 1: The Window

April 25, 2010

My window is a murderer and is trying to kill again. The window targets cats and is attempting another slow, painful ending. Set in a moderately sized, rectangular, ivory painted room, the window is deep enough to lure its prey to the nice napping station it provides with its sills. The window box is large enough to possess two functioning windows joined side by side, and an inner ledge long and deep enough for a human to sit across comfortably with legs only slightly bent. But I’m not falling for that trap.

The daily view is that of a tangle of streets, apartment buildings, occupied and abandoned, a few confused, malnourished trees, and many, many people exercising various forms of inhumanity upon one another. The sounds are a constant din of sirens, horns, screams, smashed glass, bent metal, revved engines, trash trucks, arguments, parties, gunshots, and the occasional lost seagull. It is no wonder that the window’s light-filled days have faded along with its youth and it has slowly fallen from sadness to dismay to disgust, and now completed its decent into pure evil and hatred.

I have always been wary of this window. When I first moved in about a year ago, a few bubbling boils appeared at the top of the outset box. The stains surrounding the grotesque bulges looked like a color diagram illustrating various types of dried mustards. I knew this to be water damage and I knew that this would eventually be a big deal. Yet, the window had a power and used its inescapable, dark charm to draw my bed close for its light and breezes.

Determined to make my new lodgings as comfortable as possible for my two cats, I padded many soft, woolen blankets along the sill for their napping comfort and viewing entertainment, all the while nervously watching the brooding malice above. My feline companions took to their new, large sunny daybed with great enthusiasm, while the window slowly seethed and waited.

As the summer months progressed, the cracks and boils and stains slowly spread and the paint began to peel in large, thick sheets, curling and twisting. Calls to the landlord, Grayson, a man I had never actually seen, went unreturned and eventually the window slowly mounted its first attack by silently dropping a few, lead-filled paint chips onto and around the cat bed. With the focused anger of a starved spider, the window continued to lower its poisonous flakes like carefully laid strands of web. The sweet morsels, dusted about the bed, would eventually be too much for the curiosity of the smaller of the two, Lois, and unnoticed by me, she began to eat.

While summer burned itself out into fall, the corrupting effects began to take hold of the innocent cat and the window’s evil amusement ever grew as a huge lip of soiled paint curled and hissed from its roof. As the lead began to dig its claws into Lois, the window could no longer contain its blackened joy and began to foam and drool warm, rusty liquid onto the blankets.

Lois’ demise was quick and painful. Throughout the autumn all senses began to fail her, betray her, and eventually wither altogether. With browning leaves and growing frosts, she lost her sight, her balance, her appetite and eventually her legs. It was a gruesome, excruciating experience to behold, and when she eventually had to be put down out of mercy, the window erupted in the throws of its own ecstasy and fuming bile poured forth upon the bed, forever staining the blankets.

The following months of grieving were met with a constant shower of triumph from the window box’s ceiling. The paint was completely devoured and the exposed rusted steel and cold brick gave a glance into the twisted soul of the window. The sill was now only a place of drenched, stained towels, buckets and murder. I began to withhold my rent and leave threatening messages until the landlord had no choice but to try and seal up this evil. I had little hope that he would effectively snuff out this horror, for he had been a knowing accomplice to the murder, but it was the least I could do for some small sense of justice for Lois.

The fixing of the roof and the resealing of the window began in early spring and was a slow, uncomfortable process. No notice was ever given as to when these men would be coming and going, often times leaving exposed work and filthy rags for weeks before returning. I realized that I was up against not only an evil spirit, but also its minions. I began to wonder if the window did not in fact turn to evil from its surroundings, but rather always was evil and sat in this unassuming chamber watching over its ruinous realm. The innocence of my cats and me were welcomed in as sport and prey, where the cats, unfortunately, were the mice.

The window was all but finished a few days ago, and despite a few cosmetic oversights, Barry (my remaining cat) and I were happy to try and put this waking nightmare behind us. New blankets were assembled and laid upon the base of the window, Lois’ ashes were silently placed in an urn by the bed, and we tried to begin the desperately slow healing process. Spring was now in full display, and although we were heavy of heart that Lois will never share another spring with us, there was a feeling of relief that we had seemingly made it to the other side. And then a man came back on Thursday to finish the window.

I stayed in my room while the seemingly shrunken man put the final touches on the window. He had short, dark hair, a wide mouth, and one of those faces where you could not tell if he was very old and looked young or very young and looked old. He worked in silence while I typed away, not paying much attention to the scraping, sanding and painting. Before I could protest, I saw my fingers begin to leave traces of smoke along the keyboard and my entire room was covered in a thick, chalky dust and my eyes burned. With no warning and with windows closed, the man, with no mask, power-sanded the excess mud from the drywall and blanketed the room with an irrevocable mess. By the time I expressed my frustration at his methods, he was done sanding and was getting ready to paint. His face stretched a reluctant, awkward, wide smile and muttered a distant, diminutive, “Sorry,” in an unidentifiable accent. He quickly painted the work areas, informed it would be dry in fifteen minutes and speedily exited.

Annoyed and perplexed as to what to do with this layer of irritant consuming my room, I put the curtain rod back up, stretching and tearing the new paint, and I thought I heard a hiss. I set up a series of fans in my room and spent the rest of the day elsewhere. When it came time for sleep, I attempted to clean my bed and hoped that in the morning all of the mist would have vanished and the final gasp of the window would be exhaled. But I did not wake up to a sigh, I woke up to a sneeze.

Barry began sneezing at 6:00 am on Friday morning and did not stop until around 11:30 am. For those who are unaccustomed to cats, a cat sneeze is a cute, precious little thing that is as infrequent as seeing a butterfly. When a cat sneezes, usually the result of getting into something dusty or sticking their face too deep into the water bowl, it is met with a strange enjoyment from seeing a recognizable human response in a species we so often hope for similarities with, but rarely find. Barry was now sneezing with the shared human reaction of a full-blown allergy attack.

The sneezes came in bunches of four to six with about a thirty-second pause in between bouts. He was confused and uncomfortable and his green eyes dilated and become swollen with tears. Each shock of sneezing was met with a futile licking of the nose and moistened paw to the eyes and bridge. Despite his struggles with anger and anxiety in his youth, Barry has always been a strong, healthy cat – the brick house of the three little pigs. Now the window, after months of victory and slow planning, had found another way into the blood stream of his next feline victim. I cleaned my room furiously, desperately trying to eradicate the insidious particles. The explosion of dust had found its way into unreachable places and broken itself down into millions of invisible, invasive irritants.

It is now Sunday morning and the same sneezing has persisted and begun its third day. My eyes burn as I type. I continue to beat blankets and couches, sweep, vacuum, wash, repeat, and nothing has eased the evil that continues to plague Barry, and I fear it is crawling ever deeper into his body and tightening its grasp. If I can get him through one more night, I will take Barry to the vet tomorrow but also follow that visit with one to a voodoo healer. I am little versed in the demonic possession of buildings or seemingly inanimate objects, but fear that the devilry in the window runs through the entire building down to its foundations and is linked with sinewy fibers to every structure in this heathen city.

I am angry, overwhelmed and tired. I vow to fight the window as long as I can, but I am ever lured by his inescapable seduction. I am surrounded by the evil of this city and I can feel its love and hate for me in every stolen car, crack-riddled prostitute and shattered night’s sleep. The true art of his malice and skill is revealed to me, as the sight of Lois’ ashes inspired him to exercise his craft and use just such a similar substance to infect poor Barry. His evil is terrible yet perfect and strives to sap my will of good, honor and vengeance.

One man verses a possessed city may seem too great an undertaking, but I believe that I am exactly who they feared would one day come. In the memory of Lois, I will heal Barry and we will take on this shadowed city and either restore it to its original light and promise or destroy it one brick at a time.

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Uncle Woody’s Yearbooks

April 21, 2010

My 85 year-old Grandmother is moving. After 60 years in and around her beloved Portland, Maine, she is moving down to Massachusetts next month to be closer to immediate family, and particularly, her great granddaughter. The moving process has been slow and methodical, with larger items being divided among family members and the lion’s share being donated or thrown out. Her three sons have made their final pilgrimages to the homestead to collect their few remaining personal items, i.e. one gratuitously patched and tremendously over-loved teddy bear, “Baby Huggy,” and to stake claim to desired functional pieces of furniture by affixing them with different colored tapes that correspond to specific brothers. My main function has been carting many vanfulls of items to the local Goodwill. I have been up twice now, and each time managed at least three full loads to the donation center. As the cargo decreases, along with my grandmother’s strength and desire to sort through the rubble of the basement treasures, things begin to get older and more significant – published books by her father, my grandfather’s State of Maine tennis championship trophy’s from the thirties, a copy of Little Women that was her mother’s (that looks like it could have been a first edition by its dismantled state), yearbooks from her husband’s high school, college, and law school days, and finally, a small lonely stack of yearbooks belonging to Uncle Woody.

There were four sons and now there are three. When I was one year old, Uncle Woody, at the age of 30, after a life-long battle with depression, took his own life. I never knew the man nor would I see the immediate effects of his death on the surrounding family. Little was recounted to me of his life other than that he was remembered as quite a troubled man. Malicious and sadistic, sad and drug addicted, Uncle Woody seems to have left little legacy other than frustration and a lingering sense of inevitability. Despite such a struggle within himself and those he caused for others, by the time I was aware of his story, questions about him were deemed morbid curiosity and red flags of dormant suicidal tendencies beginning to bud. In actuality, it was the fact that Woody was all but erased from the family’s storyline that always seemed the most perplexing to me.

I believe that Uncle Woody was closest to my father, although such a relationship seemed to be arms-length at best. As with anything to a child, the further you hide it, the more intriguing it becomes. My inquiries about Uncle Woody’s life, loves, hobbies, struggles, experiences were often met with short, deferred answers and always (as mentioned above) with a strange smoke that blurred the distinction between my father’s pain or his fears that such an illness would be repeated in me. I have settled on a combination of the two that yields a third product, which is that talking about such matters may stoke a small ember in my brain that could eventually turn into a conflagration before I snuff it, myself, out. As not to cause my father any undue pain than that already suffered, and just as importantly, to prevent myself from being institutionalized, I let my thoughts of Uncle Woody ebb over the years.

My grandmother has a fascinatingly pragmatic disposition towards memories and sentimentality. Often incongruous to the love that she shows me (usually through delicious baking), my grandmother can be overly unsympathetic when talking about past memories or people. She will speak fondly and recount stories accurately and humorously, but does not dwell on loss or sadness for even a moment. Perhaps it’s Wilde’s, “Wisdom comes with winters,” and with the wisdom we try to shake the chill by forgetting the path it took to find us. Or perhaps it is just her personality, which can be brutally frank to the unintended result of insult or ridiculousness. Such a personality trait, which is often times unleashed on yours truly, does come from a caring place and is also amplified by a heightened state of matriarchy, being the mother of four boys and having been a middle school teacher for over 30 years. I am quick to see the loving origin of her enwisened barbs, and quicker to give it right back. We enjoy this good-natured sparring, where I listen and understand to what she is saying, but will often never do it. Most other folks are less tolerant or take it too personally, where I find it a humorous and entertaining way to talk about things that we care about, but I realize that I am in the privileged position of being her grandson.

The most frequent piece of advice I receive from my Grandmother is to stop dwelling so much on the past. I wondered at times if she used this method to avoid coping with pain, or if there was just too much to hold onto as the years continue. Being stubborn and emotional, I would spill my regrets in hopes of her seeing that my position was credible and real, and while she would acknowledge my struggles and feelings, she would offer the same words of suggestion – to stop drudging up past pains, as they are done and can not be resolved. She keeps a Family Circus cartoon on her refrigerator, a serial that I find shockingly aggravating in its optimism, and it involves one older child explaining to the younger, “The past is gone, the future has hadn’t happened yet, but today is a gift and that is why they call it PRESENT.” This cartoon sums up my grandmother’s disposition, one that is achieved over many years of life and a liberal helping of her own spit and fire.

Coming to fully understand her pattern of thought and the increasingly personal conversations we have had, I was not afraid to let Uncle Woody enter our conversations if it occurred naturally. While visiting my grandmother a few months ago, I had a dream that my beloved cat Rita had come back to me. Despite all the strangeness of the dream, very real and pure, my Rita entered the room and came to me. She was confused and scared and happy, and I felt the same way. I was so shocked and overwhelmed to see her again, that although something was telling me that this can not be real, I was resolved to enjoy it for those few moments. She seemed real, a disembodied spirit wandering through shadows trying to find her way to me and ultimately to the next phase of her existence. I was so sad that she was taking this journey alone and yet so happy to have those fleeting, possibly fabricated, moments together. I chose to take such an improbability as a reality that I alone hold. When I awoke, the feelings of sadness and concern still lingered. As my worries  began to fade, I found myself overcome with grief.

That morning at breakfast I shared the story of my dream with my grandmother. I knew that this would inevitably lead to another conversation about not becoming mired in the past, which it did, but then she shared something with me that was so touching in her openness. She told me of a dream she had some years after Uncle Woody’s death where she pleaded with him not to kill himself. She said it was the only dream she ever had about him and agreed with me on how real such a thing can feel and how sad and helpless we feel when we awake. He was a sick man, and she expressed regret that such effective anti-depressants that could have possibly helped him were not yet invented. She cursed the drugs he took to self-medicate and blamed them for the eventual, irretrievable depths he fell to. All of these exposed grievances were completely new to me. I had never before heard my grandmother speak about his final days nor express sadness and regret. Her retelling of the dream and the emotions it stoked were quickly concluded in that she let the irretrievable go and would not let her mind retrace those dark paths. Despite this one dream, she remains open and honest about his life and her silence on such matters are ultimately because she feels there is not much left to talk about.

Upon my final sift through the basement, culminating in a trip to the recycling plant, she told me to include all of the yearbooks in this journey. As she napped upstairs while I loaded the car, I began to inspect these books. The first four or five I opened were clear to me that someone would want as they belonged to my grandfather, and if nothing else, my father has a spot in his library for just such old books and heirlooms. I believed the inclusion of these books in the disposal pile was to be a mistake, although it would also be of my grandmother’s thinking to assume that no one would want them and what exactly is the point of keeping such things, anyways? It is this pragmatic, unsentimental thinking that most likely informed the decision to included the remaining two yearbooks, which belonged to my Uncle Woody.

Uncle Woody left no family, and it appears that even if he were to, they might not be so interested in hanging onto his memory. Merely holding these yearbooks in my hands flooded me with questions about what is in a life? We collect yearbooks and trophies and pictures to create a timeline of our existence and remind us of our experiences, but what if that life is cut short or what if the memory of that life is not deemed worthy of remaining kindled? Such things as yearbooks may best be thrown away in time, as they only now serve to remind us of a life that was in pain and caused pain. I knew that my grandmother would not dwell long on the decision to send these things to be recycled and perhaps put their materials to a more positive purpose, yet such a moment to be involved in was very sad to me.

I opened his senior year high school yearbook. It was exactly how it should look, filled with what seemed like hundreds of notes recounting special times or funny anecdotes. Each message was personal, light-hearted and well crafted, not one, “Have a great summer.” Some were in the exaggerated, suggestive cursive of young women, others in the dark scrawl of testosterone-fueled young men. I wondered for a moment if any of his reciprocated signings were morbid or weird or inappropriate, but it seemed like he really did have friends, or if nothing else, people who knew who he was and were not afraid to take a moment to share a memory.

His senior picture was one that I had seen on my grandmother’s piano for years. This picture always served to further pique my interest, as out of three brothers with dark, thick, curly hair and rather Russian features from the paternal side, Uncle Woody was cut more from my grandmother’s parents with remarkably German attributes – straight blond hair, clear blue eyes and a tall, muscular build. He was an extremely handsome man and it seems a deeply unfortunate juxtaposition to be so mentally ill and difficult to be around. Again like my sweet Rita, physically beautiful yet mentally flawed, it seems less a cruel joke than a reminder that all of us have our blessings and curses that we have no control over. In addition to this striking photo, his small, accompanying paragraph had a dash of humor as he described himself as “excelling at babysitting.” He was a swimmer, a violinist and an eagle scout. He went on to go to the same college that my grandfather, father and later myself did, although he was forced to room with my father (a junior at that point) because no one would room with him on account of his strangeness.

My grandmother awoke to find me going down the rabbit hole of memories, stories and questions and remarked that she thought that would happen and bid me to come upstairs with the books so we could go and be rid of them. I told her that my father would want my grandfather’s and kept them there and made no mention of the other two that I brought up. We spoke casually on the ride to the plant, all the while the questions of Uncle Woody’s yearbooks, of what memories we choose to keep, of the point of holding onto to something from someone that I never knew, and of my own life’s story, were building like a growing white noise. When we arrived at the plant, I disposed of what I knew would go and when it came down to the yearbooks I could not bring myself to extinguish this person yet in this particular way. I told my grandmother that I did not know why, but I did not feel that it was right to discard these personal items. I had not resolved within myself what I should do with these books or why exactly I was so saddened to let them go, but simply stated that I will hold onto to them for a little while longer. Thankfully, my grandmother did not question me nor resist and we did not ever speak about it.

I know that no one in the family wants or sees the point in these yearbooks. With no malice towards their fallen brother, there just comes a point when such things are merely taking up space as they get shuffled from one place to another, one generation to another, until the line which binds them is so thin it breaks and such things disappear naturally. Uncle Woody did not disappear naturally, nor did he appear naturally, one could say, but he was of my blood and close to my father and I was never able to judge the man for myself. I know that my story will not have such a sad existence as his, for the stories told at this point, however few, do not paint the picture of a particularly good person. But he tried for 30 years to live with something beyond his control, and although he lost and it may have been the peace he was always looking for, I like to hold a slightly more sympathetic picture of the man. Like the messages in his yearbook, whether people really felt that way or not, others can, and often do, create our life stories. I will hold onto his yearbooks for a little while longer and think of him as a man who tried under insurmountable odds to be a normal guy, and for a few pages in his high school yearbook, was.

Good Grief

April 16, 2010

I lost my beloved cat, Rita, exactly four months ago. She was a sweet girl, who was rather diminutive and squirrel-like. Her long body and arms were complimented by her flawless, shining, close lying black coat and entrancing golden eyes. To the touch, she was more akin to a mink or fox than anything resembling a domestic shorthair. I placed her breed as a Bombay, as she not only possessed all of the aesthetic characteristics of one, but was also highly talkative and athletic. She was adopted from a shelter, and therefore I could never be completely sure of her lineage, but I feel that there could be no mistake.

Rita was adopted in December of 2002 from the Northeast Animal Shelter. She was to be a companion to Hank, who had taken to licking his fur off as a result of increased time being left alone. It was decided that Hank could use some stimulation and distraction during his days of solitude, and the best place would be the same shelter from which he was adopted four years earlier.

Choosing a shelter animal is hard, because one wants to adopt them all. My inclination has always been to gravitate towards the older cats that have spent their whole life comfortably doted upon by an older woman who unfortunately has now passed and none of her children want the cat. These cats are always so sweet and look quite out of place in a little cage in the back of a shelter. Similar to employment, no one wants to take on your services once you get passed a certain age, and such realities upset me. However, to introduce a new animal into our home, it was considered best to start with a defenseless kitten.

I watched Star for some time (Star was her shelter name) and was not particularly taken by her demeanor. I was immediately arrested by her beauty, but she was not very alert, rather confused and adrift as she sat on her haunches at the back of her cage, head slightly askew. Her enormous eyes seemed to be asking me questions to which I had no answers. My girlfriend, Dawn, insisted that I give Star another shot, so I tried to engage the little thing with a few pokes in the ribs and tickles under the chin. Star was receptive, if not a bit startled and confused by such attention, and ultimately showed the ability to be playful and sweet. Star was adopted and re-christened Rita.

Hank and Rita never quite got along. Hank proved himself to be a bit of a possessive baby and also quite a physically strong man. He was quick to annoyance with Rita’s fidgeting and curiosity and would often exercise the full amount of his strength upon her. Being Rita, which is to say always rather unaware, such outbursts never stopped her from trying to clean Hank’s ears, snuggle up to his warm, fat belly or help herself to his tuna can. Hank merely tolerated Rita for her abbreviated life, and knowing him so well, I know that he got a kick out of her. They very much had a sibling style relationship where the little sister worshipped the older brother. Hank would be annoyed at how Rita cramped his style, but he loved her and loved having her around, and particularly loved the fact that she loved him. Their lives were intertwined by fate and they became an extremely enjoyable odd couple to have around the apartment. Within a few months of her introduction Hank’s fur came back for good.

For the next few years, life moved along with relative ease. I toured the world and was eventually making enough money to spend all of my days at home, when I was not on the road, and our family unit thrived. Yet such things, when not handled properly, can cease, and my music career hit some serious potholes and eventually broke an axel. Depression and unrest began to seep into our apartment, like smoke from under the door, or more like a carbon monoxide build up that you can’t smell until it’s too late. Determined not to wait around for me to figure out how to fix this musical life that I drove into a ditch, Dawn took a job in DC and I was left to stay with the kids back in Boston. By the time Rita was 6, we had broken up and I brought the kids down to live with her, as I could no longer afford our large apartment. By the time she was 7, I had a large enough place again and the kids were back with me and living in Chelsea.

The cats were well-loved, well-fed and seemed to have made the two major moves in the last two years no worse for wear. My new girlfriend, Crystal, immediately fell in love with my brood and they took quite a shine to her, as well. Rita spent her days crawling on the exposed beams some fifteen feet above our heads, while Hank begrudgingly watched her athleticism (when he would lift his head out of the food bowl), also understanding that if she was up above doing her acrobatics, than all laps down below were unoccupied and available. It was not more than three months into this new life when Rita got sick.

With increased regularity, Rita began to jump for a windowsill or chair only to come up short and fall to the ground. She began to hide herself under blankets or behind the couch, vomit much more regularly, and sometimes she would just plain fall over. She was losing weight at an alarming rate, and she had little to spare to begin with, and her once magnificent coat had become patchy and dirty. Always being a bit different, I was not particularly alarmed at first, as throughout her life Rita would occasionally miss a jump or stare at the walls. Now with the frequency of her shortfalls it was undeniable that something was wrong, and after an initial misdiagnosis of a shallow groove for her left patella (causing the kneecap to occasionally slip) and with Crystal’s suggestion, we took Rita to Angell Memorial in Jamaica Plain.

For someone on such a small budget as myself, money became no option. Emergency room visits, blood work, psychological exams, special foods, were done without hesitation, as I feared the potential of losing my little girl. Stopping short of a $3,000 brain scan, which I just couldn’t afford and would only clarify the problem, but not cure it, it was deduced that Rita was either suffering from a brain tumor or a brain condition that she was born with that had now unleashed its full venomous potential. Regardless of the true malady, the symptoms were the same – she was in a constant state of vertigo, which obviously affected her balance, but also left her so nauseous that she could rarely eat and would therefore hide herself from light to try and stop the dizziness. Her ability to chew was compromised and even walking appeared to be an uncomfortable chore. The remedy for either diagnosis was the same, which was a liquid steroid that she was to take every day to relieve the pressure in her brain.

The medicine seemed to work a bit, and curbing the dizziness, Rita was able to eat a bit more (she was down to under seven pounds at this point) and clean her coat. Watching her bathe again, an activity she always enjoyed in her vanity, was truly a joyous moment. Her coat, while not yet restored to its full glory, was again healthy and clean. She was also given a human medication for dizziness that I would have to inject into her skin when she was having a particularly bad episode. The vet (I believe accurately) described her mental state as constantly having “the spins,” which us humans achieve by drinking too much alcohol.

Crystal, who spends her days helping terminally ill children, took to the challenge of caring for Rita in the same fashion. Perhaps subconsciously aware, we began a sort of palliative, end of life care regiment that involved finding whatever Rita would eat and sparing no expense – smoked salmon, chicken and tuna salad from the deli, soft cheeses, anything. When it was deemed safe and possibly beneficial, we even took Rita on a little November getaway weekend to Martha’s Vineyard. My premature grief was almost unbearable, but Rita seemed happy and somewhat restored. She was able to hop up and sleep on the bed, and we had a few precious hours alone together with her on my lap and I stroked her as she slept and gently purred.

It was less than a week later when my roommate called me to say that Rita would not stop crying and was appearing to have trouble walking. I dropped everything and returned home to find exactly what he described, but that she had absolutely no use of her back legs at all. Terrified, I put her in her carrier and rushed to the emergency room. It appeared that the steroids we had to give her to help ease the pressure in her brain had caused her heart to develop a blood clot. The clot had been kicked out and subsequently lodged at the base of the artery along her back that splits to deliver the oxygenated blood to the hind legs. She was immediately given medication to alleviate the pain, which is akin to one’s legs falling asleep for hours and never waking up. It was at that point where measures to break up the clot may prove fatal, but also the fact remained that she still needed these steroids that were in turn producing these clots. I was forced to make the humane, yet nearly impossible decision to let her go.

It has only been four months since that terrible night, and yet I still cycle through all of the stages of grief – denial and isolation, anger, not so much bargaining, depression, and acceptance, often enough to earn them the true distinction of indeed being a cycle. One thinks of these experiences as a five step staircase to entering the next hall of your life, but for me it has been a revolving door who’s dizziness only serves to remind me more of Rita. But these stages of grief have led me to create an addendum to the cycle, transference.

Shortly after Rita’s passing I pared back my life again and now it is just Hank and I. Despite their love-hate relationship, Hank truly misses Rita and lets it be known. He has become extremely vocal and more affectionate than I ever thought possible. We are grieving together and neither of us have any more idea of what truly happened and why such things do. As a result, I find myself transferring my sadness and guilt into near constant attention and affection for Hank. I feel guilty for the sadness I have brought into his life and I feel guilty for not being more available to either one of them. I am scared to death of losing Hank and spend any spare moments caressing him and showing him that he is loved.

The guilt that I hold for not being able to save Rita will always stay with me. She was a sweet, beautiful creature who gave me so much love, laughs, entertainment, inspiration and absurdity, and I am not yet able to be thankful for the 8 years that we had together as opposed to expecting at least twice as many. The fact that Rita may have had a preexisting condition, one that was seen but not understood all throughout her life, is a strange hand to try and read while not feeling upset for not seeing it from the start. From the very first moment I saw her, head cocked to the left, apparently lidless eyes, it was only later explained to possibly be an indication of the condition in her brain. It is hard to say, but it may very well have been this oddness that caused me to become fascinated with such a beautiful, yet flawed creature. Having had to spend her last few months in such pain is a sad joke that I will never be able to understand. All I can hope for at this point is to finally, truly reach the acceptance stage.

So now in the humor of the randomness of life, I find it more intriguing than disturbing that I have catalyzed my love for Hank to the point that suggests that there is another stage of grieving going on here. I have become over protective, but at the same time so acutely concerned with Hank’s well being that at most times I truly feel that he is all that I have. I cannot speak for Hank, but I think that he is a-ok with this new development in our relationship. Although he still misses Rita in his own feline way, he is more than willing to accept my love and attention in exchange. I imagine this transference can be much more negative when dealing with parents and the loss of one of their two children, so here is where the human/feline relationship is alright in its weirdness.

Hank prefers to spend much of his days napping, while I sit in front of the computer or strum a guitar. We are adjusting to our new life without Rita and it is hard. With my days free once again, I deeply wish that I had Rita here to dote upon and shower with all the attention that was compromised with work and travel. Yet I am fully aware that her passing had the positive effect of forcing me to sit myself down and take stock of what is important to me and how to go about and do it. The illumination I gained from losing her enabled me to create the time and life that would have allowed me to be with her more. I am truly happy for this gift and would have never thought that such a sweet little thing and her horrible end would have brought about such a major, positive life change. I love her and I miss her, and I still can’t believe that she is gone, but I will carry on with my buddy Hank and make sure that such mysterious lessons are not in vain.

The Pacific

April 14, 2010

Steven Spielberg has done an amazing job taking the romanticism out of war. As evidenced in the opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan, and now to more immediate and skillful effect in The Pacific, the scenes of war are absolutely terrifying. Gone is the Platoon caricature and the Apocalypse Now hallucinatory fascination that had me and my friends stalking through the woods of my backyard in our father’s old fatigues with stolen packs of Kools and shouting racial slurs to which we had no knowledge of their meaning or ignorance. Perhaps Platoon hit at the right time when our testosterone was just starting to trickle through the blood, or that we grew up in times of peace and such wars were exactly what we saw – old movies. Either way, I find it hard to imagine that I would find myself wanting to play  “Guadalcanal” or “Normandy” with my buddies, after seeing the fear, confusion and incalculable casualties displayed in Spielberg’s work. I think my impressionable, under-developed eleven year-old mind would still grasp the fact that this was not something I should be emulating, even if I was aware of the historical significance. Therefore, I blame Oliver Stone and my own poor judgment for ending up with such a warped style of an equally racist American game of yore, Cowboys and Indians.

We are halfway through the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg ten-part miniseries and I find it often on my mind, and always more for the history that it is bringing to light than the personal stories it uses to deliver this account. The acting is quite good, yet at times a little obvious and hokey in its 1940’s young American male portrayals (watch Lackey in episode 3 when he first has dinner with his Australian-Greek girlfriend’s family). The dialogue feels as though there is a strange push and pull between modern language and that which sounds culled from old movies and newsreels. Granted, few of us will ever know how men in this situation truly spoke or acted, and it is not much of true point of contention, but it does at times take me out of the moment when I often find myself wondering, “Why does it seem like I could hang with these dudes, when I couldn’t hang with my grandfather?” I find it no small coincidence that our main protagonist, Lackey, bears a striking likeness in delivery to that of our Co-Executive Producer, Tom Hanks, who himself has come to embody the perfect balance of wacky, classic American charm and gritty bouts of hardened world-weariness. After five episodes I am still not sure if I even care about these characters, but I am certainly riveted to the couch on Sundays at 9pm to learn more about such an important battle that has gone little recognized.

I knew that I wanted to watch this series, but was a bit daunted by the potential heavy-handedness of a Spielberg/Hanks co-conspiracy. There is no doubt that these men have a deep reverence for such history and laudably use their stature to create projects to bring these accounts to a wide audience (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers), but both are also masters of emotional manipulation (Schindler’s List, Philadelphia). Granted, Hanks and Spieldberg use their considerable talents for good, but I remained slightly wary if the teaming of the two would cause them to over-shoot the mark with heart-rending drama. So when I found myself with a few hours to spare, I sat down and began the first three episodes – intending to see if one would grab my attention.

As all good programs do, and HBO has become the master of, I had no choice but to watch all the installments available to me at that very moment. My roommate, Grant, returned home upon my completion of the second episode as I eagerly awaited the third, and I excitedly told him about this new series and how well the living accounts set up the dramatization to follow. This whole new world opened up to me with real faces and voices and Hanks adeptly narrating the time-line. In yet another example of the failure of American History in the public schools, this utterly crucial offensive was completely new to me. As I recounted what I had learned, Grant’s eyes beamed and he could not contain interrupting me to tell me that his grandfather was on Guadalcanal flying planes for this very event. I knew the grandfather that he spoke of only in that Grant was deeply saddened by his passing a couple of years back, and now learning of this page in history, I too was deeply saddened that I would never meet him – and thank him.

In mid sentence, Grant ran to his room and returned with his grandfather’s shirt, complete with the Guadalcanal patch. I was in complete shock that not more than two hours ago I was completely oblivious to this event and now I was holding the shirt of one of these men. I felt strangely proud for Grant and extremely privileged to now know the depth of his grandfather’s service. We spoke at length about the war and Grant shared many of his grandfather’s stories, mostly the ones he would share with the children, which involved the nuisance of the crabs, rats and rain. Sure enough, the fourth and fifth episodes deal specifically with these plagues and I couldn’t wait to tell Grant. I wished that his grandfather could have contributed to the series, as yet another token of gratitude for such service, but unfortunately most of these soldiers are gone.

I applaud The Pacific for (so far) only giving glory to the often times overlooked sacrifice, while in no way romanticizing the carnage. The enemy remains largely faceless, which is how it appears to those who are merely given orders to kill, and that sets up the small seeds of doubt and questioning which grow larger as the fighting continues. The presence of God, religion, and the search for answers to the hideousness of war, laps in and out like the tide slowly rolling in before it eventually consumes the beach. Our characters are equally loveable and forgettable, which they have to be as we root for them under such bleak odds. Screen time is well divided to examine the inhumanity and viciousness of war and the historical importance of the tactical successes. Each victory is so brutal and savage that the viewer just wants it to be over, and that must be what it felt like on those islands.

As we find ourselves still at war and equally uninformed, the timing of this piece, I’m sure, is not coincidental – Americans in a foreign landscape with an oppressive climate, defending, killing and avenging past grievances, where there is little hope, glory and understanding. Like the decorated war hero sent home to push war bonds, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are doing the same thing for the war in Afghanistan, but thankfully, they are merely illustrating the sacrifice of the men and keeping it less a pro-America rallying cry. They are indeed fife and drumming up pride and support for our country, but they are both keen to demonstrate how gruesome and unfortunate war is, especially for those who actually have to pull the trigger.

A Strange Reconciliation

April 12, 2010

I started playing hockey because of a girl. I believe I was around 8 or 9. This girl was a hockey player and therefore I lied and told her that I, too, played hockey. As I had just moved to town the previous year, such a declaration could well be true to the uninformed. I wanted to play hockey so I could be with her more. When I think back to this bold claim, it amazes me that I followed through to the point of joining the league, and even her team, and yet I had never played hockey before. The fact that I stepped on the ice with buckling ankles, a hodge-podge of my uncle’s old equipment from the mid 70’s and an oversized PacMan T-shirt for a jersey, is so sweet and yet so wonderfully ridiculous. This girl, who went on to play at almost the Olympic level, never once admitted the obvious that this was clearly my first time on the ice. We continued our “relationship” for many years, until the social politics and general confusion of middle school tore us apart. I look back upon those first years with a sighing fondness, a melancholy sweetness, as I went from horrible to terrible on the ice, but had an incredible girl who gave me my first kiss.

The second amazing piece of retrospect to my hockey saga is that I continued to play for 10 years, despite breaking up with the girl when we were 11 and the fact that I was just awful. The first goal I ever scored was the result of having the puck on my stick and my teammate slapping the back of my blade to force the puck into the net.  Nonetheless, it was my number on the score sheet and my dad took me out for a steak dinner. Eventually, I switched to goalie because I had incredibly slow feet and comparatively faster hands.

Throughout middle school and early high school I balanced my love of playing music with a love of hockey. In a rare moment of two worlds colliding, the mullet was the recognized uniform for both the rocker and the hockey player. I wore a mullet with so much pride it even made my Monsters of Rock T-shirt nervous. My Zeppelin posters where paired with my Bruins ones. I dreamed about better, faster guitars, probably some Steve Vai influenced Ibanez at that point, the way I dreamed about better, lighter goalie pads – probably Vaughn Legacy’s. After we hit the neighborly curfew for jamming on Friday nights, we’d spend the rest of the evening smoking cheap pot and alternating between playing hockey on Saga Genesis and watching Rush videos.

As High School progressed, music finally became all-consuming. Despite reaching the Varisty level, I was still embarrassingly awful and it was merely my “Rudy” style of determination that got me on the team. I realized that I did not enjoy hockey, and in fact, it had always been a real source of stress for me. I continued to play because I liked my friends who played, and when I first moved to town I needed a gang. Music became my gang, and I was way better at music than hockey.

After high school, I hung up the pads and went a good six or seven years without even acknowledging the sport. It was somewhere around 2003 when my girlfriend suggested we catch a Bruins game. As we were broke (remember, I’m a musician), it was the cheapest ticket in town. We had a bunch of beers and I remembered how much I liked going to games and particularly the lore of the Bruins of old. Surrounded by the accents, beer and profanity reminded me that I am truly a Massachusetts guy. These people were woven into the fabric of my upbringing just as much as the folks I play with in the clubs and bars. Being in the Garden again reminded me that I loved being from Boston, and although I am a much different person than when I went to my first few games, this is still my home team. We would catch a couple games each year and when she eventually moved out, I sold my hockey equipment to pay some rent and let hockey go from my mind for another couple of years.

Now that I find myself single and free of the day job, I have slowly begun to follow hockey again. Over the past couple of weeks my breaks from writing have revolved around the Bruin’s schedule, and I am slightly saddened when an evening’s plans prevents me from watching a game. The added time around the apartment leads me to occasionally think about shooting a tennis ball around. When sorting through old junk in my parent’s basement a week ago, I spotted my sticks. Although I didn’t think much about them at the time, I found myself a few days later regretting not bringing one back.

There is a strange reconciliation going on here. The hockey experiences from my youth remained deep-rooted scars of desperately trying to fit in, anti-Semite kids and parents, realizing my physical limitations, and not being true to my instincts to play music. My entrance into the professional world of music was a step from which I rarely ever looked back, yet now I am finally finding myself able to reflect with the balance tipped more in the favor of humor and resignation than regret or discomfort. My decisions, or at times, lack thereof, have brought me to this interesting point, and ultimately, it is just what I’m looking for – strange and stimulating experiences to help me see the world with a little more wonder. I am comfortable with who I am and what I do, so I can finally begin to take stock of what got me here and size up what is going to get me where next. Through this journey the strangest thing to come back to me is hockey. Sure, there is a procrastination element to it and it is also playoff time and the Bruins haven’t done shit in awhile, but there is another little ember that keeps this rekindled love affair very mysterious and therefore kind of alluring.

This is the point where I reveal what exactly this ember is, but I don’t think I have that figured out yet and that may be part of what makes this so slippery and intriguing. Perhaps I feel guilty that the sport got wrapped up in so much of my painful adolescence or I feel a strange reverence for the other lover that I had to leave behind when I gave myself fully to music, but I think that it may just be that I have discovered that despite our long, strange, uncomfortable history, sometimes I just like watching hockey. I am seeing the sport through new eyes, and if the game where to be personified, I don’t think they would recognize me either. It is funny and weird and leaves me hopeful about whatever else lies down the road to find that after all of this I kind of like it. I had to grow up to enjoy a game.

Put another blog on the fire

April 10, 2010

I am dipping my toe into the shockingly large ocean of blogs. Like my music, I intend it to float along rather aimlessly, meeting various boats, birds, fish and algae along the way, and will eventually sink a few miles from the coast.

This is my first transmission and merely a test. The true greatness will have to be earned as I fire off random things and possibly publish older writings. About these “older writings” though, I recently perused some of these one-page wonders and I’ll be damned if they weren’t just about incoherent. Words frantically slapped together in the strangest way – like putting toothpaste on your sandwich instead of mayo in hopes of bringing about new flavors while achieving purposes on several levels, i.e. brushing your teeth while you eat. So, I think those wonderful rants and musings will stay safely tucked away.

I probably should not write much more, as I don’t know how this works, and to be honest, I think I’m doing something wrong – other than trying to have a blog.