Dear (You):

I wrote this long-handed while sitting in “The Olde Crapper,”
the oldest pub in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Typed, it remains identical except for the
“dopplestick” Altbier’s splay of creamy foam
due to the barmaid’s negligence and naiveté
of noteworthy Alt-style ales and their
distinctive yet dreadful character:

the infamously delicate and fragile froth
which collapses quicker than a slit souffle!

10 May, 2014

Dear (You):

Not writing to you doesn’t imply not thinking of you or your gracious patience since 3 February, 2014. That was the date of my last post which required wringing the writer’s dishcloth to honor the writer’s vow: To write no matter.”1-handwrittenletter2

Marcea, an insightful, honest, and very good friend (38 years) proposed “If writing is a catharsis, then I strongly suggest shifting your focus to gain perspective. If you force posts they’ll be “a whole lotta negativity” which no one wants to read.” And she was right. I spent months trying to frame what I went through, but everything devolved into a pity party or my selfishness or that I’m an unforgiving asshole. Then my partner mentioned an interview between Katie Couric and Hillary Clinton about forgiveness which ignited an epiphany underscoring families and catastrophic illnesses:

  1. Families take care of each other unconditionally, absent of remuneration, mea culpa’s, or thank-you’s;
  2. Family business is no one else’s business;
  3. Do your best and ignore failure. Indecision and regret stymies timely action;
  4. It’s their life and they’ve entrusted (not burdened) you to execute their wishes;
  5. Overlook your life which can wait. Focus on their life and prepare for remarks about death;
  6. Skirt your visceral, sentimental and selfish hope that life is too precious to be cavalier;
  7. You love, accept, honor, and respect their free will rationale about their life or death;
  8. There’s nothing, nothing more important in the whole wide world as this; and
  9. Be strong even though your heart is breaking.1-death2

Many thanks to my partner (of 30 years) who lifted the burden of impossible tasks (cleaning out his house, and negotiating with lenders); my best friend Scott who travelled with me and discussed diagnoses and added a degree of levity.

And especially to Marcea who gambled friendship for honesty.

I could not have navigated the maze alone, and I am truly blessed by being their partner and friend.

P,S, I have several drafts for new posts “in the oven.” Keep an eye out for them.

Finally Understanding Life As Mani A.


I first met Mani A. a few months after my father died when I was fifteen.  He appeared from around a blind corner where Wong-Su restaurant and Teddy’s Tavern meet like a knife’s edge.  He was a restless, sinewy, no-nonsense blond wearing his older-brother’s-hand-me-downs.  I apologized and excused myself immediately, but he roared to life like a freshly started chainsaw and lunged at me with a ferocious diatribe about a blokes right-of-way and his unalienable rights, to which I chimed in, “But you are an alien!”  He paused, his idling mind wafting the blue smoke of burning oil, when suddenly he hit the throttle baring his teeth and chortled that he wasn’t a bloody martian, see, so piss off with the alien bullocks; crikey, he has the right to use public property as a thoroughfare without being gobsmacked by some daft wanker! until, I think, he heard himself running-on about some kind of whack job hyper-speech at which time he slowed, eventually landing softly on a patch of green peckhamengland-1grass.  I sat next to Mani A. who opened up like a teenagers compact, and divulged his personal life in Peckham, England (just outside of London), which, by the way he described it, was a tortuous place; a hometown without a home, a chilling place that nobody admitted coming from, everybody just shows up one day, street-smart and dodgy, showed up-growed up because nobody ever had a childhood.  You were either born a teen-ager or plain old smeg.  Nobody was ever just a kid; and nobody ever saw a kid.  We were around the same age and dreamt of similar things, but whereas I knew mine were silly fantasies, Mani A. was certain that whatever he wanted he could have.  No kidding.  Without the slightest doubt or reservation, whatever Mani A. wanted, Mani A. could get.  Period.  Mani A. had balls.  Whether Peckham beat them into him or he developed that confidence on his own, the strength of his conviction, no matter the degree of unlikelihood, you had to think, hey, it just might happen.  I’ve never met anyone in my entire life that expressed the depth of fortitude that Mani A. did.  I said my life must seem like a cartoon compared to yours: I was two-steps west of being white trash, and while our home lives seemed oddly similar, I never learned how to survive; I just wait.  For what, he asked leaning his elbow onto the grass.  For anything.  Anything besides this shit hole I can’t get myself out from.  At which Mani A. leapt to his feet, extended his hand and said, come on mate, I’ll show you the dog’s dinner that’ll make your life now look like a wee bit of the hard lines.  Your going to get a crash course in Peckham Survival Know-How.  First, you learn about being borne:  In Peckham you didn’t cut your teeth; you growled and snapped!  We learn to bite before there’s anything to bite.  Being ahead, that’s tickety-boo; getting ahead never happens, especially in Peckham.  And so started six months of juvenile delinquency including assault (knife-school-teacher), battery (brother), truancy, and one stern lecture from a juvenile judge away from living in a home for dangerous boys.

It wasn’t until Mani A. left town did I get my head screwed back on tight.  I toed the line, straightened out school, became popular, played sports each season, acted, sang, even led student government.  Counselor’s referred to me as the idyllic example of reform.  But in the back of my head I could still hear Mani and all the things he said and showed and prompted me to do.  Being “ways” by choice, not by reaction.  Mani didn’t show me how to live,chubbyseniorportrait Mani showed me how to survive.  Mani and I have maintained our friendship for over forty years.  One of the things I admired about Mani was his bond of friendship.  Or should I say degree of bond of friendship.  Whenever he helped take care of something cagey, I’d ask him why he’d get involved?  His answer has always been the same: friendship.  He said all other relationships have their own bloody baggage and demands and expectations, and ways to screw you in the end.  But friends are simply friends.  Easy, like looking in the mirror.  I see a wee bit of my bloody self in you.

Mani continued to visit at irregular intervals, all of which were concurrent with troubling, impossible, or unavoidable circumstances.  For example, he swung into town when my junior year in high school devolved into adolescent chaos: ducking senior hazing, sidestepping discussions highlighting my grim blue-collared, unionized, married and fatherly fate; derailing any parochial collision between varsity lettermen and my shadowy shine for Mitchell, an underclassman; and my obesity targeted by jeering and loathsome bullies.  He arrived shortly after Stokowski and I went to Union Drop Forge hoping to snag summer work which leads to full time after graduation.  Our bus drove through the “Blue Mile,” a one mile corridor of heavy, eye-reddening, cough-inducing, toxin-saturated manufacturing exhaust.  We nicknamed that part of oldermani2town the “Blue Mile” because of that solar eclipsing blue haze belched from fifty-foot smoke stacks every minute of every day.  I took my application home where it still remains blank.  I wanted my future to be unexpected.  To be a lifetime removed from the cadence of the dead-end-man: a union job, a wife, a stuffy upper flat, kids we can’t afford, dependence on two incomes, kids dumped with objecting in-laws, hate and regret pitched at the other, and some place my hope tumbled out of my greasy coveralls pocket while reaching for my lighter which I never missed until I reached for it, right after she left with the kids flanked by her objectionable parents.  That tableau was the only life option offered to kids like me.  It was expected, and you were expected to follow the guy ahead of you.  But I dreamt of the unexpected, the unpredictable chaos of life beyond the “Blue Mile.”  College required good grades, but demanded money.  The costs were way beyond my family’s reach; so far afield that going to college became a family gag.  And then, when my avenues and alleyways around the tuition hurdle went bust Mani stopped by on his way back to Peckham.  His first words were, You look like a sorry sod, chum!  causing me to expunge my year of hopelessness and depression.  He waited until I stopped crying before he said, Sometimes you’ve got to be bonkers, your mates marching to a paycheck will call you a mug, but remember life is horses for courses!  And you’ve got to be bold!  You’ve got to be; because being bold and senseless and relentless are the only way out.  Back in Peckham if you’re pegged a nesh or are sussed acting naff the rest of life in Peckham is going to be piss poor.  You and your chums go about blagging tough, and sometimes it goes fist-to-cuffs.  In Peckham it ain’t about violence because violence there is like your factory here.  In Peckham it’s about surviving life, about tomorrow.

In 2008 Mani broke all the rules.  Rather than subtle clues that he’s a stones throw away, he decided that my end game was near, so he ruptured my barrier of sanity, perforated my character, elbowed out reality, and declared chubyoldermaniautonomy.  Mani was finally emancipated; freed from the crushing compliance of decency and propriety, he ignored laws, took chilling risks, discovered a steady stream of opiates which he washed down with lethal liters of alcohol, ignored vows, ruined friendships, tossed out of jobs, denied benefits, and finally barricaded himself in the office of a psychiatrist who eventually evicted him, and reinstated my authority over the dominion of my life.

I’ve never faulted Mani for his insurgency.  He was simply providing the bravado to traverse the craggy cliffs of life, and of which I was ill-prepared to navigate.  But as Mani A. learned, freedom from consequence isn’t freedom at all.  It’s destruction, it’s disregard, it’s vengeful and dangerous and hateful and lethal   But Mani did have a knack for getting the job done which he introduced, tutored, and polished in me, providing the backbone for a career.  I think that’s how he survived: Mani and I got hired by gentlemen to take care of things quietly and cleanly.  Not that we ever broke the law, but we definitely broke the rules.  Mani recited many adages over the years, but the single-most poignant he shared with me was:  You can’t quit; every bloody cry-baby “says” they want “it,” but quit the second they’ve got to act like a chancer.  There are just two times you can quit: when you take the biscuit or hop the twig. 


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And Yet She Cried The Day He Died

IMG_0838My earliest recollection of my dad came when I was four or five and he had come home from working as a second shift foas foreman at a drop forge plant.  He was sitting at the kitchen table eating poached eggs and dry toast, washing it down with a boiler maker.  “The Twins” as he would refer to them with great affection were my dad’s undoing; he would drink when manic, especially near the end of an episode, when his aching bitterness and resigned sarcasm hinted at a common premonition: he would soon retreat to his basement work shop for days on end tortured by his emotional evolution, and his inescapable march down the steep stairs of depression.  He must’ve been in the throes of mania  when convention insisted they marry upon discovery that his rakish bullying on the back seat of his Packard on a rural road outside Thorp not only massacred her wide-eyed naiveté but abolished any hope of extricating herself from beneath the clammy, sour-smelling, incoherent beast.  Her surrender of modesty produced more than forty-five minutes of vintage 1955 passion.

They found themselves in a stone-cold courthouse in Green Bay with a couple of bar friends to witness.  My mother clutched a small handful of wildflowers they bought from a farmer’s road stand that morning.  My mother was a beauty queen back in 1955, with full, red lips, wavy, blond hair that fell over her shoulders, and bright, anxious blue eyes.  She stood looking at my father, the barrel-chested, dark-haired, first-generation Norwegian she met less than one month before.  I’m certain that neither one of them intended for the wedding to be the result of a quickie in the back of a sedan on a country road, but in 1955 it was more important to uphold convention than it was to be in love.  No one ever questioned their motives in getting married, instead hoping and wishing them the best of luck in the new life together. They never won the prize of a 1960’s nuclear family, a foursome driving a new sedan, owning a new house in a new sub-division, boys going to the standard public school, belonging to a crisp, new Catholic church, it just never happened.  It never worked out and eventually corroded beyond what was once recognizable as a relationship, and turned physical, my father opting for punches and slaps instead of hugs and kisses. I want to believe that it was hard for both of them, especially my mom, of course, but also my dad, landing punches onto the delicate face; the face of a woman that once he had found so attractive that he invited her to share his rumble seat.  I want to believe that neither of them was a monster, that neither of them hated the other, that maybe, in the beginning they held the same blind, young hope that life would work itself out.

It started with a cymbal crash, or it might’ve been a car accident, or even the frying pan falling out of my mother’s hand as she scrubbed the caked egg.  But it struck with velocity, as though it had been tossed, no, more like it had been thrown, aimed at the floor, or better, the cupboard, for it never made its mark, instead falling short and striking the edge of the table and finally the floor.  My eyes shot open and I listened only to hear the sirens race toward the accident, but the suburb was four-thirty quiet, and the only sharp wheeze I heard bumped first against my door, then slid slowly down to the floor, her form eclipsing the bright kitchen light. As though the car she was driving careened out of control and struck some child in a cross walk I heard her whisper some apology and asked him to think about me.  I slipped out from my bed and crawled over to the rag rug, and put my face to the door.  His voice was a distant gush of slurs and profanity, italicized by the growling.  She stayed there, mashed against my door, her long, painted fingers clutching the same rag rug on which I sat and which had slid half-under the door, clutching, as though her whole life was that simple rag rug.

Suddenly the door thumped with a low, heavy sound, like dropping a melon on the table.  I dropped to the floor and pressed my face into the colorful coils, and saw his black, steel-toed Oxford’s sparkle in the bright overhead light.  I saw the swift shadow, perhaps a bird and heard that same heavy thud, and watched as crimson rain sprinkled the linoleum.  The color spotted the vinyl floor slowly, as though it were being restrained somehow, pulled in, withheld, and swallowed. It was quiet for a moment, the shiny black Oxford’s rolling as though they were standing on the deck of a heaving ship, the scarlet rain drops preceded by a sniffle.  Through the whole time I had held my breath until I exhaled with a small sob.  My mother’s face grew enormous as I saw her eyes and bloodied nose drop to the floor, pressing herself to the door.  Her hand waved him off saying, “Ssh, he’s awake, he’s been listening. . .”  Her bright blue eyes caught mine and we looked at each other for a moment.  As I began to move towards her, to . . . I don’t know what, help her . . . again I saw that fluttering shadow, except this time it was no shadow, but a black, heavy steel-toed Oxford, and it landed its iron nose at the back of her head and crushed her face into the crack at the bottom of the door.  Her eyes didn’t close, but opened further as though she were releasing any blind hope and I moved quickly away from the door and crawled under the bed.  I heard his heavy steps move off and watched as the kitchen light was turned out.

It was months before I could sleep in my bed, often crawling under it once she turned out the lamp and closed the door.  I suppose the worst part though was for her: For me to see her like that, in a position of no hope, no dreams, just the flat end of a hand or the blunt toe of a shoe.