Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category.

Home, Once More

My Ohio State Marching Band Alumni has a “regular band”, a year-round group that plays concerts, parades, funerals, weddings and other special Buckeye occasions.  Of course, you have to live within driving distance of Columbus to participate, which definitely rules me ineligible as long as a private jet is beyond my means.

Last winter, however, I received a notification from them that they would be playing a parade and concert for the bicentennial of my hometown, Perrysburg, Ohio, and it got me thinking.

I moved away from Perrysburg in 1974 but, because my parents and grandparents lived out their lives there and I visited fairly frequently, there was always a sense that it was home (despite the fact that the bulk of my life has been lived in Seattle).  Once we moved my Mom out of our childhood home in 2013, however, nothing remained with enough gravitational pull to justify a destination-based trip back there..until the coalescence of a Bicentennial, TBDBITL (the OSU Alumni Band) and two brothers who apparently were also looking for a reason to hit the Burg once more.  My youngest brother also played in the OSU band, the OSU people responded affirmatively to our request to join them for the festivities, and our trip was on.

It seemed strange booking a hotel room in the town where I’d always just crashed at my parents’ place, especially since the hotel was less than a mile’s walk from there.  We arrived on a Thursday, walked around town a bit and dined at a pretty decent restaurant in “downtown” Perrysburg.

Although eclipsed by nearby Toledo in size, Perrysburg has always been an independent municipality and never a soulless suburb.  Its “downtown” stretch of independent retailers, however, suffered greatly over the last 2 decades, as mega-malls and big box retailers sucked away their customer base.  On this trip, for the first time in a long while, I observed a renaissance along the main drag, Louisiana Avenue.  For many of the venues, we could hardly walk through the front door.  Although inconvenienced, I was happy for them.

(Click to enlarge)

Our parade and concert was Saturday.  First would be the parade, and then the concert later in the afternoon.  The OSU band staged for the parade on the grounds of Elm Street Elementary, a block from (wife) Betsy’s childhood home, where my high school marching band used to rehearse on foggy fall mornings, hard by the building where my mother-in-law taught 3rd grade for 20 years.  As we waited to enter the parade, I spoke with an old friend, an OSUMB sousaphone player from my high school band who had lived up the street from me and had spurred me to a running regime in order to try out for the OSU band.  A running regime that I would carry on for 40 years.

The parade up the main street of town was so reminiscent of the Memorial Day parades our high school band played in.  Later, I saw our concert was setting up in view of the building where I attended Junior High, and right in front of the (long gone) Perry Dairy Bar, where I used to sneak off-campus for hamburger & french fry lunches.

I started to feel like I was in an alternate reality, one where I had never left town, where I recognized everyone on the street and knew their dogs’ names.  Could I envision myself satisfied with playing little bandbox engagements instead of the thrill of massive, raucous, bawdy urban Pride Parades in front of half a million screaming fans?  I gazed at the audience that was assembling, nibbling on picnic lunches and hailing neighbors, and then I espied my high school band director (Judy Justus) in the stands.  I left my seat in the trumpet section, ran over and gave her a hug.  The concert began, time slowed down and for a while I could imagine myself…content.

During the concert, they introduced folks in the band who had Perrysburg connections, including me.  After the concert, several people I’d known in high school, people I hadn’t seen in 50 years, came up and introduced themselves, and that only added to the feeling of alternate reality.

After the concert, my brothers, their wives and I paid a visit to a couple who live next door to our childhood home.  I’ve always enjoyed them and loved them for the support they provided for my parents in later years, and we had a good time catching up.  But our ulterior motive was to see what the new owners had done to our place.  Our friend/neighbor contacted the new owners, and we were awarded a tour of the extensively, but sensitively, remodeled residence.

My parents built the house and we moved in in 1961, signified by a Lincoln 1961 penny enmeshed in the concrete of our front sidewalk.  It was eerie to walk through the place.  They had blown out a back wall and built a modern kitchen and changed the interior floor plan in ways that our mom had often wished for.  Each time Mom would develop a plan, however, our dad would shake his head and say, “We can’t do that, that’s a bearing wall.”  The “bearing wall” cupidity we observed would have boggled our mom’s mind, in addition to pantsing our dad.  As we left, we saw that the front sidewalk had been rebuilt.  With a bit of trepidation, we walked to the end and saw..two pennies embedded in the new concrete: our original 1961 coin, and their 2016.  They will forever be our heroes.

(Click to enlarge)

As night fell, we headed west on River Road to visit old friends who had made their lives in Perrysburg.  As we entered their place, their music system was blaring OSU marching band songs that turned out to be on a record that I was playing on in 1971.  This never happens to me in Seattle.

We caught up with a lot of history, marveled at our friend’s opulent riverside digs, and I let the experience of a warm, fecund midwestern summer night soak in.  We said our good-nights in the cricket-and-tree-frog cacophony, with the river ambling picturesquely by, and it was strangely seductive.

But my morning flight from Detroit to Seattle emerged insistently on my phone, and that same raspy lozenge of - not discontent, exactly, but more of an Urge For Going - that spurred me west in 1974 hastened me inexorably to the airport, and on to my real home at the edge of the continent.

Memorial Day Musings

(Originally posted on Facebook, but cross-posted here - with enhancements - before it sinks beneath the FB wave)

My dad and my grandfather were both veterans, but neither experienced combat, and I rode a college deferment into a beneficent draft lottery number as the Vietnam War wound down. So Memorial Day to me wasn’t at all about death and loss and heroism, it was all about small-town ritual.

My high school band marched in a parade down the main street, my grandfather drove a miniature Monza car in a Shriner group, and we all ended up at the town cemetery. My junior and senior years, I played echo taps on my trumpet, but at that blithe age it was all about getting the notes right. Everyone close to me was alive and well, and Memorial Day mostly meant the end of school and the start of summer, and as soon as I tore that band uniform off, the pool would beckon.

As the years progressed and I began losing people, on my visits home I would head out for a run but go to the cemetery to commune with my relatives interred there.  It wasn’t the “I know you’re happy in Heaven with (blank)” kind of thing, it was just the physical proximity, the solitude and the clearing of mental clutter for a while in order to re-experience them sensually - seeing them, hearing their voices, placing them in a familiar context.

Memorial Day for me is remembering them, their admonishments and compliments, breaking their hearts, reconnecting and coming home again.

(Click to enlarge)

Abandoning Our 40-year-old Landline

So we changed internet providers this month, as Centurylink has strung fiber through the neighborhood and began offering killer deals in competition with Comcast.  Collateral damage in the process: our landline phone number, which we first acquired from Pacific Northwest Bell in 1975.

We could have included it in our package, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve just used it as a sponge to absorb solicitor calls, almost never actually answering.  We’ve switched all our important communication to our cell numbers.

One problem with this might be that more solicitor calls start raining down on our cell numbers, but I might just ameliorate that by continuing to cite the old landline number when whoring around the internet.

But my larger angst about losing that phone number is its historical and sentimental significance.  The first thing to come to mind is the physical, sort of bricks-and-mortar history.  The number first took up residence in a yellow rotary-dial phone which we rented from PNB, and resided there until the early 80s, when I needed touch-tone capability in order to use a 1200-baud modem to support clients and tap into the nascent Internet.  This required dumping the rotary-dial in favor of a touch-tone model (still rented from PNB) and upgrading our line service to “digital”.

Eventually, in the late 80s, we quit renting from PNB and acquired a cordless model.  We also, owing to the burgeoning demand for bandwidth from a) our son’s internet and bulletin board participation and b) my increasing requirement to do online software support, signed on for a second landline and phone number.  In theory, this should have resolved our bandwidth competition, except that our son took to signing on to bulletin boards with one of our lines whilst engaging in long-term voice communication on the other line with the same person he was engaging on the bulletin board.  Broadband internet couldn’t have found our house soon enough (and eventually did.)

But that’s just the bricks-and-mortar story.  My nostalgia for the phone number I’m forfeiting is more cerebral and perhaps emotional.  So many significant life events pulsed through the copper wire that struck the northwest corner of our house and found its way inside to a prosaic, non-ringtone, ring, especially because the bulk of our families lived in the midwest:

  • so many Christmases, New Year’s, birthday greetings
  • celebrating Buckeye victories, and lamenting Buckeye losses
  • the death of our wedding’s best man.  I still remember my grandmother delivering the news, while the aroma of fresh-cut sweet peas wafted through the room
  • calling to tell my parents, and then my grandparents of our son’s arrival.  Anecdote: Both my grandfather and father were named Philip, as was I, and when I conveyed our son’s (non-Philip) name to my grandmother, the venerable phone line was silent for quite a few ticks
  • the deaths of my grandparents in the mid-80s, and my last conversation with my grandmother before the surgery that she didn’t survive
  • the wonder of making a phone call and having a pizza arrive at my door
  • conversations of our son’s that we were not privy to, but were likely fraught with love, growth, deception, friendship, devastation, redemption
  • job acceptances, and rejections
  • the nurturing of those first clumsy, inexpert, messy flirtations with the internet and cybercommunication

This event feels a little like losing a family member, a little like physically changing residence and a little like quietly abandoning a friendship that was vital for so much of my life but whose usefulness and relevance has severely dissipated in the last 5 years.  I can still hear clearly the tone and timbre of dear people long dead that this antiquated technology delivered to my ears, and sometimes wonder if, listening really intently, I could detect snippets of those conversations in overtones ricocheting around the copper alloy.  But I’m entering the season of letting things go, and I’m sure this will prove to be one of the least painful.

Hello again, October.

Well it’s October and, suddenly, summer seems in jeopardy.  Since it’s often slow to arrive in these climes, I complacently assume that it will be slow to depart as well.  However, celestial mechanics do not observe such sentimentality, and I found myself for the last 2 weeks departing the house for my bike commute in pitch dark, whereas it was nearly broad daylight at 5:15 in July.  We’re having a nice weekend, though, and I’m counting on a couple more before the wet and cold takes center stage.

October is significant this year for at least a couple reasons.  First, it’s my birth month, and this year’s cumpleanos is a tad more significant than others: I become a fucking Senior Citizen.  I went on Medicare effective 10/1, and while my health insurance drops from around $700/month to $78, I noticed a marked sea change in the language of my coverage.  While my prior coverage (mainstream individual coverage as a self-employed person) emphasized contraception, well-baby programs, maternity and sports medicine, my Medicare-based plan document deals in the language of decline: end-stage renal disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, cardiac rehabilitation services, prosthetic devices, pulmonary rehabilitation.  It’s a sobering (hahahanotreally) boundary to cross, as my self-image is back there in the sports and impregnating people thing.  Someone here needs a reality check.

This October is also significant because it’s the month that, 40 years ago, Mrs. Perils and I were sitting in our rented digs on Church Street in Bowling Green, Ohio, having gotten married the previous June, and we looked at each other and, with great trepidation, said, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”  We loaded up a 5×8 U-haul, hitched it to my sweet ‘67 Pontiac Tempest and, Huck Finn-style, “lit out for the territory”, the territory in this case being Seattle.

Seattle had been whispering in my ear for 2 or 3 years before that.  Mrs. Perils had flown with her mother to the Northwest a few years previous on a mission of family imperative, and she returned with tales of lush green wilderness and imagery that excited her artist’s soul.   Then one of my co-workers at the CPA firm I worked at in my first job out of college had taken a position on the Seattle University accounting faculty, and his correspondence was tantalizing.

By 1974, I had left the CPA firm, finding the business of public accounting not to my liking, and had tried, unsuccessfully, to remake myself as a writer and academic English professor.  While taking classes at Bowling Green, I worked as a philosopher/bicycle mechanic alongside perhaps the only soulmate friend I’ve ever had, and that summer a petite woman pulled into the bike shop with some needed repairs to her Raleigh International.  She was a schoolteacher in Nome, Alaska, and had purchased her bike in Seattle and proceeded to ride it across the country and into our fervid imaginings.  The sticker on her bike from the shop she bought it from said, “Aurora Cycle”, and it conjured fantasies of a pristine launching place for a bicycling and life adventure that we, I and my bikeshop buddy, both hungered for.

Then, later in the summer of 1974, Mrs. Perils and I and a mutual friend of ours undertook to drive west to Seattle for a visit to our friend the accounting professor  We brought our bikes, of course, because they were our identity.  Our Seattle University friend had planned a bike trip that went west to Port Angeles, took a ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island, proceeded through the San Juans and south down Whidbey Island back to Seattle.

We followed this bike trip up with a backpacking weekend in the Olympic National Park.  I was absolutely hooked; all I had to overcome was the inbred notion endemic to midwesterners that, while we know those places and experiences are out there to be had, the act of detaching ourselves in order to pursue them was unthinkable.

So here we are.  Nearly 40 years in the same house, scions now of stability when, in 1974, you would have predicted chaos and perfidy.

October, you’re an unenviable month, saddled with the conflicting responsibilities of staving off loss and embracing winter, but we’re in this together.

Happy New Year 2014

So I’ve slouched passively towards 2014 (although “rough beast” is probably a compliment I haven’t earned), dressing in sensible layers and avoiding hypothermia and making no promises to myself or others..well, non-work-related others.  (to my employers: I’ll deliver on-time and under-budget, if I haven’t already).

I know New Years’ Resolutions are a folk tradition, but I’ve never seen how one can develop the ebullience necessary to contemplate bold initiatives for financial gain or corporeal loss or connubial bliss at this time of year, when it’s all you can do to remember that you set that January alarm clock for the distinct purpose of arising in the freezing cold dark in order to arrive at some vague destination in search of monetary gain, and that it’s not yawping at you because your enemies are gathered around your bed in gleeful retributive cacophony. At this latitude, in January you don’t fully realize this until around 10:00.

Even so, it’s appropriate to ever so gingerly look forward to things already in place on the calendar, without promulgating implausible outcomes:

  • at some point (OK, October 21) I’ll turn 65. Just (indulge me for a moment), holy shit.  I’ve pretty much blown by my “zero” birthdays with the help of good health and friends and alcohol.  For this one there is at least one  “arrangement”: Medicare? - I haven’t actually looked into it yet. Not sure yet what else.  I think some “senior discounts” begin to accrue, but most likely not for the good stuff. Watch this space…
  • our annual trip to Ashland, OR to watch plays and recreate is already locked in for the first week of July
  • we’re going to Pawley’s Island, SC in late March to scatter our mom’s ashes as she requested, and it will be another opportunity to advance the sibling bonding that we’ve nurtured for the last 2+ decades. Unless we decide to fight over her will.
  • our musical endeavors continue, and rehearsals have already started for a symphonic band concert on 4/5; my swing band will play at Crossroads on 2/1; we’ll have another band camp with our Rainbow City Band peeps in May in Port Townsend, and a fun list of parades throughout the summer
  • I’ll join my OSU Alumni Band on 9/13 for our annual debauch of music and marching and memories

I really would like to do a multi-day kayak trip like I did a couple years ago in Desolation Sound, but nothing concrete so far.  And whatever happens, we’re sure to keep physical fitness firmly in our crosshairs even if it’s just the mundane but enjoyable litany of urban hikes and bike-commuting to work.

There are some significant initiatives that need to be engaged around our domicile. My mom’s lesson of ruthlessly winnowing stuff around her house, as she did for the last 10 years, is not lost on me.  Her place was pretty easy to close up, especially compared to what our poor offspring would have to contend with if we suddenly croaked or needed to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

As a “resolution”, that one’s pretty wan, especially if you deconstruct the word and hold “resolve” in your left hand  and “lack of” in your right hand.  I’m right-handed, if you hadn’t already guessed.

So Happy 2014 to both my readers!  If you’re of the Resolution persuasion, I’d love to hear what you’re planning.

Moving On

Let’s shift the focus from Atlanta back to Seattle for a while, since I live here, after all (but we’ll be shifting back to Atlanta shortly, but for other reasons).

Somehow, I have myself playing in 4 musical groups, taking up the evenings Monday - Thursday for rehearsals. This is certainly excessive for a trumpet player of middling talent who’s not getting paid. It all started 4 years ago September when I joined the Rainbow City Band with Tuesday night rehearsals; then a guy I was taking trumpet lessons with said a community band he was playing with in Shoreline on Thursdays needed trumpet players, and I thought, why not, since going somewhere to play real music was preferable to creeping down to the basement to practice scales; then a couple years ago, I was offered the opportunity to sit in with RCB’s Purple Passion Swing Band, which rehearses Monday nights. I grew up with my dad’s Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Harry James records (I’m a child of the 40s, after all, even if it was only the last 2 months of 1949), and getting the opportunity to play music from that genre was irresistible.  Then a woman in the Thursday concert band who plays in a symphony orchestra said a couple pieces they were playing needed an extra trumpet this quarter to play Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and there went my Wednesday nights.

It’s fun and challenging, but Friday night, with no organized rehearsal, begins to look like safe landfall for the Wreck of the Hesperus.

I’m still working full-time as an accountant/accounting software consultant and mostly enjoying what I do.  I have a nice set of clients who are amenable to my jeans-wearing faux-eclecticism, and they’re all good people doing good things.  I spend a majority of my time these days with this manufacturer/distributor of goods to the outdoor industry (can you believe that I’d have an affinity for such a place?).  I still do work for my client in Milwaukee, a supplier to the construction and DIY industry who has weathered the vicissitudes of the Great Recession, as well as my clients in two of the four major food groups (wine and pastry), and consult with an interesting company that builds elaborate and creative signs for malls, resorts, airports, etc.

Increasingly, people are asking me how long I plan to work.  From the questioner’s standpoint, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask a 64-year-old, but each time, the question jars me, mired as I am in a self-image of a much younger man and a self-employed status that brooks a lot of financial uncertainty.  People who have a defined benefit plan or are working for a single employer have to confront this question as a matter of course, as a response to stimulus from HR.  If I’d stayed with my first post-college employer, the Big 8 accounting firm Ernst and Ernst, I would probably be in possession of multiple emails apprising me of this and that, and requiring decisions.  I remember receiving a notification from the E & E pension system a few weeks after hiring on with them in 1972, something to the effect that I would be eligible to retire with full benefits in October, 2014.  2014!  I’m sure I rolled my eyes and probably denied the possibility that I’d even be alive in 2014.  And now, here I am staring down both barrels of of that unimaginable future (except the part where I’m a beneficiary of the E&E pension system).

I like what I do well enough to keep doing it, and I like my clients and find them interesting, so I’m not planning on a sudden devolution to a life of budgets and waiting for the Social Security to hit the bank.  But if I thought I could, I’d forget with alacrity whether it’s the debit or the credit that’s supposed to be toward the window.

R.I.P. Mom 9/14/27 - 9/26-13

Can’t think of a better requiem than this number from our RCB concert last spring.  Like her, it’s at once both lyrical and fierce. While you’re listening, check out the anecdotes of her life as I collect them.  Feel free, if you knew her, to add anecdotes in comments below, or email, and I’ll incorporate them in the body of the post.

I’m gonna record some favorite anecdotes about my mom here, and it won’t happen all at once, I’ll be adding to this post as the muse grabs me.

  • I don’t know a lot about her young life, since we were not often in touch with her family in Lancaster, but one thing that she related about her time in high school amused me.  She said that she and some friends would meet in an alley or somewhere either before or after school to gossip, maybe smoke?, or just hang.  She said they called this meeting place “the heath”, a reference to the Weird Sisters scene in Macbeth.  You go for years thinking your parents are bland and pedestrian, and then some something endearingly literate like this bubbles up.
  • We had some testy interchanges about cars.  5 generations of my dad’s family (including me) made their living supplying glass to General Motors, and the American auto industry was our sugar daddy during the 50s and 60s.  When it came time for me to buy a car, though, that industry had surrendered its technological and qualitative edge to Japanese companies, attempting to compete not with innovation and quality but with import quotas and government subsidy.  The only new car I’ll ever buy was purchased in 1985, a Honda Civic wagon.  In later conversations with my mom, I’d talk about my disgust with the American auto industry and its failure to manufacture cars that met the quality and emissions standards of the Japanese cars.  She steadfastly castigated my assertions, and averred that the guys running Honda and Toyota were the same guys that were shooting at her high school friends who were sent to the Pacific theater.  It was hard to press my factual argument against her passionate and visceral position.
  • The joke she never tired of telling: A tipsy fellow is using a shortcut through a graveyard to get home from his watering hole when he comes upon a freshly-dug open grave, dirt piled to the side. As he approaches, he hears the plaintive cries of what is certainly a fellow inebriate who has fallen into the excavation, “Help! I’m so cold!”  The first fellow staggers carefully to the edge of the excavation and says, “Well no wonder you’re cold - you’ve kicked off all your dirt!” and proceeds to push the adjacent dirt into the hole.
  • Mom went to Ohio State after graduating from high school, with an idea of pursuing speech and/or journalism.  She ran headlong into swarms of GI-Bill veterans who were flooding campuses, and found her classes dominated by them.  She became intimidated as the faculty began to cant the classes to the GI’s, and recalled more than one professor addressing the women in the increasingly male-dominated classes as “pursuing their MRS degrees”.She met my dad (a GI-Bill vet) at OSU, they married and I was conceived in view of Ohio Stadium.  I think she always regretted not advancing to a degree, but the times were what they were, and she became a more typical 5os stay-at-home mom.  She wasn’t bitter, but I think she wanted more than she got from her college experience.
  • My parents were lifelong registered Republicans in Ohio, and it shaped my early political outlook.  I remember wearing Nixon/Lodge pins to class in the 6th grade in 1960 and, in my first election as a legal voter, I selected Richard Nixon over George McGovern, to my eternal shame.As the years progressed, Mom continued to cleave to the ideal of the progressive conservative that was never dominant in the Republican party, but that was at least prominent in its rhetoric.  A church-going woman, she became increasingly disgusted by the ideological poisoning of politics by religious and backwards factions, and so much of her conversation became stridently opposed to the party she was registered to vote for.  This one time in the early aughts, we were walking while she was bitching vehemently about anti-abortion Republicans that dominated Ohio politics, and I asked her why she was still registered as a Republican.  I honestly think it was a question she’d never posed to herself, she was so imbued with family-generated inertia.  I’m pretty sure that, within a week of that haphazard conversation, she changed her registration to Democrat and never looked back.Had she lived, she might have been the only Democratic vote in her adopted Georgia county.
  • From her neighbors Dave and Lana who lived in my grandparents’ place next door: “We were blessed to have Carol and Mickey as neighbors and as friends. Carol’s life should be an example to all of us.  Her gentleness ad selflessness was something to be admired.  Carol’s words of wisdom will remain with me as a mother and a friend. Thank you for sharing your mother with us! : (Mom:) Don’t worry about what your house looks like..invite people in”.
  • Watch this space…

I’m ready to go

My mom’s dying.  Well, she’s been dying for 10 or 15 years, in a dilettantish fashion, saddled with COPD and teasing death with bouts of pneumonia, ICU camp-outs and similar viral adventures.  But then last month she received a diagnosis of metastasized lung-cancer, and it’s taken a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

She’d been living in our childhood home in Perrysburg, Ohio, the one my parents built and moved into so proudly in 1961, and heretofore she’s insisted that she was leaving it feet-first.  Last spring she had a pneumonia episode that convinced her that, contrary to those assertions, she’d like to “have someone to hug me” when these episodes occur.  She’s had great neighbors on both sides who shoveled her walks when it snowed and looked after her and in general were model children, but I guess it started to matter that they weren’t HER children.

So in July we, my two younger brothers and I, began work to move her out of the house and into, eventually, a nice adult independent living facility near my youngest brother in the north Atlanta area.

I moved from northwest Ohio to Seattle in the fall of 1974, not necessarily to sever ties to the place or the people, but to establish my own ecosystem unburdened by expectations and close observation, but I always felt my parents’ place in Perrysburg as an anchorage.  Not a place that I would return to live necessarily, even in extremis, but something more archival, a memory that I could always illuminate with a visit or even a phone call.

The physical act of going through the house and saying goodbye to familiar stuff was filled with angst, but not unexpected angst.  My mom had resolutely pruned dunes of stuff in the attic and basement.  What really drove my emotional response was the fact that Mom and her house was the last link to a geographical and cultural touchstone that five (or more?) generations of my forebears had inhabited.  There were fields that my great-grandfather had hunted with my dad, places where my dad found Indian arrowheads and artifacts, generations of headstones with my surname displayed prominently, and the more distinctly-layered experience of my personal recollection - the swimming pool, places where Betsy and I had parked the car for sweet intimacy.  And once Mom moved, I’d have no concrete reason to return to northwest Ohio, and that tribal presence, which I still in some way felt after 40 years away, would no longer have its physical anchor.

We did Herculean labor and got the house ready for a furnishing auction and property sale over a 5-day weekend, and my SIL drove my mom south to Atlanta as the rest of us dispersed.  The movers arrived in Atlanta with the furniture that Mom had chosen to keep, and her new life of bridge and books and conversation seemed ready to begin.

Then, a couple weeks later, she fell ill, and a trip to a hospital hinted at, then proved, her cancer diagnosis.  Since then, we’ve been stepping through this journey of dying.  She’s still hanging in her independent living facility, aided by my brother and sister-in-law, hospice angels and home health-care folks.

Betsy and I flew here last month to ostensibly say goodbye, and she was able to walk to the car to go out for dinner and reminisce convivially.  It’s not easy to engage in a frank conversation with someone about their certain death, but Mom was kinda philosophical and said, perhaps to reassure me that I could talk about it, that she felt she’s had a good life, and that, in her words, “I’m ready to go.”

I flew to Atlanta today, as she had said she’d like to see me again, and things have deteriorated, as you might expect.  She has little energy to engage me, but her mind is as sharp as it was when she was fleecing her friends playing bridge.  She sits up for 15 minutes or so and gamely talks sports or whatever, then flags and has to lie down.

This will not be news to many, but it’s the first time I’ve been exposed to this granular process of dying.  My youngest brother and his wife will be doing most of the heavy lifting due to their proximity, but I’m glad I decided to allocate one more trip, both to cleave to my mom in her humbling decline and to give my bro and SIL a weekend to hang at their Lake Hartwell redoubt before the harrowing time ahead.

That’s Entertainment

I don’t give myself permission to sit and watch video that often, either movies or TV shows.  It’s not that I begrudge the time in front of a screen - I spend countless hours in front of my laptop, an appalling paucity of them billable.  It’s just that I can’t contemplate premeditated commitment, while serendipitous careening around the ‘net is somehow “off the books”.

And TV series are worse than movies, because while each episode is shorter than a film, I’m usually watching entire seasons of any particular TV series.  I did this with 30 Rock, and Weeds.  And then there’s Mad Men.  The series has appealed to me viscerally as well as aesthetically.  I suppose a good part of that visceral appeal is nostalgia, as the series is set during my formative years.  I’d be about 4 years older than Sally, the oldest Draper child.

It’s not directly evocative of my milieu; I grew up in the stalwart midwest, and my family toiled in orbit around the Detroit-centered auto industry, not the comparatively glib sophistication of New York City.  However, the adroit placement of objects (dial telephones, e.g.) and cultural references (racial attitudes, political issues) pings my memory continually, almost as if I were undergoing brain surgery and an electrode was traversing my 60s lobes like NASA’s Martian go-kart.

The business of the ad agency is crassly manipulative, but I find it neither shocking nor necessarily off-putting.  Who didn’t know, even then, that advertising was designed to get you to buy stuff?  Rather, there’s an almost charming innocence to their endeavors, even the darker aspects like cigarette advertising, especially when compared to the sophistication and granularity we see today in the right-hand panel of Facebook.  What they are actually doing at Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price is akin to chemistry experiments using 60s popular culture as a Periodic Table, and I find it a pleasant interlude to inhale the fumes from their beakers.

Traveling Violation

(Click on image to enlarge)

I had a little automotive adventure in June that went something like this: I was driving home from a client’s on Aurora Avenue when someone came to a dead stop in front of me.  I stopped a couple of feet behind them, then tick…tick…tick…tick…BANG!  Someone plowed into me from behind, jamming me into the car in front of me (and involving two more cars ahead of us).

I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose consciousness; the first thing I remember after the impact is the acrid smell of the airbags and my reflection in the rear-view mirror with blood oozing out of my nose.  I was hyperventilating a little and chanting holyfuckholyfuckholyfuck.  This confirmed my long-held suspicion that I would die with a bolus of filthy language dripping off my tongue.  Unless you count what I was saying as prayer.  I’ve heard, and uttered, worse.

In the ensuing moments, the car would settle a bit, startling me with a feeling that I’d been hit again.  I tried my door, thinking perhaps I should get out of the car in case it caught fire, but the door wouldn’t budge.  I found my phone and thought about 911, but figured that would have already been massively covered, so I dialed Mrs. Perils:

“Well, I just got rear-ended on Aurora, so I think I’ll be a little late.”  It was a Tuesday, and we had band practice.
“So where are you?”
“Somewhere between the Battery Street tunnel and the Aurora Bridge.”
Then sirens started in the background and got louder and louder.  “I have to go now, the ambulance is here,” and I hung up.  In hindsight, I probably could have handled that better.

A first responder entered the car through the passenger door and started asking me about my injuries (my shins hurt a lot, my nose was tender and bleeding fitfully and my left side, where the shoulder strap dug in, hurt quite a bit).  He also asked a bunch of “who’s your daddy” questions to ascertain if I’d had a concussion.  Meanwhile, someone had managed to pry my driver’s-side door open with a screech and a clunk, and they proceeded to move me gingerly onto a gurney and strapped my limbs onto it, saying they were taking me to Harborview, the go-to trauma hospital in Washington.  I insisted that they grab my backpack from the car that contained my laptop and, within it, my entire terrestrial essence.  The first responder handed me off to the ambulance EMT, and thus began my VIP ride to Harborview.

As the ambulance started to roll, I received perhaps my most traumatic unpleasantness: they stuck an IV into my arm.  I hate needles, and I fucking hate IVs, but I wasn’t arguing.  They asked me again to recount my injuries (shins, abdominal pain, nose obviously malfunctioning), and posed more riddles designed to detect concussion: “How old are you?”  “63.  No, 62″ and, chagrined by my error, especially the rounding-up part, I recited my birthdate just to prove I had a tenuous grip on the facts.  “Oh, wow!”, he said, and I decided to take that as a compliment instead of a negative commentary on my condition.  Later, I learned that my accident had made the TV newsreels, with photos of my car that some of my co-workers were shocked to recognize, accompanied by something like the hospitalization of “a man in his 60s”.  Ouch, dude, that (sounds) harsh.

Meanwhile, I believe the EMTs were concerned that my legs might be broken, or at least need attention, and they broke out a pair of scissors and, without unstrapping me, cut off my jeans.  I was startled - it’s been a while since someone was that anxious to get my pants off.  Then, at some point, they were either making a CYA recording or talking to the Harborview ER people, and the guy said, “he’s mentating well.”  Mentating?  Did the collision somehow activate heretofore dormant ovaries?

We arrived at Harborview, and there was a flurry of activity as they attached monitors, asked more questions and determined where I was at on the live-or-die scale.  Then I spent long expanses of time just lying there.  Meanwhile, someone who identified herself as a “social worker” called Mrs. Perils and told her how and where I was.  In retrospect, this sounds like a great way to do things, rather than have a harried ER doc contact the either concerned or bereaved.  Mrs. Perils and our son then set out for Harborview.

Meanwhile, someone had come in and asked if I had health insurance, and I gave him my Group Health card and explained that auto insurance would most likely be paying the bill.  Not everyone must have gotten that memo, because a while later, a woman came by and said she was a “financial counselor”.  She understood that I did not have health insurance, and was there to discuss my options.  There I was, half-fucking-naked and bleeding from the shins and nose.  Wasn’t there a more appropriate time for this discussion?  I told her about the previous guy’s visit, and she moved on to more fruitful venues to apply her expertise.

A while later, I still was worried by my abdominal pain, more so than the stuff that was bleeding, and they decided to do a CT scan, and off I went to the Magic Donut.  They said it was a borderline call, but I was happy to know that I had no internal injuries, and I only evince a soft glow now when the lights are out.  About 5 1/2 hours after I arrived at the ER, they handed me a bottle of Ibuprofen and a tube of antibacterial ointment for my shins and sent me home.

I’m not sure why, but I just drove myself to a state of normalcy.  I missed a day and a half of work, and two days of trumpet practice (because I wasn’t sure how much pressure would start blood gushing out of my nose again).  But on the following Saturday I showed up and marched with Rainbow City Band in the Fremont Solstice Parade, we went to Ashland as scheduled, and my aches and pains have slowly dissipated.

Things are almost back to normal now. It turned out that my laptop got sorta-pretzeled while careening around my back seat.  It still booted, but the screen was toast.  I was able to extract my data and port it to a new Macbook.

(Click on image to enlarge)

I’ve missed a bunch of kayaking because my racks were sent with my 95 Accord to a junkyard 50 miles north of here that’s only open 8 - 5 M-F, and I haven’t been able to retrieve them.  After dithering for several weeks, I finally focused myself enough to find a car to buy on Craigslist, and so far I’m really happy with it.  For one thing, it’s the first car I’ve owned that has air conditioning that works.

So, did this experience involve any life-changing epiphanies?  Do I, as a result, cherish life, live every day as if it’s my last, post daily pictures of cute kittens to Facebook?  Sorta, but not really.  I find myself not following people as closely as I used to when I’m driving, and I simply will not answer my phone in the car.  But mostly, I’m the same driver and the same guy.  It is tempting to think that, now I’ve had my accident, I’m somehow innoculated and safe from harm for another 10 years or so, like a tetanus shot or a colonoscopy, but on a cerebral level I know the same thing could happen tomorrow.  Driving has become less of a virtual activity; I know now that I’m actually in the car, and not operating it from some remote location divorced from the physical consequences of mishaps.  Most of the time.