Saturday, December 26, 2015

Since You Died on Friday

I indicated that last week's essay would likely be the last one of the year. Often writing here is a duty for me but at least I feel the accomplishment of having done a little something other than sit on the couch and watch tv. It's been a while since  there's been an event so overwhelming that I need to use my words. On Friday December 18, my friend of over forty years, Richard Scott, died suddenly.

For Richard
January 30, 1947-December 18, 2015

Since you died on Friday
I no longer have an emergency contact.
I held my son in my arms and we wept.
I realize that except for my own, 661-7506 is the only phone number that I know by heart.
I worry that my Hanukah menu of latkes and doughnuts may have induced your heart attack.
I'm sorry that you didn't hear the police woman say that yours was the tidiest house she'd ever seen.
I remember how we got high and watched sitcom reruns and Date With Dale on Christian broadcasting and that we sent Dale Evans a letter suggesting that she invest in a more supportive bra.
I make my husband a sardine sandwich with your pumpernickel bread.
I realize I will never earn another dollar for being the first to notify you about a celebrity death.
I see that in your phonebook you've written every friend's birthday in red ink.
I regret that I was snippy and preoccupied the last time I saw you.
I am thankful that our penultimate time together was wonderful and even though the latkes may have done you in it was a perfect evening.
I remember my kids seeing your yellow VW bug in the handicapped spot at Video Journeys and dashing into the porn room to find you.
Every person I call to tell that you died said that you were their best friend.

Since you died on Friday
Your favorite movie lines resonate in my head.
Get me the axe.
We're in a tent darling, we're not at home. I can hear you perfectly well if you speak in a normal tone of voice.
Top of the world Ma!

Since you died on Friday,
I've been eating, as you would say, like I'm going to the chair.
I had to stop myself from calling you to tell you, that despite an amazing cast, Truth is a terrible, awful film.
I take everything from your freezer and heat it on a big cookie sheet and we eat it for dinner.
I am thankful that in 2015 you did everything that you like to do.
I am acutely aware of the better person I've become for having known you.
I regret that we put off traveling to London together.
I'll have to figure out how to keep track of my own bills and appointments.
I see how my friendship with you has been a blueprint for every other satisfying relationship I have.
I remember Bob noting that no one made me laugh as hard as you did.
I note that the your most recent “Last Gasp List” of elderly or infirm celebrities is the last one I'll receive.
I threw away your razor, a bar of soap and a pack of honeybuns from the 99 Cent Store
I drink, as I write this, coffee with milk from your refrigerator.
I am befuddled that I was unable to find your pot.
I remember the Oscar birthday cake that I made you.
I eat another breakfast from the green depression glass plate that you gave me.
I discover that I am not the only one who couldn't stand the corn pudding you insisted on making for Thanksgiving.
I remember how much more patient you were with my dementia addled mother than I was myself.

I am reminded too that I will die and that for you it was fast and you were sitting in your favorite chair with a glass of iced tea and the tv on.

Since you died on Friday tears flow a couple times each day but I know you are immortal because I will think about you every day and that I am better for having loved you and that I am not the only one.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Tuxedo Variations

Christmas is a legal holiday, so even though I'm a Jew I think I have a dispensation if I don't get around to posting here next week. Unless I am struck with a sudden compulsion to write something (highly improbable) this will likely be my final post of 2015. There is always shitty stuff happening in the world for me to wring my hands about but the last couple months seem particularly awful and rife with violence and stupidity. It feels like the world is worse off than a year ago. Having been in Europe during the Paris bombings, and having close ties with the San Bernardino/Redlands area, these events are particularly resonant. The odds, I know, are better that I am offed by a herd of stampeding wildebeest than at the hands of a terrorist. But, I think that 2015 brings a change to the way that most people think about the world. Perhaps 2016 will occasion a pandemic of compassion and common sense.

I have chronicled here over the last two years the loss of two dogs and two cats, the last being our beloved Gary who leaves us a few days after we return from our trip. We are both devastated but the truth is that while Gary liked me just fine, he preferred Himself, as had his predecessor Malcolm. Himself hadn't been a cat person when he met me but he developed a fierce attachment to Malcolm and later Gary. There has been a discussion about not replacing pets in order to free us up for travel but I agree to this only when it seems like Gary will survive for many more years. Given the kitty's early demise and the fact that I have always had a cat (usually a number of cats) I am desperate for feline companionship. Himself, however, still in deep grief, keeps throwing up the zero population growth agreement and staunchly refuses to discuss the matter.

Number One Son, at age twenty-three is pretty much a mensch. His graduation and subsequent landing of a decent job provide my greatest satisfactions of the past year. Nevertheless, once in a while the boy doesn't plan ahead and requires a parental bailout. This is in the first paragraph of my Jewish mother job description but Himself, being of the gentile persuasion, is a bit less patient with these little screw ups. “Don't tell Dad,” is sort of our conspiratorial mantra. Number One Son is frantic one morning, unable to locate his keys. We scour the house to no avail and Himself's irritation is palpable.

The mystery of the keys is solved several days later. Himself has confused them with his own keys and they have been relegated to a drawer upstairs in our bedroom. Among my other duties as assigned is exploiting guilt to my own advantage. Knowing the Himself feels lousy about stealing the keys, I retain the boy's services in the cat matter. He broaches the subject with his pop at the dinner table, after a couple of beers. My son, having undoubtedly blossomed under my tutelage, is charmingly relentless and refuses to take “no cat” for an answer. Himself is ultimately broken and says that in the unlikely event that he were to adopt another, it would have to be a tuxedo cat like Malcolm and Gary.

At warp speed I make contact with the Kitty Bungalow. This is a self-described charm school for cats, housed in a bungalow near USC. Volunteers come in regularly to socialize feral kittens. I make an appointment and from dozens of candidates, I choose two male tuxedo litter-mates. Ordinarily kitties aren't homed until they are neutered but I guess I make a good impression and they are released in time for Hanukkah.

Kittens and cats are housed in different rooms at the bungalow. Mine are in a small room with a couple dozen other kittens when I go to fetch them. The door opens and while the other kitties carry on, my two tuxedos march right out, ready to go. The last litter-mates I adopted, over a decade ago, where Gary, Mary and Larry. The kids and I drove to a home in El Monte and when Himself came home with a big yellow bag from the opening day of Amoeba Records the tiny trio was playing on the bed.

Things ended badly for Larry. I found him lifeless in the bedroom and was stricken. I called our dear friend and neighbor Broderick whose sonic arrival and expeditious dead cat removal I will always be grateful for. When the deed was done, Broderick did present me back with the towel I had given him for wrapping kitty. “Do you want this?”

Mary was a sweet shy thing and while Gary allied with Himself, she was my girl. She contracted stomach cancer in 2013. The new adoptees are Harry and Jerry. Himself returns from his meditation class and the pair are frisking on the bed. I am concerned that he will be miffed as he hadn't really committed to a new cat, let alone two. Luckily the “if” in “if I got a cat” doesn't come back to bite my ass and he is immediately in love. We note within minutes their distinct personalities. Jerry is more outgoing and jaunty. Harry is quiet and conservative. Both poop about three times their body weight every day.

Himself is on sabbatical for a few more weeks and spending days at home reading and writing. Since the arrival Harry and Jerry a week ago, when Himself is working in his chair, they are on his shoulder. When he is in bed they are on his head. He baby talks to them all day long. Seldom has a risk I've taken paid off so well.

Facebook is my window on the state of the universe. Stupid platitudes. Neediness and self promotion. Earnest political info-graphics shared with like minded friends who share them with like minded friends. Cute kids. The current metaphor for shallow and banal is “cat videos.” The truth is, cat and dog pictures and videos (and the occasional teacup pig) are really the only thing I value on Facebook. A recent video posted of people weeping as they receive gift puppies has me in tears. One of my favorites is “Dogs Annoying Cats with their Friendship.” Some hardcore animal rights people make a stink about “Cats Terrified of Cucumbers” being cruel but it doesn't really bother me when once in a while a cat is brought down a peg. I don't follow Governor Jerry Brown on Facebook but I am a long time devotee of his Corgi, the First Dog of California, Sutter Brown. The brunt of my feed however is “Dog Spotting” which is nothing more than people posting pictures of dogs. I've posted two myself.

One of the bigger laughs I have ever gotten is at a Weight Watcher's meeting. I am sitting with my posse of girlfriends and the leader of the group describes a woman's triumph in establishing a physical fitness regime. She dances Zumba with her husband every night. I whisper “Himself and I do that,” and my friends disrupt the meeting, wailing in laughter. My husband is greatly respected but taciturn and gruff are probably more apt than bubbly or effusive. After the heartbreak of Gary's death, Himself now babbles in baby talk all day to Harry and Jerry. If two tiny kittens make for such a change in disposition maybe the weapon for world peace is Facebook going all kittens and puppies all of the time.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Haiku for the Winter Solstice

Lots of lousy gifts.
Hanukah may be eight nights,
but it ain't Christmas

The house wreaks for days
hours degreasing the kitchen
but we love latkes.

I'm tired of tapas.
Tiny plates with wee portions
I resent sharing.

Endless long lines for
Black Friday sales and I-Phones
but never to vote.

All Trump, all the time
Fans loud but not that many
Hillary blissed out.

Weight Watcher's change up
reduces sugar and carbs.
Armed insurrection.

Dog catches latka.
when parents applaud wildly
The kid rolls his eyes

PhD husband.
Sets the table each night with
glass on the wrong side.

Twenty somethings can't pick up
beer bottles or shoes.

Bye bye to the drought?
El Nino is on the way!
Got flood insurance?

Only old crackpots
answer a landline and talk
when a pollster calls

Does terrorism
not apply to shooting up
a Planned Parenthood?

Bard memory class:
Great medical advancements,
but I forget them.

Here in Echo Park,
man bun, rescue dog, baby.
Hipster credentials.

Leave a single sheet
instead of changing the roll?
You're still an asshole.

Burly tattooed dude
out walking a chihuahua
in a pink sweater.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Very Special Shooting

Twenty years ago we considered joining a neighborhood babysitting coop. Another parent called to screen us and earnestly asked if we kept guns in the house. This perhaps is the stupidest question anyone has ever asked me. One of my former employees was into guns but other than that, to my knowledge, none of my friends keep guns. Yet, in America the rate of U.S. gun ownership is the highest on the planet. There are way more guns than people. If the murder of twenty children at an elementary school in Sandy Hook isn't a catalyst to revisit our interpretation of the second amendment it terrifies me to think of what possibly might be. In 1876, an enlightened U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Cruikshank that “the right to bear arms in not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”

In U.S. v. Miller in 1939 the Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 to booster marksmanship and promote gun safety. Before the National Firearms Act of 1934 was enacted by Congress, NRA president Karl Frederick testified before a hearing “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one...I do not believe in the promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” As late as 1968 the NRA supported a gun control act which created a federal system to license gun dealers as well as establishing restrictions on particular categories of firearms.

There are a number of reasons for the NRA's shift from advocating for sportsmanship and safety to proposing that a concealed carrying, assault weapon amassing America is the anecdote for an epidemic of mass murders. A potentially beleaguered gun industry has co-opted the NRA and therefore purchased the most powerful lobbying entity in the country. More subtly, as the cultural horizon shifts, white men feel threatened and impotent as they sense their ebbing hegemony. I think the election of Barack Obama raised a lot of hackles.

Himself distrusts Obama. I admit that the Hope Change thing hasn't panned out that well and many of the Changes I'd Hoped for haven't come to fruition. However, I don't think that anyone would doubt Obama's solid commitment to sensible weapons legislation and his frustration at the power that the NRA wields. Ironically, the election of an African American president has probably fomented a lot of the unease that the NRA and gun manufacturers exploit in order to keep sensible gun law reforms off the table.

Mass murders have become so commonplace that I respond on autopilot.  The first thought that runs through my mind is to hope the killer isn't a Jew. Fortunately, since the Son of Sam back in the 70s, this hasn't been the case. Secondly, I hope that the murderer is not a Muslim. Lately I'm giving Bad for the Muslims near parity with Bad for the Jews. As complete sidebar here, is that once in a very great while I ask Himself a question that he is unable to answer. Recently I inquired as to why we used to say Moslem but now we say Muslim. In the rare instance there is something that Himself doesn't know my second choice is Wikipedia. This is what I discover:

According the the Center for Nonproliferation Studies: Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings of the same word. But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers the words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means “one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means “one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English “Mozlem” with a z.

My sidebar to the sidebar, is that the word “Moslem” is rejected by my spellchecker, although the “n word” and “kike” are not.

I keep my fingers crossed that the mass murderer du jour is neither Jewish nor Muslim and hope instead that it's some right wing nut job who at least can be held up to further discredit other right wing nut jobs and the NRA. It is better too if the gunman commits suicide or killed by law enforcement. I am rabidly anti-death penalty and firmly believe, and have personally witnessed, that redemption can happen behind bars. However, I think it is better that society be spared the expense of protracted legal proceedings and decades of incarceration and probably for the families of victims it is better to spared the experience of a long trial. I will add that I have met inmates serving life sentences with little chance of parole who have committed themselves to personal growth and restorative justice and actually manage to live fulfilling lives. The likelihood however of a notorious mass murderer having the wherewithal and access to resources for the promotion of healing and inner peace are slim. There may be exceptions but I think that in most of these cases it is better in every way that the shooters die along with their victims.

Finally, given the proliferation of mass shootings, once the deed is done, in addition to preferring a fanatical right wing perpetrator, I also prefer that news coverage not preempt Judge Judy. Given that absolutely nothing happened after the murder of children in Sandy Hook, I have lost hope that anything ever will. I am numb and prefer my usual routine of popcorn and my favorite arbiter of ethics, Judy.

This week's a game changer though. Wednesday morning Girlfriend-in-law is traveling to Los Angeles from Redlands via the Metrolink train from San Bernardino. At 11:30 she calls, upset. There's been a shooting nearby. The train station is crawling with police and the other passengers are very tense. She finally is able to board a train, and while the trip takes two hours longer than ordinarily, she reaches L.A. safely. We are shaken. Girlfriend-in-law attends, in Redlands, the same school from which I graduated, as did Number 1 Son.  Usually when there's a mass shooting I sigh and curse the NRA and hope that Judy's still on. But now I am glued to the news and don't miss one bit Judy's cranky moral instruction.

I have driven on the same streets as the folks who attend a company party they'll never return from. I have likely shopped at the same supermarket as Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. As I write this their motive is still hazy, although evidence seems to be leading towards some sort of free agent terrorism. Not only does the proximity to my own stomping grounds catch my attention but I am gobsmacked at the thought of Tashfeen dropping her six month old baby with her mother-in-law, changing into tactical gear and then embarking on an inevitable suicide mission. This just doesn't match the usual profile of thwarted American dreamers determined to exact their fifteen minutes of fame at any cost.

San Bernardino is different in a number of ways of what we can now say are “run of the mill mass shootings.” The shooters aren't lone wolves but a married couple with a baby. Their apartment arsenal is blocks from my college. I hate though that it's this variance, from what's become a pattern, that captures my attention. It has to be more than just another crazy white guy. I detest how cavalier I've become. I agree that some mass shootings probably wouldn't have been prevented by stricter background checks and a ban on assault weapons. And it isn't just a matter of providing more outreach to the mentally ill. The problem is insidious and complicated and beyond my own grasp. Japan and Australia however have instituted strict gun-control laws and have virtually eliminated mass shootings so undoubtedly, some sort of restrictions would be at least a step in the right direction. It always seemed that my little quinoa eating, NPR listening enclave, by virtue of our enlightenment and liberalism, was exempt from the American phenomena of mass murder. Given the power that the gun industry wields I can't foresee any substantive gun control measures being implemented in the near future. It is harder to resign myself to this and the enormous suffering this has caused and will, inevitably continue to cause, when it happens in a place that's more to me than just on dot a map.

In the course writing this I make sure that there were no other Jewish mass murderers since Son of Sam. I google "Jewish murderers" and hit on David Duke's webpage which bears a huge headline declaring that “The Greatest Mass Murderers of all time Were Jews.”  I think that an illustration of the memorials for the victims at Sandy Hook might prove poignant for this piece but my Google image search reveals mostly illustrations claiming to prove that the shooting was a hoax. The Internet has certainly accelerated the dissemination of lies and crackpot ideas, including a convoluted interpretation of the Second Amendment. I suspect that if the framer's of the Constitution had been able to imagine the 21st Century they well might have tweaked the Second Amendment. But even though now we can spread bullshit through the universe in a nanosecond I doubt if they would have touched the First.