Category Archives: Ponderings

Random thoughts about nothing in particular.

She Was My Sunshine

Sunshine

“I’m sorry, I should have warned you.”

My mother and I walked into my father’s hospice room; the third day of his agonizingly slow descent into eternal rest. I could not reconcile the image of my once stalwart father, who used to carry me around on his shoulders just for the fun of it, withering away slowly on his death bed. He looked so frail, so vulnerable, so . . . not my dad. I staggered to the window seat, dropped down, and cried.

My mom busied herself with opening the draperies to let in the sunlight. The window view was quite idyllic. A mere pane of glass divided two worlds—one full of happiness and life, the other sorrow and death. The beauty of the scene was painful. How can I enjoy it juxtaposed to my reality? I am losing my dad, my hero.

“Why can’t I cry?” my mom asked after I regained composure and stood up.

Huh. Good question. She cried non-stop when our family dog died, and she even cried when I confessed as a young adult that I hated myself. You know I think you’re wonderful, right? Why is it that the prospect of losing her life-partner, her high school sweetheart, doesn’t instill in her the same response?

“Maybe you are in self-preservation mode. You don’t cry because you feel you don’t have time to cry. There’s too much to do, and you have all these responsibilities squarely on your shoulders.” I really wanted to answer her question, and that explanation seemed as plausible as they come. She is a mother, she’s used to being strong.

She silently pondered that. “When this is all over, then, you’ll let yourself cry. I’m sure of it.” She nodded, mollified.

“Come on, ma!” I turned in surprise at the bed. The utterance of exasperation had a familiar note. How many times was I the cause of his annoyance?

“He’s been talking. I don’t know if he’s dreaming, reliving memories, or. . . .” A nurse walked in. “Good morning, Nola! How are you?”

“Oh fine. And yourself?” My mom, always so friendly.

“Good! Rudy’s been active today. I was singing to him earlier, and he sang along with me. Watch this.” She straightened his sheets as she demonstrated.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

“. . . sunshine away.” His mouth moved, accompanying her with a childlike lilt on the last line. It was a far cry from his steady baritone he used for singing along with The Blues Brothers soundtrack, as well as hymns at Sunday church services.

“Aww, that is so cute! Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.” The nurse rushed out. How is she able to be so upbeat and bright while working day in and day out in a place people go to die? There are no happy endings in her job.

And why did that song come up, and how did he remember it when the months that led up to his last days in hospice, he was losing his memories, along with his reasons to live? I wasn’t sure he knew I was his daughter towards the end, much less have the ability to remember a country tune from a bygone era.

I don’t know what compelled me, but I wanted that moment with him, too. I leaned over him, and softly sang the chorus in his ear.

“. . . sunshine away.” He didn’t know his daughter, and maybe not even himself, anymore. Yet, I felt closer to him, my stoic, Germanic father, than I ever had.

Mom turned away, and started crying. She grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

“I am so sorry, mom,” I hurried over to her and hugged her as the tears streamed down my face. I inherited my sympathetic crying reflex from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I felt selfish for creating that moment with no regard for how it might make her feel, but then found a silver lining. “See, you can cry.”

“I guess I’m normal,” she said as she sniffled and dried her face.

“You always were, mom.”

    *          *          *

My mom died a year after my father; 378 days later, to be exact. I called her to follow up on plans we made for that Saturday. She was in bed, and blamed her shortness of breath and difficulty with talking on pulling a muscle from vomiting. Probably just the flu. Okay, mom. Go to the doctor tomorrow, and I’ll come out this weekend. Oh, that would be great, goodbye.

I didn’t tell her I love her. Four hours later, I got the call from the hospital. It took me over an hour to get there, and I made mental plans during the cab ride to stay at her house and take care of her. They wouldn’t tell me on the phone that she had already died. I guess they don’t do that.

The doctor did not recommend an autopsy. Her age and probable pneumonia led to heart failure, most likely. I want the definitive, not speculation, especially when it involves those I love. I had the feelings of her other children—my sister and brother—to consider besides my own, so, I didn’t push it. To this day, I can’t help but wonder if losing her first and only love, the one she spent nearly 60 years of her life with, had something to do with it. How can a broken heart be detected, much less treated?

She lost her husband long before he was turned into ash. His body deteriorated along with his mind; his death wasn’t a surprise. His suffering was over, as hers should be. This was her time to build a new life, and for the first time, really focus on herself. I thought she was coping well. Her social calendar was full, and she was always ready to talk when I called. She was so hard to get off the phone!

She was such a sincere person that she could never make it as an actress. She put on a brave and happy face, but she fooled no one . . . except me.

I found out afterwards that she seemed profoundly sad, and could not find her place in the world without her husband; a hole which could never be filled again. How did I miss it?

After five years, it does me no good to ponder that question, nor blame myself for her death in any way. As Lucille Ball said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” Sage words.

That said, I don’t regret what I did with my father. In my selfish pursuit for a personal moment with him, I created a deeper bond with my mom. That was a moment we shared that no one else may completely understand. Neither of us could listen to that song without crying. Every time I heard it, I couldn’t wait to tell her. There was sadness, but also joy in the memory that I could relive with her.

I heard it again, just recently. I could feel my throat tighten upon recognition of that familiar I IV V chord progression. I had to leave the room. I didn’t tell anyone about it, until right here.

She was my sunshine, but not my only sunshine. The skies became a bit grayer when her sunshine was taken away.

Even though I didn’t tell her I loved her one last time, I think she knew how much I did.

Advertisements

We Can Be Zeroes

Now it’s time to close our eyes
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry
David Bowie, “What’s Really Happening?”

The unexpected death of the iconic David Bowie on January 10, 2016 was a shocking blow to much of the world. More than a week has passed, yet news and social media sites are still flooded with eulogies, tributes, and other commemorative pieces about the legendary artist.

Amidst all the tragedy and death in the world, this one seems more difficult to accept. Many of us were born when Bowie already released his classic, Space Oddity. It is hard to comprehend he is gone when he was always there. Truth be told, imagining a world without him in it is a challenge, because a small part of us assumed he was immortal.

His death reminds us that even appearing bigger than life, he is just like us—a mere speck of dust in endless void of space. It is a sobering thought. We get solace from having heroes, ones we can revere and rely upon. We could look up to the heavens, and the Starman would be there. How can such a dynamic force that had such a positive impact on the world just one day cease to be? Simply, we are all mortal. In an Orwellian way, some of us are “more mortal” than others.

Bowie

Bowie, Colored Pencil on toned paper, by Diane Bushemi 1/17/16

I am comforted by the collective sorrow. Misery loves company, after all. More to the point, I am less embarrassed that I cried for the passing of someone I never met, because I am not alone in my feelings. Still, my response is surprising to me. Even though I am a fan and as an artist and musician myself, greatly appreciate his unique genius. However, he was never my favorite. I always assumed I would reserve this type of emotional investment for my songwriting heroes—Neil Young, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Tori Amos. My connection is strong with them for various reasons, and, they have helped shape me into the artist I am and still am striving to be.

Then why did his death cause me so much distress? Like with all celebrity deaths, we make it about ourselves. From water cooler conversations to social media postings, it is about our own responses. It is a way to connect to someone we don’t know and to something we have yet to experience for ourselves. The mere concept of death is terrifying to us. There is a mystery in the unknown, of course. Even more so, there is that fear we would be gone and promptly forgotten. It is troubling enough to acknowledge that we are mortal in body, but we cannot accept that we could be mortal in influence, as well. Celebrities are immortalized in a way most of us can’t be through memories, photographs, film, et cetera. Canonizing the dead is a natural impulse, even more so when someone in the public eye dies. We want immortality to be true, any way we can get it. We can’t help ourselves.

That said, it isn’t the main reason Bowie’s death causes me so much dissonance. I had to take a long, brutal look at myself and figure out why this death affected me and was distinctly about me.

Bowie died of liver cancer. I am a cancer survivor. Pluck! There’s a succulent piece of low-hanging fruit from that Tree of Knowledge. I could accept that obvious connection, nosh on the apple, and leave it at that. Of course it upsets me, I know what he went through because I experienced it myself. I empathize.

If only it were that easy. It is one component, yes, but not the core reason. Get it? Apple—core. Anyway, here goes.

The past two years, starting with my entry into the mid-forties demographic, I’ve looked back on my life a lot, even more so than looking around in the present or to the future. Like the various Dickensian ghosts, it is all scary. For the sake of brevity, I will just say that I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn’t travel more, make more friends, and basically lived too safely. I avoided the path I was drawn to because it was intimidating. Why should I risk trying and failing at being a professional musician when the four-year college with a degree in accounting is right there? Since Bowie released his first album in his early twenties, he eschewed conservative ideals and did what he wanted to do during his formative years—ones that have long passed me by.

I can say with utmost certainty that regret, like jealousy, is a useless waste of energy. Just learn from past mistakes, live in the present, and keep your eye on the future. Right? It is easier said than done. The challenge with me is that my resolve is in short supply. I am a sprinter. I get an idea and take off with it, but run out of gas very shortly before I can achieve much. I don’t have the endurance for a marathon, literally and figuratively. My successes are small and far between, because I use up the majority of my reserves trying to keep myself motivated. Do you know who probably had plenty of resolve and motivation, considering how prolific and successful he was? Bowie.

I started the New Year recovering from an injury. A bulging disc in my neck caused incapacitating pain for several weeks. I was miserable. I couldn’t work out, draw, paint, play guitar, or write. I could do none of the things that I enjoyed. The two weeks for holiday that I reserved to accomplish so much were a complete bust. At least, I was willing to accept that I was physically unable to do anything productive. I wonder if Bowie ever experienced something similar to that.

I was equally unproductive during my battle with cancer. I did two quick drawings, and that was it. I didn’t write, and barely played any music. What did I do with those four months off from work while at home, day in and day out? There is no point in listing specifics. I was fighting for my life; I had no energy to focus on building a body of work for some legacy that no one would see anyway.

Do you know who co-wrote a musical, wrote, and recorded an album, all while battling cancer and accepting that he would ultimately lose that fight?

Damn it, Ziggy. Damn you to space! You make me look and feel bad for myself. I am the Zero to your Hero. How dare you?

Is it possible to be so in command of your life that despite the odds, you still write your own ending? I didn’t think it was possible, yet, Bowie showed that it is. He took something that was out of his control—terminal cancer—and like the maestro he was, orchestrated his dwindling time on Earth brilliantly. From the release of his album on his birthday to his peaceful death two days later, Major Tom was not only the pilot of his rocket ship; he was “Ground Control.”

This isn’t a life-changing revelation. I almost died, damn it. If that didn’t galvanize me, what would? I could carry a lightning bolt as my talisman and focus the rest of my life on becoming immortal in whatever way possible. Or . . . not.

This is not a closed-ended treatise. I have a long road ahead of me still. Not as long as I want it to be, given I am ostensibly halfway through my life already. I trust I will continue to stumble along the way, just like I always do. I hope I will leave more indelible footprints in my path. Until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I still might compose my own symphony that will resonate and continue to be heard when my voice is forever silenced.

I’ll end this with another lyric from his song, What’s Really Happening? I’ve had it on a loop the past week. It seems fitting.

All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

Canny Granny

Canny Granny

Waste not want not. Everyone knows that. Not everyone knows the original proverb from which it evolved. “Willful waste makes woeful want.”

Grandma would know that. She knew a lot of things. Just like she knew the word “gadfly” when she played it for the win in Scrabble.

She could shoo away an annoying insect while she industriously toiled away in any part of the house needing her careful attention. Nothing could disrupt her rhythm.

Nothing. Not even if a new roll of Scott Towels fell into the sink full of fresh, soapy dishwater.

She could have lifted the roll out, shaken off the excess water, and chucked the sodden pulp in the refuse.

Not this granny.

She’d follow the first two steps, then do what only a resourceful woman during the Depression era would.

Several minutes later, her modestly sized kitchen would be decorated with 1,000 sheets of disposable paper.

She’d vacuum and dust other rooms while the towels air-dried. There was no sitting around idly whiling away time in Grandma’s world.

Hours later, they’d be rolled up and as good as new, ready to clean every surface of her humble home.

Grandma was willful. But she was definitely not wasteful.

Let Us Eat Cake

I spent most of my formative years defying my father. I was not a troublemaker, per se. I was a good student, honest, and never smoked or did drugs. No, that was not my form of rebellion.

I defied my father in the only way a do-gooder could—passive-aggressively.

I inherited his height, so I slouched. He gave me his temper, so I threw it back at him. No matter how solid I felt my argument was, he always won our verbal sparring matches. It frustrated me to no end. It triggered the irresistible urge towards defiance just so I could achieve some balance in my immature universe.

We both loved the color red, so I made that small concession in the father-daughter war. Color preference is not a choice, I figured. He never fought me for the red game pieces in Parcheesi, so he must not have adored the color as much as I did, anyway.

He was very organized and precise. How could I be anything but the opposite? From folding blankets a certain way to making Cocoa Wheats without lumps, I did none of it his way. I did not care to be micromanaged.

Then, there was cake.

“Never waste food. You can pick up the crumbs by pushing your fork on them,” he said while he demonstrated the technique. He proudly showed me the crumbs between the tines, and the resulting clean plate. “See?”

Yes, I did see. Still do, every time I eat cake.

Red plate

Dust and Detritus

Blowing dust

It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.

First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.

Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.

That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.

Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.

I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.

The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.

All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.

I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.

There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.

Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.

However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.

I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:

The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.

Onward.

Relative Freedoms

On this day—September 11—eleven years ago, I spent the majority of it in front of the television watching Dan Rather report on a tragic event. When I wasn’t quietly seething, I cried my eyes out. On this day, over a decade after the terrorist attack occurred, I choose not to talk about it. So, I won’t.

What I will talk about is the collective response to the tragedy that befell America years ago. While the passion has tempered with time, the desire to hold onto that day has not. Are we afraid that if, as the old adage states, we forget history, it bears repeating? Our decisive vengeance did diminish the possibility that any violent, fundamentalist dissenter will darken our great land and attempt, much less succeed, destroying even a mere acre of it. If that truly is the case, and time does heal all wounds, why must we continue to pick at this scar?

We certainly are a sentimental lot. Hence, the reason networks in any medium—television, social, etc.—remind us to remember this day, on this day, as if we wouldn’t otherwise. Our freedom is apparently finite if we do not want to be deemed as heartless and not acknowledge this day in some maudlin way. The moment of silence is requested, quite loudly, regardless of individual beliefs or lack thereof. I prefer contemplation.

We don’t really know or understand hardship. As individuals, many of us do, depending on the circumstance. But again, I speak of the whole. As a group becomes larger, the collective intelligence decreases. That also can be said of tolerance, as well. The irony is lost on the masses; the fools suffer no fools if the freedom to abuse our Constitutional rights is compromised. The hypocrisy is loud and clear, but largely ignored.   

There are millions of people in multiple countries who are in the throes of tragedies that are comparatively equal, if not worse, than what we endured eleven years ago. The difference is that they do not have the freedom to remember tragedies; they just survive them and prepare for the next onslaught. There is no age-limit; children are not sheltered from those storms.  

The soldiers that fight to sustain our freedoms are coming back hobbled—physically and psychologically. Instead of gratitude and assistance, Veterans are thrown into a labyrinthine system that arguably expends more energy in putting up hurdles than providing much needed aid. They survive fighting one war on foreign land to be completely stymied by one on their home soil. In the midst of it all, anti-war protesters can hurl insults at them, willfully ignorant to the reality that the objects of their scorn fought for our right to call them “baby killers.”

Chicago Public School teachers have the freedom to pick up their marbles and picket in their own sandbox over comparatively petty grievances. This is happening while many people in the world have been out of work for years, or worse yet, living in squalor and sometimes dying because they don’t have the means to survive. The parents, as victims of this dispute, have their jobs put at risk to find alternate arrangements for their children since education is being denied them. Millions of people are working in worse conditions, but do not have anyone to fight their battles. All I will say about 9/11 is that eight children died that day. That statistic heightens the outrage; we have no tolerance for child mortality, and I concede, deservedly so. But yet, 350,000 children are being used as bargaining chips with this strike.  Apparently, ethics are relative and sometimes it is acceptable to turn them into weapons. We also put weapons in their hands. They strengthen our battles by holding up signs that scream our views. They have not had the freedom of time and experience to form their own opinion. But, it does not matter. We, as adults, have the freedom to decide what is for the greater good.

We are the salt of the earth with the ability to salt the earth. Perhaps we should reconsider what freedom really is.

How is that for a moment of silence?

Alice in Shame

Did you ever have one of those friends who compelled you in such a way to do things you normally wouldn’t, and then you regretted those actions afterwards? I had one, and even though we drifted apart, I fondly reminisce about her. To preserve her anonymity, I will just refer to her as ‘C’. C wanted to try most things at least once; I did not. Don’t get me wrong; I am a very curious sort. However, I am a calculated risk-taker, usually. She did not blithely venture into uncharted territory, mind you, but her carpe diem approach to life could be intoxicating. I trust you know what could happen under that influence.

We drove halfway across the country with maxed-out credit cards and no itinerary. I was given a CO2 handgun (no license needed at the time) for protection. I tried to fire it in a roadside motel room, but thankfully, the canister blew into a cloud of cool gas instead. I don’t know if there were any long-term effects of inhaling what the weapon expelled. Guns freak me out, but I felt empowered around my friend, C.

Another time, we turned an uneventful evening into a festival of firsts for her. Well, two firsts, to be precise. After consuming sugary cocktails and Pop-tarts, she dyed her dark, blonde hair red with a box of henna I had encouraged her to purchase earlier. We then ambled over to the nearest tattoo parlor, picked a unicorn off the wall, and spent the next hour getting it inked on her outer calf. She squeezed my hand the whole time; that girl had quite a grip. The artist was a dragger instead of a tapper, and that is a sensitive area, so I appreciated the pain she endured. Okay, I did not get a tattoo. I do have my limits. As an artist, I would only mark up my body with my own designs. Oh wait, I didn’t know I could draw at the time. I probably didn’t have the money. Yep, that’s it. I did put henna into my hair one time. Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch? Just picture Greg with waist-length hair and that show would have reached a new level of melodrama. Now you know why my risks are usually well thought-out. I can’t take complete credit for controlling her destiny that night. She was a doer to my thinker. She encouraged me to think about taking risks, and I thought really hard so that she would believe I was the mastermind of that evening. For the most part, though, I experienced her risk-taking ventures that night vicariously. 

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a night spent at an Alice in Chains concert back in ‘93 would not end for us after the curtain dropped. I have always been a big fan of the band, but C had never heard of them until I asked her to go with me. During the course of the evening, she developed a huge crush on Jerry Cantrell. I can certainly see the appeal. Even now—years later—he looks like Greg Allman’s hotter, younger brother. However, I never cared for long hair on men. My older sister and I agreed on many things, but our paths diverged when the conversation turned to the hotness factor of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon versus Tequila Sunrise. No contest there, in my opinion. Now, no hairstyle can redeem that man, but I digress. Anyway, despite Cantrell really being the creative force behind Alice in Chains, I was all about Layne Staley at the time. Apparently, I was into scrawny grunge rockers in my early twenties. There was something seductive about that dude, the voice, those intense eyes, and sultry lips. Picture Paul Newman on crack, and perhaps you will understand the allure there. I can’t stand cigarette smoking—he was a heavy smoker—but in my fantasies, he abstained while he sang his trademark growl into my ear. Sigh. 

It was a great show, and their performance of Rooster did not disappoint. I also got a souvenir that will remind me of this evening, whether I want it to or not.

I did not have to wrestle anyone for it. One of the crowd control guys was giving it to me as another hand reached for it. He pulled it away until I was ready to take it. As the crowd started clearing out, I passed by him and thanked him for the token. “You know I was giving that to you, right?” he asked with a lascivious smile. Eww. I played dumb, “Yep! Thanks again.” I made a hasty exit before he could go all Indian giver on me. I was a bit insulted. My body was worth a Hell of a lot more than a cracked drumstick. I was an Accountant, damn it. How dare he assume I was just some tawdry, cheap fan-girl? Puh! 

We were hanging out in my car after the show, wondering what trouble we could get into, considering the night was still young. At one point, I entertained C with my Layne Staley impersonation singing Rooster and Man in a Box—spot-on, in my humble opinion. The topic turned to some key “what if” questions. What if . . . Jerry Cantrell came onto you right now, even though you are engaged? I had carte blanche if Mr. Staley propositioned me, as I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. The whole time in the car, we had a clear view of their tour bus, and were sitting there waiting for a glimpse of any of the band members. Layne was not to be seen, but there was a flash of long, blonde hair at one point. 

After about an hour, the bus started moving. We straightened up in our seats as we exchanged tentative, yet eager glances. “Let’s follow them!” Do I have to indicate who said that? So, onward I drove as I followed them through the back streets. I thought the fun was in the dare, and it would peter out and end there. The burning, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I get only when venturing out of my comfort zone came on full-force as we careened into the entrance to I-94N—heading towards Chicago. “Oh my god, we are really doing this!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe we are doing this!” I screamed. “This is so awesome,” as we giggled like schoolgirls. I pushed hard on the gas pedal, lest I lose sight of their big-ass, black tour bus. This was really happening! 

So, we get to the hotel they were staying at. We happened upon a couple of other grou . . . er, fans, who happened to know the floor, and even room numbers, the band were in. I don’t recall how they came upon that intel, but there it was. As we debated what to do next, Mike Inez—the bassist—sauntered through the lobby. He politely stopped for a photo. He really wasn’t on my radar, but who was I to pass up that opportunity. The guy had a great smile and crazy hair. The amicability of one member gave us the courage to seek out the others. 

As we stood in the elevator, C and I exchanged looks that could pass for either excitement or an urgent need to pee. As it dinged our arrival, we hesitated briefly before exiting onto the floor. Like automatons, we proceeded to their group of rooms at the end of the hall. Did we have a game plan? Of course not. We stopped in mid-stride as we happened upon an open room. We peeked into the door. Inside was a man who appeared to be their security guard, lounging in a chair and inactively watching porn. I say that because he wasn’t more “engaged,” but he was distracted enough that we could zip past his room unnoticed, like a couple of ninja groupies. Yes, admittedly, we ceased being just fans at that point. We heard voices behind door number two. Without thinking, I knocked. Then, the folly of our ways hit me, amongst other things that shone a light on our unbecoming behavior. I turned to make a hasty exit, abandoning C, and was stopped by the security dude. Dang, he was huge. “What are you doing?” he asked threateningly. Looking for inspiration, I just stared back at C. As we stalled to think up something clever, the door opened. 

That sinking feeling in my stomach came again as I stood mere feet from Layne Staley. The first thing that came to mind was, “Shit, that is one tiny dude.” He seemed larger than life on stage, but I could eat a meal off his head, and try to share it with him so he could gain a few pounds. He looked accusingly at his security guard as he asked us what we were doing there. I was ready to apologize that we made a mistake, when C held out a piece of paper and pen, and asked for his autograph. Oh, I wanted to be Down in a Hole at that point. His sexy blues looked at her hands with disdain. He then became physically agitated, held out the bottom of his shirt, and said, “Guys, I gotta get dressed.” SLAM! I guess he told us. I think, not sure. We waited briefly just in case he planned to come back out after indeed getting dressed, even though he was fully clothed already. The disappointment welled up in me as I realized we had been dismissed. I didn’t even get to share my impersonation of him. Surely, along with my cuteness, I would have risen above the ranks of his typical mindless fan. This is not how my encounter with him played out in my dreams. 

I turned my head wearily to gaze up at Mr. Horny and he looked down at me patronizingly, “See, now look what you did. Are you proud of yourself?” Umm, no, quite frankly. The ignominy sunk in hard and fast. I was mortified at what we did. Why did he direct that question at me? I didn’t ask for his autograph. I was trying to get out of there. It was all C’s fault! That’s what I told myself. I also considered that the guard was shitting his pants, because he should have stopped us from getting that close to the “talent.” He would be even in more trouble if they saw the adult movie on the bill. While his employers were snuffing the Rooster, he was choking his chicken. How irresponsible of him. 

My head was literally hanging low as we slinked back to the elevator. As it made its descent, my hot and heavy imaginary love affair with the troubled rocker cooled precipitously. “What the Hell did we just do? This is horrible. I can’t believe we would do that to someone,” I said between long-suffering sighs. C didn’t see it that way. “What an asshole. Did you see how he looked at my pen and paper like I was offering him a plate of shit or something?” She might have said that, I don’t remember. I was too overwhelmed with shame and regret. She, naturally, had a great time and would do it again, despite his “rudeness.” 

But he’s long dead, more than 10 years now. 

Yes, when Mr. Staley’s bloated corpse was found alone in his apartment, dead weeks earlier from an overdose, I thought back to what we did. What demons was he unable to exorcise? Did his obsessed fans smother him, or was he drowning in a Sea of Sorrow of his own making? My guess is that it was a combination of both, evidenced by his self-portrait in the Mad Season CD-jacket as being crucified while he sang into a microphone. His respectful, appreciative fans could not shine a bright enough light on his dark soul, so he self-medicated to his demise. 

Despite all my cognitive dissonance in what we did, I can set that aside as I tell this tale in my usual jocular, self-deprecating fashion. Levity is the best psychotropic.

Celebrating the mundane

For the most part, I don’t attach more importance to what “celebrities” say than I do to anyone else’s words. I put that word in quotes, because it is a label that has always perturbed me. Any entertainer on television or the big screen earns that dubious honor. It invariable puts that person on a pedestal to be celebrated for being known by the masses. This would be regardless of their actual level of talent—anyone can become a celebrity these days. With the accessibility of the Internet to waste bandwidth in the endless pursuit of the proverbial fifteen minutes, as well as the plethora of reality shows that seem to glorify and even encourage stupidity, the whole concept is becoming over-saturated and possibly obsolete. Pity. 

That all said, there is someone recently who went beyond the usual sound bite that passes for wisdom, at least in the context of my own situation. It wasn’t particularly profound, but it certainly struck a resonant chord for me. Brad Pitt realized that he was spending so much time sitting on the couch, waiting for an interesting movie to do as opposed to living an interesting life. Basically, he admitted that his life was dull, and he laid blame on his marriage for a lot of that. He took some flak for implying that Jennifer Anniston was boring, but that is beside the point.

I struggle to suspend disbelief and accept this as an honest admission. Really, isn’t one of the prevailing reasons for celebrity worship due to the assumption that their lives are more interesting than those outside of that world? They have more money, exposure, and freedom to indulge in just about anything, or even engage in bad behavior. How could life be boring? Well, it depends on what one considers interesting.

This year, my father died, along with two of my animals. In addition, I spent a holiday at the emergency vet after my dog was attacked by a pit bull. She has recovered, thankfully. The credit card is almost maxed out from medical bills, and incurring interest fees as I write this. We are battling a large organization that is looking for every loophole imaginable to avoid reimbursing us for those costs. I could go on, but wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems.

Puh, what am I talking about? This is fascinating stuff. My professional life is vying for the limits of my tolerance, as well. Our annual raises have all but ceased, our pension and retirement plans have been chopped to bits, and the business is going through a re-structuring—my department being the latest victim. Re-structuring is a tidy euphemism for a re-organization that could result in the termination of employees. This has already occurred in three departments with seven jobs eliminated, so my colleagues are a touch on edge. It is happening while we are going through two audits. Since the powers-that-be deemed us high risk and misrepresenting the financial position of the company, one of those audits is so extensive that it smacks of a forensic witch-hunt. Exciting!

And that’s not all. There is a snake-tongued, reptilian outside consultant in my division who has a nasty habit of covering his ass at the peril of others, all while looking innocent and even magnanimous in the process. He tried to throw me under the bus twice, as well as get my staff in trouble. I had the choice of either modifying his behavior, or allowing him to toy with my livelihood. I opted for the former. My responses to him were equally calculating and manipulative. I am confident that I made it painful for him to try that crap with me again. Perhaps it is the wide berth he now gives me as he passes me in the office corridors. Riveting!

I believe I hit the thesaurus up enough with different words to emphasize how interesting my life is. In addition to my writing, artistic, and musical pursuits that I must squeeze in, quite often unsuccessfully I must add, life is never dull. Then, why do I feel like Brad Pitt allegedly did?

There are different degrees of interest, you see. Many thrive on controversy and negative stress. I am not one of those people. Therefore, while I do have enough to keep me on my toes, the energy it leeches from me leaves me having to tap into my reserves for any positive feelings. When your existence becomes a series of reactions to situations that make it more difficult to drive on the path of your own choosing, it can fall short of expectations. Mr. Pitt has the resources, i.e., oodles of money, to pull himself off the couch and find ways to liven things up in a good way. Due to my aforementioned financial problems, as well as being stuck in a stifling career, it appears I have additional barriers of contention.

George Carlin said that he wasn’t a glass half-empty person; sometimes the glass just isn’t big enough. I like that rationalization, and there are times that it is the case. I can’t use that as an excuse, though. I look back on the times when life was less vexing, albeit more mundane. Retrospectives can be a bit hazy, especially when viewed with a jaundiced eye. I strongly suspect that I was filled with ennui from lack of stimuli. Perhaps I am one who craves drama after all. However, as I mentioned above, that drags me down, as well. I am left with expending those energy reserves by griping about my situation, yet not putting forth the effort to actually change it. I can easily blame my lack of funds, and if I didn’t have debt, was independently wealthy, etc., I would be much happier. Yet, I must be realistic and admit that paying down one set of problems can leave me open to new and possibly more complex ones.

Cripes, will I ever be satisfied?

Aha! Maybe that is it. Satisfaction, contentment. I’ve got neither. Most definitely, the issues I laid out have a lot to do with that, and they should be managed appropriately. I am not experiencing a unique predicament; sadly, a large majority of the population is dissatisfied with their lot in life. I can’t speak for anyone else, nor can I often change what happens around me, at least when it doesn’t affect me directly. What I do have the power to do is alter my view of the world and how I respond to it. I am bored and discontent in large part because I let myself feel that way. I don’t need a large balance in my checkbook to transform how I feel. Perception is a free and unlimited resource. 

Besides, it doesn’t cost any money to get off the couch. Isn’t that half the battle?

What happens in Vegas, can stay there.

Bloody Hell, do I hate Vegas. I was recently there for the second time—both for business purposes. I believe I hate it even more the second time around. I would never vacation there. If not out of necessity, the only way you’d find me there again is if my corpse was dropped on the strip as some bizarre act of revenge against my principles. I just hope I never piss anyone off enough to insult my carcass in such an ignominious fashion. While there, I proclaimed my disdain for that den of iniquity to anyone who would listen. Despite my daily verbal declaration of my feelings, I don’t feel that I’ve expressed myself to my satisfaction. My contempt, I’ve decided, is best laid out in list format. 

Forty-One Things I hate about Vegas 

1. That place has rightfully earned the name Sin City. I am not religious, but even my theoretical soul feels unclean after being there. 

2. The fashion is hideous. Metallic purses and leopard skin? Really? 

3. The casinos still allow smoking. I had to walk through a miasma of tobacco to get anywhere. 

4. I guess since smokers are willing to gamble with their health, so goes the same with the slots. Ergo, they make better customers. 

5. How many 12-step programs rely on Vegas for their business? 

6. If I had that proverbial nickel for every obscenely short dress I saw, I certainly wouldn’t need to feed the slots with my earnings. 

7. In case you were wondering, yes indeed, there was a dress that was so short the bottom of her ass cheeks was exposed. I felt like I contracted an STD on my eyes, and regretfully, the memory didn’t stay in Vegas. 

8. Incidentally, I found out from a cab driver that the award-winning slogan was censored. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but the rash goes with you.” Yeah, that sounds about right. 

9. Smoking, drinking, gambling, and aforementioned Vegas attire, are ever-present. Even at 6:00 a.m. Time is relative and apparently always after 5:00 p.m., at least in the casinos. Also, there are no clocks. There is something inherently wrong when Einstein is vindicated in such a hedonistic fashion. 

10. The hotels could save some money by occasionally turning off the non-stop commercials in their elevators. Really, I can sacrifice being reminded repeatedly that you have a glorified Slurpee bar accompanied by what appears to be the soundtrack for a bad porn film. 

11. Celine Dion. Do I need to explain that one? 

12. Where are all the crows? It is the desert, and it is shiny. I just find it a bit suspicious. 

13. If leopards knew their lovely coats were cheapened and disgraced, there would be a feline uprising. You think what happened with Sigfried and Roy was bad? Hah! 

14. My point is that leopard patterns do not look good on humans under any circumstances. 

15. Click-click-SNAP! Here’s a card to an X-rated girlie show. Anyone who has walked up and down the strip knows what I am talking about. 

16. Why are you trying to hand me that card? Do I look like I would go to a tit fest? 

17. The sidewalks are littered with discarded cards. Even I have to side with Greenpeace on this one. 

18. I think I’ve seen enough Botox and sequins to convince me that I will never get Botox, nor wear sequins. Ever. 

19. I had to abandon my outdoor runs because I would start sucking wind after a mile due to the higher altitude—more than 1,300 feet higher than my hometown. That does not make Vegas a bad place, per se, but it was just another thing to upset my paradigm. 

20. I spent $15 on this drink. Where’s my buzz? 

21. I did the math on potential costs to gamble. It took me approximately 27 seconds to lose $2 in the slots. That is 7.4¢ per second, translating to $266.40 for one hour of entertainment. Wait, couldn’t you come on Elisabeth Shue’s face in Leaving Las Vegas for that much? I don’t even have a penis and that seems like a better deal to me. 

22. The presence of a spastically waving Mickey Mouse does not make the place family friendly. Mickey might as well hand out candy cigarettes to the kiddies while he’s at it. 

23. Speaking of that, I thought cigarette girls were obsolete. Sadly, they still exist. I hope they at least charge more for their product than my $15 drink. 

24. I question the decision of parents to bring their kids to Vegas. If they are willing to spend the money on the overpriced food, accommodations, and gambling, then they can spring for a babysitter. It would be cheaper than the child therapy they would no doubt eventually need. 

25. What is up with all the neon? There is already a SETI program. Let NASA handle communicating with space. 

26. I wonder how many people developed coulrophobia after seeing the creepy Circus Circus Hotel-Casino sign. Google it, then you’ll know why I ask. It is disturbing. 

27. I had an anxiety dream while I was there that I bet $500,000 on black, justifying it by pointing out that I had a 50/50 chance of winning. I lost it all. My unconscious forgot the green that lowers the odds, as well as the probability that the machines are calibrated to fuck me over. Vegas owes me a Xanax.

28. In all seriousness, I wonder how casino workers sleep at night after witnessing one house of cards after the other tumble to the ground as people gamble their lives away, every day. 

29. People! I’m drowning in people! 

30. Sidewalks should not have stairway detours every other block. Whoever designed that place needs to be chained to a revolving step-mill until his feet blister as much as mine did. And, yes, he; only a man would pull that crap.

31. Okay, so I choose not to fit in and relish the debauchery. Damn it, some of us have to work around here, and there is a code of decency to follow. There are just some conversations I’d rather not have with my colleagues. That’s what office parties in the ‘90s were for. 

32. That said, Vegas isn’t even on my list of vacation spots. 

33. Hello, Vegas? This is the recession calling. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Unless you’re paying $266.40 to a hooker. 

34. I have only so much willpower to resist the compulsion to lift those over-priced mini-bar items off the sensors. The cost of one of those things is higher than the co-pay for OCD meds. 

35. If we must waste our hard-earned money in the middle of a desert, at least put humidifiers in the joint. The scaly-skinned, reptilian look, shockingly, isn’t as hot as you’d think. 

36. If I want a painfully dry mouth and throat, I’ll just go on a hallucinogenic bender. It would be much more entertaining. 

37. I’ll admit, there is a superficial appeal to the place. It is why plastic surgery is so popular. 

38. Vegas is the Joan Rivers of cities. Her, or that freaky socialite who looks like a lion. Both of them make me laugh for the wrong reasons. 

39. Since we are on that topic, why does the MGM, or any hotel for that matter, need a lions’ den? Fake ones would suffice. 

40. Synthetic cities have no heart. They just have defibrillators that send electric shocks to agonizingly prolong its existence. 

41. If it is true that what happens in Vegas stays there, why can’t that include the weight gain?

This book stinks!

Quite literally, unfortunately.

Even though I have thousands of books and have a “library” in my apartment that contains them, I am a frequent user of the public facility. There is something about acquiring books and/or reading ones I do not own already that makes them more fun. In this economy, I must steer clear of bookstores, lest I spend all my disposable income on whatever strikes my fancy. Therefore, off I traipse to the library during my lunch hour every three weeks to check out at least four books at a pop.

Reading is my usual pre-sleep activity, so over the weekend, whilst laying in bed, I cracked open one of my loaners—Bluebeard. I was struck by how warped and discolored all the pages were. Then, I caught a whiff. I put my face up to it, and immediately pulled it away. Just to make sure it wasn’t an olfactory hallucination, I repeated that action. I got up and brought it to my husband, and asked him, “Does this smell like urine?” One quick sniff test confirmed it.

Yes, someone took a piss on Vonnegut.

Into the nearest plastic bag that foul pulp went, and I couldn’t move fast enough to the bathroom, nor could the water get hot enough, to cleanse my hands à la Lady MacBeth. Out, damned stench! Being a bit germaphobic, I was apprehensive crawling back under the covers as I tried to recall if the defiled book touched any part of the bed. Since it was too late to strip and wash, I decided that ignorance is occasionally a blissfully acceptable approach to the situation. I just hoped that it was either cat or dog urine. Hell, I’d even be okay if a horse emptied its bladder in a torrential downpour onto the poor, unsuspecting novel. I just couldn’t countenance it being human. It seemed . . . grosser. Besides, who could hate Vonnegut that much?

What I didn’t realize in my effort to keep the diseases at bay until Labor Day weekend came to an end, is that enclosing the urine smell makes it stronger. My nostrils were assaulted with that reality once I pulled it out of my bag when I got to work. The funk was pervasive, and even after putting it into an envelope AND inside a paper bag, I still smelled it. I called the circulation desk to alert them of my dilemma. To say the clerk sounded dubious is an understatement, but he did not verbally call me on it. He did tell me to return it as soon as possible. I couldn’t wait for lunchtime to roll around so I could be rid of that egregious object so that I could move onto prose that would be less offensive to my senses. Perhaps something from de Sade?

Thankfully, I did not have to wait in line for assistance. Sadly, the guy I spoke to on the phone was the next available attendant. He was not happy to see me, and made a show of annoyance as he removed the envelope from the paper bag, the plastic bag from the envelope, and opened the plastic bag to confirm the horror. It was like an iniquitous nesting doll. He pulled back his head in disgust, and this was the conversation that ensued:

Me: “It wasn’t that bad before when my husband and I smelled it, but the bag encapsula . . .”

Clerk 1: “Remove this book from the system right away!”

Clerk 2: “Eww, what’s the number?”

Clerk 1: (Do you think I remembered the number during my moment of ignominy? Make up one.)

Me: “I can’t believe someone would return a book after peeing on it.”

Clerk 2: “Okay, it’s gone. Now just put it away!”

Me: “Thanks.” Exit in embarrassment stage left.

Clerk 1: “Have a nice day.”

Now, do you think he really meant that? It was pretty obvious from their responses (yes, in a fit of paranoia, I honed in on their micro-expressions) that they didn’t believe I was the innocent victim here. Perhaps it was that askance look he gave me as I explained the physics of entrapped odors and their affect on the strength of them. I was very tempted to officiously ask, “Do I look like someone who would take a piss on a book, much less public property?” But, one way to detect that someone is lying is if she gets a bit too wordy. I thought that would be throwing me into the gray zone. I left fully confident that I introduced a little slice of Hell into their day.

I suspect when the remaining books are due, I will just deposit them in the overnight book drop, lest they flagged my account as a problem user. Oy. I think I’ll take a short vacation from checking out books, just long enough for them to forget my face.