Tag Archives: friends

Retro Quote – John Churton Collins

“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”

John Churton Collins

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This Is Why I Write

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people.  Not just here in the United States, but across the globe.  For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled.  My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up.  My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin.  I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center.  But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life.  She finally passed away June 22.

My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.  She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked.  One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other.  They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate.  Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century.  Did they not get the memo?  It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War.  But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.

Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup.  I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life.  Now my truck is showing its age.  Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.

Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus.  Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me.  The lethargy overwhelmed me.  I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life.  Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents.  Maybe it’s male menopause.  (I’ll be 57 in November.)  I didn’t know.  But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.)  Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens.  I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks.  During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped.  You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint!  I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.

That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said.  We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship.  But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.

His comments stunned me.  I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends.  I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.

I write because I enjoy it.  I feel I’m good at it.  It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident.  Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s kept me from hurting myself and others.  I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim.  But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned.  I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare.  I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.

I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work.  And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories.  I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.

Once more, I write because I love it.  It’s who I am and who I always will be.

There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.

Image: Fernando Doglio

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Men Are Dogs

Most straight women will agree with this title.

One of my best friends, Pablo, and I have one of those unique friendships.  I think he’s think; he thinks I’m built like a Greek god.

But, like most men, we consider ourselves dogs.  I do tricks, and he sits up and begs for it.

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Slurp

A close friend of mine came down from Wichita Falls, Texas the other day to spend a few days with me.  He brought his new companion: a chocolate brown Chihuahua named Cocoa.  Like most small dogs, Cocoa is delectably adorable and innately vicious.  Little dogs have always reminded me of little women: small, cute and surprisingly mean.  I should know!  One of them gave birth to me!

Last night, as Robert and I watched TV, Cocoa curled up in her bed on the floor nearby and – after a while – I could hear her scrounging around.  I had noticed she had been chewing on one of her back legs and, concerned for her welfare, peeked over the coffee table – to see her curled up quietly.

I then realized Robert had set down his phone and had his leg hiked up over his head and – and, you know, even as a 50-something-bisexual-recovering alcoholic writer, there are some things I can go my entire life without seeing!

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Circling

Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me.  It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas.  I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001.  But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day!  Wow!  The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life.  A lifetime ago.

And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then.  Both society and me.  I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990.  I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since.  I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore.  I’m just reflecting.  I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often.  I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.

It makes me recall how my parents often did the same.  ‘It’s been how long?!’  I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016.  Now, I find myself doing the same.

I’m certainly not upset about it.  I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors.  That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone.  The alternative is not as attractive.

After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years.  Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago.  My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters.  After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”

Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”

Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled.  Even the priest laughed, she told us.

My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”

For me, those “little things” have added up.

A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work.  They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution.  I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues.  One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time.  Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic.  I laughed.  It didn’t make me feel old.  I realized immediately it was just progress.  But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner.  I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE.  I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room.  Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder.  I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.”  And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.

In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.

“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me.  “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.

Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them.  Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her.  Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing.  Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family).  My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten.  He grew to like them, especially my father.  I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company.  On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.

I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.

“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.

“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.

While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other.  Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not.  I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did.  Within no more than a moment, the two were playing.  Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates!  They got along very well.

At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard.  He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018.  I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.

“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised.  As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer.  I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something.  “Work hard and play hard, yes.  You’re young.  There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women.  Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking.  You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”

Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing.  But I feel Andy understood how serious I was.  I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog.  He had to think for a moment, before he finally did.  “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”

“Yes!”

He asked me what had become of him.  I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening.  I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.

Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry.  His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man.  Sorry to hear that.  I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”

“No,” I answered.  “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.”  No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise.  It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it.  I could understand.  We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.

Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education.  I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return.  I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.

About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time.  She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor.  I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble.  “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said.  “It just does.  You realize you want to do more things.”  I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.

Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.

“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.”  But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it.  As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20.  Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way.  I let life keep getting in the way.

It’s a curious sensation, though.  Life is now coming full circle.  And it actually feels pretty good.

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Knowing You…Sooner Than You Realize!

If you want to know for certain that someone’s response to your Facebook friend request is sincere, just reply: ‘Great! Coming over this evening! Already have yr address. Bringing nachos, wine coolers, Hydrocodone & baby oil. Can’t wait! See u tonight!’

Don’t doubt me on this one! It’s saved me from countless fake friendships and wasting too much time preparing nachos for the lactose-intolerant!

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Last Wish

I first posted this essay five years ago and I’m posting it again, as this day marks the 25th anniversary of the death of one my closest friends at the time.  It’s hard to believe so much time has passed – a quarter century.  Now my father is gone, and my mother may not be far behind.  Other people – friends, acquaintances, coworkers, etc. – have come and gone as well.  That’s to be expected from living more than fifty years on Earth.

There are those moments or events that settle into our lives, take root in our minds and never leave.  For me this is one such event.

 

autumn-leaves

September 12th fell on a Sunday in 1993, and I was sick.  I lay in bed that night, listless and fatigued, when the phone rang at 10:12 P.M.  Curiously, I hadn’t turned on the answering machine, as I always did before going to bed.  But, I knew who lingered on the other end – even before I answered.  It was Linda*, the mother of one of my best friends, Daniel.

“He’s gone,” she whispered, her voice raspy and quivering.  She’d walked into his bedroom earlier that evening and found him with his eyes half-open.

We talked for quite a while, although I don’t remember all that was said.  But, I do recall telling her, “It’s over.  It’s finally over.”  Then, I went to sleep.  But, I wasn’t sad.  In fact, I was – not happy – but relieved.  Daniel had stopped suffering – and maybe so would his mother.

That night, though, I wondered why I was so sick.  Just allergies, I kept thinking; that’s all it was.  I’d realized years earlier how my allergies usually coincided with the Atlantic / Caribbean hurricane season, becoming most severe in August and September.  In reality, it’s the change from summer to autumn, when mountain cedar and ragweed blossom with impunity.  But, I have this obsession – almost a fetish – with tropical storm systems, so I make that odd comparison.  Yet, that year was different.  The infection seemed to have settled in my stomach, instead of my sinuses.

I’d felt fine the preceding weekend.  I’d visited Daniel and Linda that Monday, Labor Day.  I gave Daniel a much-needed bath and shave, trimmed his nails and put him back to bed.  I also vacuumed and mopped the kitchen floor.  I chatted with Linda for a while.  Her hands trembled, as she sat on a couch; as much from growing arthritis as dealing with Daniel.

“I don’t know how much longer I can go on,” she mumbled, staring at the floor.

“You’ll make it,” I said, trying to reassure her.  What else could I say?

I’d met Daniel at birthday party for a mutual friend four years earlier.  We were two completely different people, but had a few things in common: dogs, cars and rock n’ roll.  Like me, he also had been born and raised in the Dallas area.  He was the third of four children to parents who were mixed Irish and Cherokee Indian extraction.  He didn’t have a happy home life.  When his father wasn’t working, sometimes six days a week, he was drinking booze; occasionally, he’d burst into drunken rages, a stereotypical drunk-ass Irishman or Indian and lash out at anyone nearby.  Linda often bore the brunt of his attacks, until the night her oldest son lunged into his father.  For Linda, that was the proverbial last straw; the catalyst that prompted her to pack up the kids and leave.  By the time I met Daniel, his father had died.

As I’d planned, I took the day after Labor Day off from work.  I visited my gym to lift weights, worked on a short story and partook in a Tae Kwon Do class that evening.  The Tae Kwon Do session exhausted me, even though it wasn’t particularly intense.  I thought nothing of it until the next night, when I returned to the gym and left after less than an hour.  Fatigue settled over me like a ton of hot, wet blankets.

I awoke the next morning feeling awful; body aches and chills and a stomach that was churning like – well – like a hurricane.  My supervisor sent me home just after noon.  I sat near the building, waiting for the bus.  The late summer sun warmed me up, and I stopped shivering.  I felt well enough to stop by a fast food place on the way back to my apartment – and regurgitated the food that night.  I stayed home the next day, but returned to work on Friday.  I spent most of Saturday in bed; no energy, no strength.  Damn allergies, I kept telling myself.

On Sunday, I visited my parents for lunch as usual.  My father grilled steaks – their thick, juicy aromas wafting throughout the house, intermingling with the scent of the butter-saturated mashed potatoes my mother made.  But, I couldn’t eat.  I was still nauseous.  My dad suggested I visit their family doctor, if I didn’t feel better by the next day.  He even offered to pay, since my finances were strained at the time.

I had just purchased my truck six months earlier and was still paying off credit card bills for repairing my previous vehicle.  I had health insurance at work – with a $1,000 deductible.  I told them I’d be fine.  It was just those goddamned allergies.

I had been anticipating that call from Linda for months.  I knew somehow it would come at night.  She called me because I was one of the last friends Daniel had remaining; one who didn’t turn his back on him.  That’s just not my nature.  I didn’t have many friends back then and I still don’t.  But, the people I do consider friends mean a lot to me.

It’s amazing, though, the number of friends people lose when they fall on hard times – even when they become terminally ill.  Some time in the 1970s, my mother’s hair dresser became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized.  When my parents visited him, he mentioned they were among the few who’d made the effort.  All the people who were quick to accept his party invitations where mounds of food and alcohol would be served were curiously absent as he lay in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV.

I think Daniel had known he was HIV for at least two years, but he didn’t start getting sick until the spring of 1992.  By then, he was unemployed and uninsured; he could no longer afford his suburban Dallas apartment.  In May, I and another friend moved him back into his mother’s home in another Dallas suburb.  Daniel’s health deteriorated throughout that summer, but unexpectedly – almost miraculously – began rejuvenating by fall.  He gained weight and color returned to his face.  He actually looked pretty good when I spent Christmas Day with his family, including his two older siblings; younger sister, Andrea; sister-in-law; and a niece and nephew.  I took a photo of them as they gathered around a couch; one that Linda placed on her refrigerator, beside another picture of her beloved mother.

We all thought – if only for a moment – he would make it.  In less than six months, however, Daniel’s health began crumbling again.  And, one by one, his gallery of friends slipped into anonymity.

I took my father up on his offer.  After a cursory exam, the doctor stepped back into the room and asked, “Have you ever had hepatitis?”

“Hepatitis?  No.”

“Well, I think that’s what you have.”

Hepatitis!  If he had told me I was pregnant, I would have believed him sooner.  Hepatitis!  Wasn’t that an old world disease – like small pox or typhoid?  No one got that shit anymore.  But, that’s what I had – Hepatitis A, the contagious kind, and a particularly vicious strain of it, too.  The doctor hospitalized me – almost against my will.  I stayed there through the following Wednesday – the day they buried Daniel.

“Where’d you go?!” Linda cried that Wednesday night on the phone, a sense of betrayal coating her voice.

I told her what happened.

Her anguish shifted to empathy.  “Why didn’t you call me?!  I would’ve come visit you!”

“But, Daniel had just died, Linda.  And, I was in the hospital.”

“But, you’re my other son!”

I had helped Daniel pick out his burial suit in the spring of 1992.  He hadn’t bought a new suit in years.  He must have scoured through a hundred of them before he latched onto that one.  He zipped it up and stored it in the back of his closet, complete with a matching tie and a new white dress shirt.  He was proud of the ensemble; he wanted to be buried in style.

“You are going to be a pallbearer,” he asked me, “aren’t you?”

“Of course,” I said.  What a silly question.

Watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything about it is the most frustrating emotion anyone can ever experience.  I’d seen cancer consume my Aunt Mariana, my mother’s older sister, a few years earlier.  It just wouldn’t let her go, until one rainy Tuesday morning in June of 1989.  She’d already known tragedy.  Her first husband died in a freak car crash in 1968; practically leaving her to raise their six kids alone.  In January of 1983, one of her daughters took her own life.  Mariana had entered into a brief marriage with a man who – later on, as she fell ill – didn’t seem to understand she was in no mood for sex while undergoing chemotherapy.  What, I beseeched God, did she ever do to deserve all that?

I asked God the same of Daniel and Linda.  What did they ever do to bring this upon themselves?  God remained silent.  He / She always does.  But, it made me angry nonetheless, and I finally just blurted out, “Fuck you, God!,” into my darkened bedroom.

Daniel was especially close to Andrea who’d completed nursing school about two years before he passed away.  She had moved into an apartment complex across the street from him and became involved with a truck driver named Jimmy.  Jimmy was part Cherokee, too, and unfortunately, fed into the stereotype of the same drunk-ass Indian as Daniel’s father.  One night Jimmy returned to the apartment he shared with Andrea and attacked her.  She managed to call Daniel before Jimmy snatched the phone from her.  Daniel had been asleep, but donned a pair of exercise shorts, charged across the street and barreled into his sister’s apartment – where he beat Jimmy into a bloody, shriveling mess.  The police took both of them to jail, but released Daniel almost immediately.

Recollecting what his father did to his mother, Daniel was unrepentant about Jimmy.  “Now, he’s going to have to tell the guys in prison that an AIDS-infected fag beat his ass!”

In November of 1992, I happened upon the obituary for a guy I’d known in grade school.  He was 29 and had died after a “brief illness” – code words, a friend told me, for AIDS.  I revealed the true nature of Daniel’s death to only a select few people.  Even in the early 1990s, the affliction bore a terrifying stigma.   I told most everyone else – my parents, my colleagues – he’d succumbed to cancer.  I just didn’t want my folks to worry anymore about me than necessary.  My workplace, on the other hand, was populated with evangelical homophobes – the kind who preach forgiveness and compassion, but practice hate and bigotry.

Daniel always introduced me as a “true friend” to people he knew.  I was embarrassed, since I felt I was doing nothing extraordinary.  But, to Daniel, I was someone who gave my compassion and generosity, asking for nothing in return except trust and respect.  I promised him I would stay with him through the end.  And, I did – until the night he died.

For anyone who’s ever lost a relative or friend, there’s always something that triggers thoughts of that person; something relatively small and insignificant – a color, a sound…something that literally makes us stop and think about the better times we had together.  In 1992, a group called Snap! came out with a song entitled “Rhythm Is a Dancer.”  Both Daniel and I really liked that tune.  We’d visited a nightclub together in late 1992 where the deejay played it.  I don’t know what it is about that song, but it bridges a connection to Daniel and how good life was for me in the early 1990s.  So, I listen to it now, and all the feelings of  friendship and those carefree days flood my subconscious.  It’s just one of those things that transport me to ‘Way Back When.’

Daniel had two dogs when he returned to his mother’s home – a male named Alan and a female named Veronica, both Lhasa Apsos.  The male was fiercely protective of him.  The female was spoiled; Daniel had the habit of carrying her wherever they went, instead of letting her walk.  As Daniel’s health waned in the summer of 1993, he and his mother made the painful decision to turn them over to the local animal shelter.  Two years after Daniel died I seriously thought of purchasing a dog and just happened to peruse the ads of the local newspaper for animals, when I saw a blurb about an “adorable white Lhasa Apso named Alan.”  I almost fell off my easy chair.  Is it…no, it couldn’t be!  Surely, it’s not… I didn’t know what to think.  I realized, though, that I couldn’t afford a dog at the time.  I could only hope some good families adopted Alan and Veronica.

We measure the important events of our lives in the increments of time we know: one week, one year, five years, ten years.  Seven weeks after Daniel died I turned 30.  My colleagues at the bank bought me an ivy plant – which I still have – and treated me to lunch.  They also bought me a mechanical red crab emblazoned with the words ‘30 AND STILL CRABBY.’  You wind it up and it marches along the surface in the standard sideways crab walk.  I still have that crab, too, buried among my slew of possessions.  In seven weeks I’ll turn 50.  Life keeps moving, no matter who lives or dies.

I’ve always wondered why I never dreamed of Daniel.  I didn’t expect his ghostly apparition to appear before me one dark and stormy night – albeit something like that wouldn’t have frightened me.  But, I kept thinking he should at least visit me in a dream to tell me he’s alright.  Or, I hoped he would – just for my own peace.  Is he mad at me?  Did he think that I’d abandoned him at the last moment?  But then, I realized I’d never dreamed of my Aunt Mariana either.  And, we were family.  When I was a child, she’d sit me down at her dining room table and feed me.  Was she mad at me, too?

No – of course not.  I finally understood that I’ve never dreamed of them because they didn’t need me anymore; me or anyone else.  They’ve gone on to another and hopefully better life.  My job was done, as far as they’re concerned.

I did for Daniel what few people – friends or relatives – would do: I took care of him at the worst possible moments of his life.  I bathed him, I fed him, I took him shopping for that suit, I gave him all the undivided love and attention I could muster.  I even cared for his mother because her own body – racked with arthritis and emphysema – allowed her to do only so much.  Some people do good just to send a get-well card.

September 12th fell on a Sunday in 1993, and I was sick.  I couldn’t do anything about it then and I can’t do anything about it now.  I did what I could for my friend – the first friend I’ve ever had who died.  My last wish for him and everyone else who has gone before me is to know that they’re safe and happy.

I’ve finally convinced myself they are.

*All names have been changed.

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Sweet Visions

Last week I posted a haiku writing from a close friend, Preston*, who I’ve known for more than 20 years.  Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables and is often a prelude to a longer poem or a story.  The terse nature of haiku verbiage always challenges the writer to capture what is absolutely necessary for that particular moment.  Such brevity is more difficult than most imagine, but just a few carefully chosen words can evoke extraordinary visions in the minds of an audience.

Smiling was easy

When our eyes were bright and clear

We were so naïve.

 

– Preston

 

*Name changed.

Image: Faunaimage

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Closest Confidant – Or 30+ Years of a Schizophrenic Friendship

Ever have one of those curious friendships with someone where primary interaction – besides making dinner or bar-hopping plans – is ladled with trite insults and creative name-calling?  I have just such a relationship with one of my closest friends, Pierce*, whom I’ve known for some 30 years.  People who don’t know us very well often say Pierce and I sound like an old married couple and / or wonder how we could possibly be friends.  The reactions of the unfamiliars is funny in and of itself.

For one thing, Pierce and I are devout movie buffs, each having studied filmmaking in college.  He actually earned a B.A. in film and produced an extraordinary short film for his final thesis.  Sadly, despite many years of hard work and “paying his dues” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean! – his dreams of building a career in the personally brutal and emotionally unstable film industry disintegrated faster than foreskin-laced pizza rolls at a bar mitzvah.  Feeling somewhat dejected, Pierce returned to Dallas in 1996 and tried getting into the local film and TV business without any luck.  He worked in the marketing field for a bit and now labors over a hot p.c. for a company that’s as equally brutal and emotionally unstable as any cinematic enterprise.  But he also concentrates on his own personal screenplays.  So, like me with my writing, he hasn’t abandoned his dreams altogether!  Dreams, after all, keep you moving forward – especially if you’re trapped in an ergonomically-designed office chair alongside people whose ambitions usually mean just getting from one weekend to another without hurting a constituent or ending up homeless.

We’re both fans of one of the campiest films ever made, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”  Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the 1962 black and white classic was intended to be a psychological drama, but turned out to be a desperate attempt by two aging Hollywood film divas to remain relative in a rapidly-changing American culture.  I place it in the same realm as “Barbarella” (1968) and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) – it’s so deliciously crass and gut-wrenchingly entertaining.  All three of those movies are hysterically bad and wrong on so many artistic levels that present-day viewers have to wonder how the cast and crew of each production managed to stay focused enough to get through the madness every day.  I’m certain surviving cast members are reluctant to admit their involvement, while remaining perplexed how such crap could metamorphose into cult classic status.  Jane Fonda usually dismisses her title role in “Barbarella” as if she was kidnaped and drugged by communist sympathizers, before being hustled off to Europe; much the same way Linda Marchiano explained her oral escapades in “Deep Throat.”

But they’re just too good to pass up!  I’ve watched them again and again for the same reason I used to watch the “Jerry Springer Show”: they’re brainlessly funny, and you just know that shit’s not real!

When I worked for a bank in downtown Dallas in the 1990s, there were two receptionists in the department whom no one really liked.  One was perpetually constipated, while the other (I’m sure) waited anxiously for the day the “Mother Ship” returned.  The cranky one elicited the most vile reactions from people, especially the women.  I jokingly referred to them as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane”, after the main characters in the aforementioned movie.  Soon, most everyone else in the department began doing the same.  I never thought sweet little me would start such a trend!

But Pierce and I often jokingly refer to each other as “Blanche” and “Baby Jane.”

“I’m like Blanche,” he tells people, “the desperate, victimized and more intelligent sibling.  He’s the tired, washed-up, alcoholic skank!”

“She may be a tired alcoholic,” I say, “but that bitch could belt out a tune like no one’s business!”

And so it goes.  He’s always mocking my appearance, and I’m always making fun of his weight.

“Mexicans who come across the border in the middle of the night, hot, hungry, thirsty and covered with burrs don’t look as half as bad as you do by 5:00 on Fridays!” he once told me.

While standing on a second-story veranda at a bar outside of down Dallas during a Friday happy hour, Pierce asked me to take a photo of him for a dating web site.  “Make me look thin,” he said.

“Oh, well then, let me drive over to Fort Worth (some 50 miles west),” I replied.

After a Friday dinner, we stepped into a curio shop where a display table overrun with stuffed animals sat in the back.  Pierce found a critter that, when wound up, would bounce around to a musical piece.  “Look!” he loudly announced to me.  “This one’s like you!  It does tricks!”  Whereupon he burst into a maniacal bwah-ha-ha type laugh.

I picked up a dachshund replica perched on its hind legs.  “And this one’s like you – it sits up and begs for it!”

Pierce and I attended the same parochial elementary school in Dallas and were altar boys at the accompanying church.  We didn’t know each other back then, but he often would tell people that we were sent there together by our frustrated parents, calling it “Bad Boys Reform School”; where he barely passed with a D-, while I ended up in a sanitarium because of my pornographic writings that involved lesbian nuns and the Mexican mafia.

Over the years I’ve cobbled together a number of the barbs Pierce and I have slung at one another.  On the surface, they may come off as a ‘Jokes for Beginning Comics’ cache.  But I it all makes for the type of goofy friendship that’s often hard to explain to outsiders.

A classic scene from a classic camp fest.

 

Pierce:  You’re so ugly, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to look for the vultures circling overhead.

The Chief: You’re so fat, if you get lost in the woods, they just have to follow the sounds of flatulence.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly grocery stores ban you from the dairy aisle.

The Chief: You’re so fat all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets turn off the ‘Open’ sign when they see you drive up.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly you scared Bigfoot.

The Chief: The last time you stepped on a scale, it said ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’

Pierce:  You’re so ugly a group of kids saw you sunbathing on the beach and said, “Look!  A dead octopus washed up!”

The Chief: You’re so fat, when you were last on the beach, Green Peace tried to drag you into the water.

Pierce:  You’re so ugly your own hands won’t masturbate you.

The Chief: You’re so fat you need two office chairs – one for your mouth, the other for your ass.

Pierce:  Your own mother denies she was there when you were born.

The Chief: How many times have you walked down the street and people ask, “Have you named the quintuplets yet?”

Pierce:  You walked into a doctor’s office and they said, “The vet’s next door!”

The Chief: People look at you and say, “Global warming is worse than I thought!  There goes Rhode Island!”

Pierce:  People see you and say, “He must have gone through hell surviving that chemical plant fire.”

The Chief: When you visited the zoo, someone announced over the loud speaker: “We found the lost elephant seal!”

Pierce:  When you took your dog to the vet, they tried to neuter YOU.

The Chief: When you ask for a seat belt extension on an airplane, they hand you a 20-foot rope.

Pierce: When you visited a plastic surgeon, they gave you a chain saw and some Super Glue®.

The Chief: Last time the Houston Ship Channel flooded, they paid you to do a cannonball into the west side of the floodwaters and force it all into the Gulf.

Pierce: You wanted to be an organ donor, and they said, “We don’t accept zombies.”

The Chief: Last time you asked someone to have sex, they said, “Great!  An orgy!”

Pierce: When you made funeral plans to be cremated, the funeral home offered you a fruit jar and a box of matches.

The Chief: Instead of a coffin, the funeral home offered you a piano case.

Pierce: You’re so fair-skinned you can’t go shirtless in the gym because people will think they’ve gone blind.

The Chief: Skin from your fat reduction surgery helped 1,000 burn victims.

Pierce: You accidentally fell into the recycle bin, and the city didn’t realize it until after they’d dragged your ass all the way to the dump.

The Chief: When you told some contractors your house had foundation problems, they said, “Move into a concrete bunker.”

Pierce: Every time you walk into a new gym, trainers say, “I don’t deal with abortion refuse.”

The Chief: Jenny Craig took one look at you and said, “Well, you win some; you lose some.”

 

One of my favorite scenes in “Barbarella” – the title character meets the “Black Queen” (Anita Pallenberg):

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Stolen Moments

A friend of mine, Preston*, has recently taken to poetry writing, or more specifically to haiku writing.  Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.  Not popular in Western cultures until about the early 1900s, haiku are often accompanied by an image, or a pair of images, meant to depict the essence of a particular moment in time.  Their brevity is occasionally an introduction to a longer poem or a story, but its central purpose is to focus the reader’s attention on that one single moment that struck the poet’s mind as critical or somehow significant; a moment where everything came into focus; where the complexities of life were abruptly reduced to what is – and what is not – essential.

I trust and admire Preston greatly.  I wrote about him nearly 6 years ago in “One Good Friend.”  He’s truly one of those rare individuals who is focused and level-headed.  For us writers, focus is always a challenge, while level-headedness is sometimes elusive.

Time is a bandit

Reducing our hopes and dreams

To mere memories

 

– Preston

 

*Name changed.

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