In Appreciation

The last two weeks since my dad has passed has been a whirlwind of activity, of planning and discussing an assortment of details of which I knew nothing about and was completely unprepared for. My emotions have been on a roller coaster ride that everyone tells me is normal.

The tasks of planning my father’s funeral, reception, his burial, and cleaning out his apartment have kept me moving and focused. I’ve had lapses where I forgot where I was or just crumbled into tears, either triggered by a memory or by nothing at all. This is my first experience looking death straight in the face and feeling the loss of a loved one so close.

I now know what loss feels like. I have things I’d like to share; to remember my dad and my thoughts about death. Before, I had been in denial of it. I’m sure I’ll have some tough days ahead, but I’m not afraid of death anymore. I almost feel it’s something we all should discuss although I totally get it if you don’t want to. I feel I have some wisdom to pass on. For those who have experienced loss, perhaps you have words of advice for me.

You can’t avoid death. Hopefully, you can postpone it as long as possible and live a life full of shared memories with the people whom you care about. That’s what it’s all about.

We had a wonderful memorial service for my dad. Unlike other big life events, you have no idea who will come to a funeral. It makes planning a toss up. We planned anywhere from 20 – 100 people. We had about 80, so we were very pleased. The funeral home was packed and, later, my house packed with people. My dad would have loved it. Many people shared stories and memories, and I never heard so much laughing at a memorial service. People even clapped after each speaker. It truly felt like a celebration of his life. The funeral home provided a wonderful photo presentation set to some of my dad’s favorites, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and the Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.” It was perfect.

I wrote a poem for him, which I shared with tears and long pauses. My siblings shared their stories, my brother off the top of his head, all much calmer than me. I’ll share my poem later because it’s a bit long.

For now, I just want to thank you for all your thoughts, condolences, for your email messages and comments on Facebook. Your thoughts and prayers provided me with a lot of comfort. It means a lot to hear them. I don’t think I realized how powerful they could be. So, thank you for your kindness, for caring, for reaching out, for taking the time to say a few words. I read all your comments and apologize that I couldn’t respond. Truly, I was overwhelmed by feeling so much at once, for the events that unfolded without any warning, and wanting more than anything to rewind time.

But as my twelve-year-old told me last night as we watched a movie into the wee hours of the night, my dad will always be with me. How did he get to be so smart?

These are for you!
These are for you!
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Their Last Supper

Missy met Daniel at a park while escaping a Frisbee flung at her head. Daniel fled to her side to apologize. His best friend Ace had lobbed it in her direction by accident. Missy glanced over Daniel’s shoulder to see this friend, in his bare-chested attire, waving at them. But Daniel was in no hurry. He had a gentleness about him, with his dark hair and olive skin. Missy wanted to touch him as soon as possible.

They were in each other’s pants days later. The shine of her auburn hair and blue eyes radiated heat. With their sexual energy barely contained, risky exploits followed. It was Daniel who nicknamed her Missy, short for Melissa, as he nibbled at her ear, pressing her hands against the wall in the hallway of his parents’ house with them only a room away sipping tea. ”I need to taste you, Missy,” he said, dropping her pants to the floor. “Missy” stuck after that.

When Daniel wasn’t with Missy, he spent time with Ace, and it wasn’t long before the three of them hung together. Missy thought “Ace” was a nickname too, but never asked. The truth was that you rarely asked questions of Ace. He was the abrasive sort, presenting his side, the only side, of an argument on the topic of the day. If you spoke, you hedged your bets on whether you’d offend or that your remark would be offensive enough.

Driving with him in his car in a simple jaunt across town was a death wish, his wide-set eyes on bold display. Ace weaved in and out of cars, flying down hills, speeding through busy intersections, a jolly good time. Signal lights were hit or miss; accidents with daydreaming pedestrians, near misses.

This wild side of his was held in check by a more cultured, tempered Ace, most noticeable when he worked in the kitchen. He cooked only with the finest ingredients, but he always referred to his meals as homey suppers. Missy’s mouth watered when she thought of his artichoke olive dip. When his girlfriend, Olivia, entered the picture for four solid months, his chivalrous side made an entrance as well. His Cioppino transported Olivia to an exotic Italian sea village, at least that’s what Ace reported to Daniel the next morning.

All was going swimmingly, until one evening, Olivia didn’t feel well and, apparently, never recuperated. Their relationship fell flat, and Ace deflated; his invitations to dinner all but vanished.

Wanting to return the favor, Missy invited Ace to dinner, confessing that her cooking skills could never match his. She made a strong effort with Hot and Sour Soup and Mongolian Beef, with rice noodles that exploded into threaded balls. Ace, with a beer in his hand, relaxed.

As Ace ate his soup, he got quieter with each bite. A few times he remarked that he liked the flavor and discussed his broth-making process.

“Missy just used cans,” Daniel said.

His eating slowed, and his speech diminished to one syllable words, before resting his spoon beside his bowl altogether, aghast that she did not slave over real broth.

He dismissed the main dish as well. Ace claimed that too many competing flavors assaulted his taste buds. Nothing could salvage this abysmal culinary fail.

Weeks later, Ace invited them over. He apologized for his previous behavior, and their reunion was off to the right start. The summer had just begun, and the mood was light. Ace slipped out of the kitchen, and the pantry door hung open, inviting entrance. Daniel pulled Missy into the pantry. They fumbled, adjusting to their small enclosure. Daniel buried his head in her bosom. Missy knocked over a box of cereal as she raised her arms to pull off her shirt.

“What are we doing?” Missy said.

“Who cares?” Daniel locked the door and shut off the light.

They giggled, their bodies finding each other in the darkness; her delicate hip bone and the hollow of her rib cage pressed into the grooves of lanky limbs, and they slid to the floor. He thrust into her, as a hot pan sizzled in the kitchen. Missy held back her moans of delight. They heard footsteps and froze. A jiggling of the door, a pause, and then quietly they finished.

Missy freshened up and joined Daniel and Ace at the table, a plate of steaming food placed before them. Missy took the empty chair, her face aglow. She saw Daniel’s hair feathered with flour and touched her own head to tip him off. Ace watched and snickered. He knew, and they knew that he knew. It was laughable to hide the evidence.

“This fish is the perfect flakiness,” Daniel said.

“I’m glad you approve,” Ace nodded.

“You never disappoint,” Daniel said.

“I am here to serve,” Ace said, piercing a piece of asparagus. “Your satisfaction is always of the utmost importance.”

“How generous of you.” Daniel could think of nothing else to say.

“Chez Ace. Mi casa es su casa.”

“How trilingual of you.” Daniel kicked Missy’s foot under the table.

Missy blurted out, “Oh, it’s so good, Ace. I’m famished.”

“You must have worked up quite an appetite,” Ace said, waving his fork, gesturing to random spots in the room, and finally marking the door of the pantry.

Daniel and Missy smiled, trying to gauge the reaction Ace wanted.

“A romp in the pantry,” Ace blurted out. “Nice.”

Daniel cleared his throat, “Just checking out the spices.”

“What did you think?” Ace glanced at Missy.

“Very spicy,” Daniel said, laughing.

“I can hear you,” Missy said, her face reddening.

Ace sighed. “I think it’s wonderful to express yourself. I wouldn’t want anything else for my guests.”

“It would be rude, otherwise,” Daniel played along.

“It would be rude,” Ace said. He dropped his utensils on his plate. Ace raised his glass, “A toast,” and nodded to them. “To rudeness.”

“To rudeness,” and they clinked their foamy pints.

Missy stopped chewing.

“And now I need to clean my safe haven, my shrine to the cooking gods. The pantry is like my man cave. Do you think it needs a mop?”

Daniel and Missy were mute.

“It needs to be sterilized,” Ace said matter-of-factly.

“Sterilized, because of the fizzy lifting drinks,” Daniel said.

“What would Wonka do?” Ace belted out a laugh, thumping Daniel on the back as they rose from their chairs.

Missy still chewed, as Ace glared at her every time he returned to pick up a dish to clear the table. She inhaled her last two bites and hurried her plate to the counter.

The air hung as heavy as the food in their stomachs. Daniel would have liked to duck out for the evening, instead he met Ace’s request for a tidying up of the pantry with enthusiasm. At least it was a diversion from the rude talk.

Ace hurriedly supplied cleansers, a mop and bucket, and rags. “Well, don’t just stand there.”

Daniel stumbled with the bucket and mop, slopping water all over the floor, creating a bigger mess than the invisible one before him. Ace scooted them into the pantry.

Missy panted. “I’m feeling claustrophobic.”

Ace left them, looking past them as if invisible, and locked the door behind him.

“What a psycho,” Missy whispered.

Daniel applied a quick mop; Missy made sure all the containers lined up, shifting them in nano increments.

Seconds later. “We’re done,” they yelled.

They heard the water running, Ace washing pans, running the dishwasher, talking on the phone. He played music, too. All the while, they pounded on the door.

Finally, Ace knocked on the pantry door. “One more thing,” he said. “Remove your clothes and put these on.” He cracked the door and dispensed two pieces of black cloth.

Daniel stretched it between his fingers. Panty? Thong?

“It’s a blindfold,” Missy said. “He’s a sick bastard.”

“Come out sans clothing, wearing the blindfold, and you can leave.”

Daniel convinced her to play his stupid game, and get on with their lives. It was just naked bodies.

“What if he’s a murderer,” she cried.

Daniel looked for something to jimmy the lock, and that could double as a weapon, all the while bouncing around like a jumping bean.

“I have to piss,” he said, holding on the wall.

He begged Missy to hurry, and then urinated in the corner, turning the flour golden.

They stripped. Missy folded each item of her clothing, wanting to hide them inside of her. They banged on the door again. “We’re ready. We’re naked.”

“Do you have your blindfolds on?” They didn’t. They put them on.

“Yes,” they said.

“Hand me your clothes now.”

Ace stuck his head through the door, and they shoved clothes in his face. The door slammed and was then unlocked. They walked out to the sound of Ace cracking open a beer across the room. Their audience of one.

As they walked past him, he clapped, and then put a set of keys in Daniel’s hand. Daniel clutched the keys, then hesitated, wanting to beat the living hell out of his friend, his best friend.

But Missy sobbed and that was it. They ripped their blindfolds off and rushed to the car.

Daniel drove away and hollered, “I pissed in his pantry.”

photo credit: Salt and pepper via photopin (license)

A Caroling We Will Go

Tis the season for caroling. Singing together in joy and attempted harmony.  I grew up with this idea, singing alongside my brothers and sisters. Two neighboring Catholic families joined together. Our family of six kids, plus theirs, ten kids strong. A gathering filled up our houses, especially if spouses and friends joined in, which happened in the later years.

Christmas Eve always felt special. We dressed up with festive jewelry, had good food, and plenty to drink. After a couple of hours of visiting, first at our house and then at theirs, we assembled, rehearsed a few verses of a popular Christmas song, and put on our jackets to brave the 50 °F night. That’s winter in Southern California, and it never interfered with our mission to take our singing to the streets and carol around our block.

In one big blustering mass, we puffed up our chests and belted out Christmas tunes, lucky to hit notes singing the same words. La la la and humming came in handy. We traveled from house to house, surging and merry, barely able to contain ourselves. Oh, how everyone enjoyed our goodwill gesture! We sang a maximum of three songs, carefully selected between each house, alternating the slow Silent Night with a peppy Jingle Bells.

After about thirty houses we concluded our masterful hymns at our neighbors, the Painter’s. They had lived in the neighborhood the longest and had a full acre yard, even a few roosters. They received us with smiles and, without fail, presented us with a box of See’s Candy after what was always our last song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It felt like a reward.

The black and white box. Music to my ears.
The black and white box. Delicious. This was before the red wrapping you see now during the holiday season.

I don’t quite remember what then happened with that box of candy, if we shared it or not. I must have got at least one piece. It didn’t really matter. The appearance of the black and white See’s Candy box left me a blubbering mess of joyful tears. Oh, they cared, they cared…or maybe it was out of sympathy. It always made feel a little high on life. We did some good in the world. We used our voices, however out of tune. Whatever their reason, it made the season all the more merry and bright.

Following the presentation of the candy box, our two families parted ways to attend midnight mass. My family to the Sears catalog, minimalist church a few blocks from our house. We usually walked if we weren’t running too late. Our friends drove to their more formal, taller, stain-glassed church a few miles away.

This tradition of ours continued for a least a decade or more. My memory is fuzzy about this. Sure, things changed over the years. The group lost shape and focus, although growing in numbers with more friends, with some family members straggling behind. Tis the season to be jolly, filled with spirits, too inebriated to participate fully.

Our neighbors began to sing the third verses in harmony, complete harmony I tell you, and assumed the front stage position at the door, while those less dedicated mouthed the words in the back. It became slightly more serious and falling apart all at once, squeezed from the middle until it just burst into nothing. One year we simply stopped. At least that’s how I remember it.

I wondered if the Painters waited up for us with the box of chocolates ready.

As I was saying, delicious....
As I was saying, delicious….

I almost wanted to walk over to explain, “I guess we don’t do this anymore.” Did they miss us? Did they wonder for a couple of years, as I did, if we would return? It was a good time while it lasted and, for me, it never lost its kick or exuberance.

So, grab a friend and sing together a little holiday song. It will make you smile. Do you have any caroling favorites?

Photo credit:
flickr.com/photos/tonyjcase/3184853335
flickr.com/photos/56367847@N05/8490705495

New Year’s Resolutions: Run for the Bunny Hills

I think the reason we often do not succeed in accomplishing our New Year’s resolutions is because we are asking ourselves to do the hard stuff. We are pushing ourselves to climb the mountain, often before we have even attempted a hill. I say let’s just go for the little bunny hills. Come along.

Why not ask yourself to do things that aren’t altogether bad for you, but might make for an all around happier and healthier you? What you need is to get in touch with your inner child. This will make it all possible. You’ll feel lighter, more playful, and less encumbered. You’ll be rolling down hills, licking lollipops, and feeling the sand between your toes in no time.

Let me demonstrate with a proper, well thought-out list:

  1. Eat and drink whatever you want, so long as you are body positive. Don’t waste your energy counting calories and performing in endless fitness classes. Why not buy a pair of roller skates and skate around your block? Don’t have a block? Just find the nearest paved open space. When you return home, demand snacks and drinks. Then just laze about.
  2. While you’re lazing about, watch movies. Let me qualify this. They need to be adult movies. No, that’s not the kind I meant. The kind that has talking in them, you know, dialogue. Although come to think on it, it is strange that we sit around and watch other people talk. Maybe you’d like some FX action. Mine would have talking, but you watch what you like.
  3. But maybe what you really crave is to talk to someone face to face. You may want to actually spend time with your friends. This is a good idea. While spending quality time with your friends, lose complete track of time. In fact, just forget how to tell time altogether. Once the time is gone, you won’t be needing it back. You’ll be creating memories.
  4. Read more books. Everyone could do this one, unless you are one of the chosen who gets to read books 24/7.  In fact, laze about some more, and read two books, or how about every book you want to read. Read it twice.

You don’t think you have enough time for all this? Why don’t you just do more of everything faster, and while you’re at it, do it better. Do less with more. Just do it better. And, work harder…Got it? Jump higher….Oh, I digressed. Sigh.

Not only is this bunny fast, he's a good jumper
Not only is this bunny fast, he’s a good jumper.

I bet you’re exhausted now. Why not just call it a day? Don’t you have get more sleep on your list? You might achieve something after all. Just climb into your covers.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to be a bunny to jump over a bunny hill. That bunny hill will be there tomorrow. It ain’t going anywhere.

So, will I make any resolutions for myself? No, but I may really try for the bunny hills.

Happy New Year! I hope 2013 is everything you want it to be.

photo credit: -Porsupah- via photopin cc

Thankful

Here’s to laughing with family and friends,

and good cheer

I’m thankful for the ground I walk on

And for my friends in the blogosphere

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, wherever you are!