« The Unraveling +15 »

It was on this day in 1996 that my grandfather Norman died. I might be buttering things up to say that we were close or that he was the beloved patriarch, or any such stuff. For my grandmother, his partner of 61 years and more, I suppose she was relieved somehow. But really, that is speculation. Even on that side of his death, I guess there are vast areas about their lives I'll never know. I can't blame her, but I'd say it was more my grandmother's task to build me up according to a loftier vision of possibility than to revisit any of the hard times of her past, particularly when it comes to the intra-family dynamics. There is so much I just don't know about how people thought and felt. Or so it seems.

You can read other blogs of mine from this day in years past. I've been writing them for some years now. This year's angle seems to be a bit of surprise at the passing of time. Fifteen years now since Norman died, and in the clearness of hindsight (but it wasn't impossible to imagine prior to his death), the descent into family chaos began just about as fast. His death opened up the power vacuum into which my old man stepped. Or, that sounds rather polite and graceful. There was a kind of arm-twisting coerciveness to it. When Norman died, Viginia was quite well possessed of her facilities. She had no interest in really changing the plan, no matter how much her son wanted to push and prod into alternative living arrangements in the same house. As far as I remember, she regarded it as a nuisance to be dealt with.

Norman was buried with full military honors at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary. I still drop in once in a while, particularly when guests are in town. If nothing else, he has the nicest real estate ever, overlooking the bay and Coronado and downtown. The day he was buried was a rainy one, which if I recall means that life is about to renew somehow. I don't know what time frame that is referring to, because so far there has been a lot of heartache. I don't rule out the long term, but we aren't there yet, and what I am certain of so far is that there has been a lot of pain and dissolution. 

The wild card that I doubt anyone saw in advance was the presence of Bill Francis. Bill was a 40ish guy who had fallen on hard times about three years before. On two occasions he had lived at my house, first in a trailer out back, and then in a shed. Both times lasted several months and were accompanied with some expectation of labor around the yard, or on projects headed by the old man. Being essentially homeless and without regular work, he was falling through the cracks of life, losing his health, relations, possessions, and all that. He had a general skill set that included a strength in construction (from years of building Houston, TX) and some automotive repair. He also braved any other work he was asked to do, sometimes foolishly. And more foolishly, he did stuff he had no business doing sometimes. He did tend to be a homeless pack rat kind of person, hanging on to anything that might constitute value for sale or projects he would possibly be engaged in. I found him to be a nice guy who befriended me at a time of transition into young adulthood—about 19-20 years old. He was like an uncle to me.

I never liked the way my old man treated him. The offer to stay in the trailer or shed upset me, particularly since we had a bedroom to spare. But I was always shown how dirty Bill was. (Really? He worked like mad at anything put in front of him, and had no access to our showers.) Or I suppose any of a number of arguments were made to keep Bill outside the house, even for social time. They were half justified, particularly later on when in the weeks following Norman's death, it had a vague ring of mutually agreeable value to have Bill Francis take a vacated room in the house with my grandmother, and to help her with meals, shopping, and house related tasks, and maybe construction on the patio enclosure.

I was his advocate. I got to know a generous side of Bill. He gave money that he barely had, often to help a friend of his who had a few kids and had it harder than he. So I vouched for him before my grandmother. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was definitely having hard times by 1996. Some stability would do him good, so it seemed. Anyhow, barely three weeks later, he was moving into the house. I recall that by the 19th, he was in, and maybe it was then that the following happened, and really started to accelerate the issues of adjustment for my grandmother.

I don't know who really suggested it or told me it needed doing, but one day Bill and I were cleaning out what used to be my grandfather's room (and which a couple years later was mine). I guess this was a dismal moment that never should have been. Bill and I worked our way through all sorts of stuff, some of which was clearly Norman's and some more clearly Virginia's. Stuff that got thrown out included both of their things, and because it was under the radar, it became an I-said, he-said kind of thing. That one day soon inflamed my grandmother in a huge way, and for the first time that I can recall, her wrath came down on me. It was quite unexpected and shocking. An extension of all that came when my old man began charging me with there being missing silver items. I positively had not seen such things and was completely unaware of their very existence. In fact, the accusation he made was the first I heard of such items. I think there is some other funny business going on. But the weight of having gotten my grandmother pissed at me, and then being accused of stealing silver was a clear break with the old days. 

At around the same time (and possibly related to all this), the pressure was mounting for me to leave my childhood home on Artesian St. I had friction about paying a nominal rent to my old man (one that was prompted when I put a proper lock on my bedroom door after he peeked in on me and my girlfriend Robin at 5 am one day in September 1994). At the time of this family disintegration and strife, I was working exclusively as an assistant to Rockola, and probably made just a couple hundred dollars a month, maybe $500 or so at best. To pay $100 was possible but painful because it changed the terms of the relationship into one where I paid for what I got for free for so many years. Finally, in August 1996, messages were being sent that I should be on my way. (I seem to remember being told my old man wanted to make room for some Russian woman he planned on marrying, and who was about to arrive any day now.)

I was in a bind. The pressure was on to get out of the house where I was living, but the welcome mat at my grandmother's was rolled up and taken away after the room cleaning debacle.  I went out and looked for apartments with Robin, but it was at the wrong time for us: we were in the midst of an eight month period that was a long, slow breakup. I, as always, had my fears about whether I'd make enough money to afford a shared apartment that went for a whopping $600! (Robin had just started at her illustrious career with Wal Mart that May.) Thinking back to a year before when her first attempt at moving out of home lasted just a month and a half, and our dissolving relationship, I retreated.

Bill apparently got pretty comfortable in the house though. His packrat side came out, as he brought in as much stuff as possible into the room he had, and overflow running into the pseudo-garage "storeroom" that once he was gone, became Hog Heaven Studio. He had auto parts, devices, files, boxes, tools, hardware, and so much shit that a couple years later it took my old man and me several truckloads to move out to a storage locker. But before it got so packed, it was looking like he was doing his role in the house for a while. He set out to get the patio cover done, but like these things tend to do, it took forever as he was getting distracted by other jobs that came up. Eventually, his time got spread too thin. Or he got sick. Or he didn't have materials. Or my old man interfered. Or— anything, really. 

But what really pushed my buttons and drove me to regret vouching for him was a couple of occasions that made me sense he was far too comfortable there. First was when I finally got the pressure and did my two hour move from home in two cars, the following weeks were times when I was in a kind of quasi-homeless state. I took everything over to my grandmother's house, having no other place to drop stuff. But since this was a month after the whole room cleaning incident, it was not a great welcome. She slapped conditions on me and my stuff, like it was just a temporary thing. I was not given a key, but since it was summer, I knew the windows were open. I was working for Rockola, typically not done and back home till about 2-3 in the morning. One night I got a ride back from one of their club gigs and climbed into the window after knocking on doors and windows to get Bill up. No answer. So I entered and got my night's rest. Sort of. The news got out that I broke in and I got flack for that from old man and grandmother alike, thanks to Bill's newly adopted informant role. 

One time, shortly after I left my house, I had to spend at least some time at grandmother's place. I had Bill start to work on my car, as it was in need of a timing job. I think it was on the same day as I came back from the Rockola gig and climbed into the window, my punishment was that my old man rolled my car off the ramps and into the street, and in the process, messed up any timing relationship within the engine. I was pretty much forced to tow it. Bill insisted that he get paid for his work. I told him to piss off. I got him into a cushy housing deal, and if he had to be paid, he'd get paid when the work was done, not before. All this was of no concern to my old man. He just left my car in the street. I had to have it towed to a more agreeable location outside Bob Tedde's house elsewhere in Clairemont, and then again to a shop. Then that shop charged me $300 for what became the final repair. Days later, I took it down to the Toyota dealership, and with $8000 check in hand, I bought my truck (which I still have). The trade in credit on the Ford was $150.

The other instance of Bill's not opening the house was rather later, on New Year's Eve when I was asked to carry and store band equipment for Dr. Feelgood. At the time I had an upstairs apartment with a not-too-safe situation for storage. I was also with the flu, feeling quite weak. I spent the evening at my apartment, sleeping. I had an agreement with my grandmother finally that let me use the storeroom space to keep things if needed to make money. But I had no key, so I had to knock and ring. I'd have expected Bill to answer. I rarely got much advance notice about when these things would happpen, so I basically needed to be able to act on the spot sometimes, like on NYE 1997. Dr. Feelgood asked me about storing things just as I got to the gig at 1:30 am. I had no easy way to do anything but show up and expect to store things at the house. Calling would be pretty distracting. So I appeared at the house at about 3 am, did the knocking and ringing for over half an hour. In the back of my truck, the gear was unprotected from the mounting drizzle which turned to rain. I had to have something happen. Bill did not answer, but I heard his stirrings. There was no shelter for gear so it was now make-or-break, and I still did not imagine lugging all that gear up the stairs to my apartment. I found the kitchen window was unlocked, so I finally climbed in, and just as soon as I did, Bill was right there, shouting at me. I was shattered. He went in to wake my grandmother (or to get her involved anyway—she was always up late), and got her all upset at the confusion. He dialed 911, but by the time he did that, I stormed out and raced to my apartment where I defied all logic and fought the flu, the rain, the stairs, and the rage against so many people who had turned on me, who I once called family or friends.

The first morning of the new year was started with a call from my old man telling me I had to get my stuff out of the house at Quapaw. For my little "stunt" of breaking in so that I might save other people's gear from the rain, and so that I might make a bit of money, I had this extra burden. So I had to go over and collect a lot of stuff, including two drum sets (one that sat in my closet and one in the living room—the latter always giving me a fear of theft) and who knows what else. It was hell. The rest of 1997 was more hell but it had lots to do with the shifting alliances of the four of us. Sometimes Bill and my grandmother were pitted against me and the old man. Sometimes me and g-ma against the old man. Sometimes Lucas vs. Francis. Cops were called. Adult protective services had g-ma as a case. One of Bill's friends sued the old man for moving a car that Bill was "repairing." The old man towed it off the driveway and down several blocks, provoking a lot of ire. All this was dismal and disorienting. Who knew who to trust?

It wasn't all rosy when Norman was alive, but there was not this kind of chaos. I am torn between knowing he was the stern patriarch who I never connected with, and who later on seemed pretty grounded and normal in comparison to what followed. So much of the story of revolves around the power vacuum that he left for his son to fill. Norman did see it coming though. His granting me over $10,000 in cash and about $5,000 in stock was an attempt to bypass that. I have drums and a truck to show for it now, and I have essentially paid my way through the Art Institute of CA on those funds. It is something, I guess. I'd still rather have had a property to live in, to shelter me and Kelli from the market swings. Or maybe more to have a family that didn't crumble so fast and furiously. But I guess that was not my package in life. 

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