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Entries in sloth (7)

Friday
Oct082010

Sloth and Comeuppance

Today would have been my grandmother's 101st birthday. Born in 1909 and ultimately checking out in the spring of 2001, her birthday in 2000—a decade ago—was the last one she celebrated. I wasn't there. I still have a feeling of regret for being distant even as I lived under the same roof. My only comfort is that she did have a family that took care of her and they made her life quite a bit better in the end. Just a month and a half after she turned 91, she had a fall and spent the night in the bathroom, crying for help all night and into the morning until her main caretaker, Connie, showed up around 11.

This isn't breaking news to some of my confidantes from the last decade, but on that night, I was completely selfish and lapsed in my responsibility to another human being. I came home late that Sunday night after Thanksgiving, sometime in the wee hours around 2 am or so. I walked in and heard her occasional cries for assistance. I even looked in on her cracked doorway and walked away, maybe soured by the already-overwhelming smell of an old woman who soiled herself in the bathroom. Those days I went to bed at nearly dawn so it was probably hours I was fully conscious of her situation. I did nothing. I just was in my own selfish space. It was a complete moral failure on my part. I don't know for sure, but I do recall that my mind sometimes entertained that her final days could not be far off. Maybe I was under that impression on that night. I just don't know what I was thinking, if I was thinking at all.

To the extent that I was thinking, I can only say it was that I somehow knew that if anyone found her, it would be the beginning of a shift that no other measures could have brought about. She was stubbornly attached to living in that house (and of course so was I), but when her needs escalated to regular meals and other care that I never provided anyway (by arrangement essentially), she would still not want to leave. To have someone else find her in such a sad state would be the only thing that would sort of force the hand of fate, causing her to need to go to where she might be better taken care of. My lame part in it all went unquestioned, so I never really had to defend my actions because no one really knew I knew. After all, who is to say what time she fell versus what time I came home? Everyone knew I was out or otherwise occupied late. And I am not surprised if they also thought of me as selfish and distant.

It took me about three more years until I was finally able to speak of this night while I was in Halcyon House, in an environment that forced me to consider my life at a deep level. It had to finally be addressed while sitting with my pastor who made a few calls out there to see me. Not being from a denomination that emphasizes confession, I had heard him make some semi-ironic comments on "confession is good for the soul." Well, it certainly was in this case. Later, in the desert on my initiation rites, I ran down a huge list of things in my mind, this among them, and presented them to God to deal with. No bolts of lightning or flash floods to deal with me; just a message that it is okay to move on and to act more compassionately when the next moment presents itself.

My grandmother did indeed start a new life after that fall and inglorious night on the bathroom floor. She was at the hospital for a few weeks. She didn't have any real problems except for her age related ones. She didn't break anything. But they kept her for a while to make sure all was well. While visiting her there, she seemed a lot more chipper and chatty than at home. I was relieved in some way to see her getting a lot of care that perhaps would not have been the case otherwise. The last time I remember seeing her and my old man in the same room was in those weeks at the hospital. All was not really well, but some things were getting better.

In a sort of karmic way, my slothful moment that Sunday night was answered by what had to be a misspoken word on her part in the presence of my old man. G-ma was no doubt medicated and feelin' fine when she lapsed in her memory of what details to keep from whom, and those details included the newly revealed fact that I was in a new period of relationship with my mother. This was something I had revealed on the weekend before she fell, to her and my stepmom and stepsister only. I wasn't there to hear it, but this has to be how it played out. From that moment on, with this news in the wrong hands, my distanced participation in events was brought to an end with my old man getting the sensitive information that I had no intention of sharing directly. This led us to blowout arguments, mean spirited letters dropped on my truck window, and much angst in the immediate aftermath, and ultimately to the game playing with the house that fills this journal from 2004-2006.

Tonight my dear wife is agonizing over some stomach and intestinal woes with a dose of a fever to boot. It kept her from work for a day or two, from decent sleep and from eating. I've had to do the little things to take care of her—the trip to the store for the chicken soup and orange juice. It probably isn't anything major and won't be a defining instance in either of our lives, except maybe for me as I look at it as one more chance to settle up for that one night when I failed one of the great women in my life.

Friday
Aug062010

Faith and Faithlessness

Yesterday I was listening to public radio and on one of the news shows they were talking about Naomi Campbell's testimony in the tribunal seeking to get the truth about president Charles Taylor of Liberia and his trade in blood diamonds. I finally came to understand how Campbell the supermodel was involved, how she was a guest at a dinner in South Africa, and how she was given the mysterious dirty rocks that were the illegal uncut diamonds that are highly regulated otherwise. Not ever knowing or really caring about the comings and goings of a supermodel of her stature, I thought somehow she was a celebrity activist on this case, that somehow she was caught up unawares and then made it her work to seek justice in a way like one might expect Bono of U2 or some other celebrity who wants to raise the profile of their favorite cause. But no, the radio had someone talking about how this whole case is such a nuisance and how she'd like to just get it over because it is a hindrance to her "work." Excuse me? Is she that full of herself that her testimony that might damn this war criminal is not as important as her runway strutting and photo shoots and clubbing on the Riviera? What the fuck? People are dying because of this diamond trade and she can't be bothered to do her moral duty without moaning?

Less harshly—and because I expect less from my humble coworkers in the food distribution industry—I have to shake my head in disappointment at the results of a casual conversational survey I conducted today. In about 15 cases of checking in with coworkers of mine, barely anyone knew what I was talking about when I said today was a day of dubious repute: the 65th anniversary of Hiroshima. Many didn't even know what it meant. Some, to greater or lesser degree, made some snarky comment about Japs or Slopes (new to me) or fell back on reciting the old argument that it would have taken a million men to die if we didn't drop the bomb. It seemed it had little power to shock. I think only two of them understood I was posing the question out of some ethical concern. Only one barely entered into a conversation for a few moments, seeing the thing as a major turning point in human history, the time when it became clear that we really could act as gods, at least in the destructive capacity. Or that we actually had the power to destroy life as we know it, and the passage of 65 years since those ignoble bombings hasn't done anything to make the world a safer place.

August 6th has another dubious distinction of being the anniversary of the murder of a friend of ours from childhood. He was murdered at point blank in a drug deal gone bad. He was unarmed and never packed anyway, being more of a peace loving wannabe hippy who found it more lucrative to sell drugs than to get a "real job" that had no sense of adventure to it. He was a smart guy, excepting of course that his chosen profession was a dead end job, no matter how lucrative it was. Oh, he had been in trouble before and did some prison time. He drew negative attention to the family and had some tough love applied by being kicked out of his house. He tried to get out of an industry where the only way out is to get dead first. These days, those of us who have been affected by this would like to see how it goes with the legalization of marijuana, in hopes that the black market might lose some of its charm and power. In the same way as I support gay marriage but don't need it, I support legalization but for no gain of my own to be had. Is the system not broken enough as it is, warranting a radically different response than we've been giving for so long? So far my marriage hasn't been threatened by gay couples who have wed, and I'd dare support the pot legalization in hopes that maybe murder might be taken out of the equation.

Sure, I realize a lot of people just can't bear to look at this stuff in all its layered complexity. But really we have to face that society has done a good job of distracting us from doing so. There is little structure in place to facilitate the asking of big questions and the understanding or ability to hold the weight of the answers that follow. At times I am not even sure people want it. Or maybe they might be interested if it is downloadable, air conditioned, or low calorie. Let's just hope Naomi C doesn't carry much weight in the public discourse.

Tuesday
Sep232008

Wisdom To Spare

In early 1996, I started my admittedly shameful record of dental appointments. Well, that is if you ignore the three year interval between the previous visit whilst on my old man's work insurance, and the self-funded trip of May 1996. It was at least that far back when I was first told I would need deep scaling and also got a recommendation (but not a prescription) to get my wisdom teeth pulled. At that point, I am pretty sure they had not erupted at all, but given that I had already had orthodontics done some years before, he cautioned that that work might be undone in part due to shifting geography. These two suggestions really just put the fear of God in me and so I met them with utter contempt and did my best to stay away from dentists for eight years. I did so well indeed that I never went once until maybe the middle of 2004. And then it was that the scaling that I avoided in '96 was finally critically necessary. It got done shortly before my wedding in August of 2004, thanks to my job then offering an effective dental plan. I remember it being far less agonizing than it had been made out to be. I don't want to minimize it; but it didn't seem so bad except in sheer volume of crud. Nothing was said about the gums, but they were in bad shape then.

Then there was that three year interval until last summer when basically the whole thing had to be redone, and this time the gums were far worse off for that added time. I had to face it: it was this or start watching teeth go. (At least I had some insurance through my job then, and then the COBRA after they cut me free almost as soon as I even got eligible.) And of course you can read in this journal how I had to get the surgery done to make that right. And from the periodontist, the message was reiterated: I need to get those wisdom teeth out. This time is was not speculative about the damage they might do. Three had long since erupted. Two on the right came in in remarkably good form, but the left top is not erupted at all and the bottom left juts forward and upward and has forced other teeth around a bit and made it hard to clean between it and its second molar neighbor, possibly leaving a cavity at a point where they meet. Between this one that was an obvious problem and the two that are otherwise fine but almost impossible to reach with regular cleaning tools, it was time to move to plan B. My way hadn't worked.

I've been getting regular non-insured cleanings on two or three month intervals to stay ahead of things. (The better way to go since HMO plans are crap and give only the basics. So I agreed to pay out of pocket like I always should have been doing all along so I can get more time in the chair.) This last time around, the dentist told me to get the wisdom teeth out finally and prescribed me a consultation at a wisdom tooth-harvesting surgeon—where Kelli had just gone to get one of her wisdoms taken out a month ago. It was a mixed feeling to hear this. All the apprehension of my 22 year old self revisited me. But the present, post-gum surgery me said, ah, finally dude, get that shit behind you. So here I am.

I got a few days off from work so that I might finally get past this ordeal and at least put some of this dental drama to rest, and I reasonable expect, to raise some new issues. So far I haven't been jumping out of my skin at the prospect like I was about the gum surgery. Maybe it is because wisdom teeth extractions are so common, but maybe it is because I've offloaded a great burden in just getting past the first wave of surgeries last year and adopting some new habits, and that this new procedure is just part of that trend. At least with the four-at-once procedure, it won't drag on like it did for two weeks of repeated surgeries because my blood pressure was too high to do the gum surgery in two passes instead of four. Last time I was jumping out of my skin, even on the second-, third-, and final stages, despite knowing the routine. This time, it is all done in an hour and I get to go to sleep for it :-)

Maybe now that I have all these wisdom teeth, I am a bit wiser. But the irony is not lost on me. It would have been wiser to get this done 12 years ago. Grrrr. Oh well, you don't get wise by making the right decision at all turns.

Monday
Oct082007

Gma

grandmother virginia lucas at age 90 in her favorite chair in the dining room by the giant windowToday is my late grandmother's birthday. Virginia would have been 98 today. Even her actual 91 years were a mighty feat of endurance through a century that so drastically reinvented the world and life in it. She saw many things come and go in that time. Some were regarded as great progress (she lauded science and inspired my curiosity about the lunar landings and so forth), and some were huge steps back (Elvis pretty much was the end of music for her). Some things never really wavered for her (she was always devoted to church life on the lay ministerial, social, and charitable levels). I know there were things that she was not willing to adapt to because they flew in the face of tradition. Our church was among those that began to use gender inclusive language, and she was not hip to that at all. 'Why can't they just let God be a HE like he has always been?' This trend really messed with her traditional Christmas favorites. I don't know if it is that she actively supported patriarchal systems, or only knew that the fight was so great as to not really feel it worth the effort to change things, certainly not in her late 70s or so.

Of all the things that came and went, I have a feeling though she would come unglued if she knew what happened to her family in the wake of her passing in early 2001. I think she saw visions of it before she died; she wanted it not to be this way. She had many reasons to think it would turn out bad. And it has. In some ways, while the worst of it happened after she died, even the five years before that saw a lot of division and fracturing in the wake of my grandfather's death in 1996. I think his death was like pulling the king pin out of a complex mechanism, and all the pieces fell away into a scattered heap. I know the ensuing drama between she and my father and I was something that never let her grieve her partner's loss—after over 61 years of marriage. We had the added complexity of a certain fellow named Bill Francis who was ostensibly going to help her out for room and board in return. And that was a colossal mistake that I unfortunately endorsed in the early days of the arrangement, based on what had been, to that point, a friendship. I later came to regret that, as it ended up having some wild unforeseen things happen. All of which, coupled with losing my grandfather, turned into a giant nightmare of a family meltdown.

My father made no secret about his ideas for how to commandeer their house after they were gone, and his influence was not wanted while only my grandmother remained. Yet, for a long time after that bitter summer of 1996, she and I were at odds too, which at the time was just the way things were, but on reflection, was a tragedy for me, and a great disservice to her. Not long after this Bill Francis guy was finally sent out of the house after a year and a half, I moved in, though I did not kid anyone that I would help out. I was very selfish then. I also worked a real erratic schedule in the music industry which really was not the sort that would let me be of service to someone who needed regular attention. (She did have regular care for about four years thanks to the neighbors and their extended family and church friends.) I paid bills or rent or both. But we did not have much of an emotional relationship. That had been pushed aside for years, and the woman I once went to with all my concerns just became a stodgy old roommate who passed judgment on my lifestyle and whom I avoided willfully. Really sad, and I may have to deal with that for years. There were a few instances of crossing that chasm, but they were exceptions and occurred nowhere near as often as when I was a kid and teen.

There were times when I overstepped my verbal rental agreement and got her irate at that, but I never had designs on her whole house. I just wanted my room and the studio space, and by sake of the reality of the situation, other space would be available because she could not possibly use it all. On the other hand, my father always had designs for how to make it into a split residence where she or he could live in half the place and rent out the other half. It became his project since he likes to tinker with stuff like that. But both his folks shrugged him off during their lives, and nothing really changed there. Until of course they were both gone and he would be free to do what he wanted. It happened that the peak of the housing market coincided with the few years after Virginia died. The part I don't think my father anticipated (in his earlier schemes) was that I would be living in the house when she died. I was there almost three years before she died, and continued for a few more after that under the new regime. He had always promised me that my studio would be subject to being dismantled on event of her death. That it lasted four more years was remarkable to me. He and I, after her death, had a huge blowout that ended up setting up the patterns of the next few years. The terms were agreed upon that he'd rent out a couple rooms that I would care for, and the rent rate would be just a little more than two rooms could fetch, therefore snookering me into that nominal rent that would still make me indebted to him. It served as an irritating reminder of what only five years before I had left when I stormed out of his house in two hours, taking everything that would fit into two cars.

Oh, the story is long and tedious. But suffice to say, he got ownership of it because Virginia was not able to alter her legal plans for the house before she died. She wanted me to have at least a share, and some near her said that she was talking about the entire place. She had asked me if I wanted it, and my answer deferred to her wisdom, but this conversation was had after she had a stroke and was not herself. It also happened shortly after my father realized a closet full of skeletons was about to be opened, and he was helpless to do anything about it, except to punish the curiosity that I had to relate to my mother and siblings. He had a nasty secret to keep regarding some sexual misconduct and a minor, and he knew that it would totally fuck everything up. And it did. In a preemptive strike against my curiosity, he assured me in a letter [image] that we would have hard times ahead if I followed this path of curiosity. And we did. Once he owned "my" house, he did as he wanted. His work was tasteless, inconsiderate of actual need, and illegal. I called him directly on the first two; the latter I turned over to the city because I knew there was no way to rein in his work but to call the city (who promised me anonymity but fucked up some administrative details that had exactly the opposite effect). At the end of a depressing summer of watching him enact all his lame work upon the place, I had it. I had it with life as well. So what if the city bust his balls? He had no respect for me, and I was checking out, for all I was concerned.

He never understood anything of my suicidal ideation. He never understood emotional pain moving a person to act like I was acting. Eventually, he figured out that I turned him in, and that began a process that led to my being evicted (along with Kelli and our roommate and dog). After we left, he rented the place for nine months or so, but about a year ago, it was emptied out for the last time, and I went and collected all my remaining items in a clean sweep—appliances, light fixtures, blinds, and stainless steel AC outlet cover plates! He was livid, and came to my current house to make some fuss about how I put this stuff before him, yadda yadda. Perhaps he got a clue how I felt? That property is more important than his one remaining family member?

It took me until June this year to see where it actually was leading to. I found out by a fucking Google search that my house was sold in April. At least it was far less than the nearly $560k he wanted. It looks like it went for $515k and even that is far too great a reward for his behavior from the last several years, particularly with me, but over a lifetime of manipulation and arrogance. He had no need to sell it. If all he wanted was money, he could have collected a rent check with me living there. He did that for a few years while I was there. But he had to jerk me around to make his point that I should not have contacted my mother. So he had to pull the house out from under me, undermining my stability that he and my grandfather had spent all my lifetime promising would be mine.

So back to grandmother. She perfectly well knew stuff like this would happen. Even my grandfather did. I think it is a dreadful shame how it all fell apart. Everything they worked for fell into my father's hands and has been sold off so as to benefit himself. I have furniture, a truck, some gear from various inherited money, some personal artifacts, and memories. But I have lots of pain as I realize that I never really grieved the loss of either of my grandparents. Both instances drove wedges between my father and me. There has never been any family effort to mourn properly, and now there is no family anyway. The extent of any ritualistic closing of their books of life was limited to their memorials; my grandfather's on Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetary with an 18 gun salute; and grandmother's being sort of a thrown-together affair at the church which both my father and I attended but did not have any hand in organizing. I did deliver an impromptu message of thanks that was phrased in such a way to irk my father and shake him up some in front of my grandmother's biggest fans. But that was all. After that, it was 'we now return to our regularly scheduled family meltdown.'

The only way I can emerge victorious from all this is that while the old man was able to wrangle the house and get it on the market and sell it for an unconscionable sum, I was the one who got the home. He got the stucco and wood; I got the home life which he abandoned years ago because his agenda was more important. Without the home life, a place is just a box devoid of meaning. I have no idea what he will do with $515k but he won't ever be able to piece together the family again, and it will be a long road to ever reminding me what I should remember him for other than systematically destroying my family from before I was born, and seeing to it that his agenda comes out ahead of anyone else's. At this point, from whatever scraps available to me, I try to put something back together. Kelli is an invaluable help in that regard. She is an ally in seeing that life does not devolve into an empty pursuit of materialism and power. We live modestly, but we are so in love in a way my father could only ever be jealous of, no matter how many houses he has ever held titles to at once, or how many wives and girlfriends he's screwed over.

As for Virginia, I know she'd be heartbroken to see this. This isn't what she toiled for. This isn't why she stayed married for 61 years. Not to see the family dissolve not in the midst of poverty and hardship, but at the peak of the market when the house was supposedly at its peak. All her traditional Christian upbringing and activism was not to lead to this—a house divided. No, I know in my heart she would never have signed her name to this. But I know she's out and about somehow, her spirit informing Kelli and me on how to be together, how to seek out divine guidance in bewildering times. She and my grandfather got married—an optimistic move—in 1935, in the thick of the Great Depression when cooperation was the ticket out of the hard life into something more bearable. My father happened into exactly the opposite. He came of age in the age of explosive materialism, hard men standing their ground on the world stage, and coincident with the rise of the party of greed (GOP, backwards). But I see it another way. After my father's generation has forgotten what a struggle is, and has reshaped the world in a way that trivializes the values that prior generations held, there will have to be a return to more durable values not based on exploiting each other, especially inside the family. I don't share a lot of the particular values that my grandmother held dear, though through Christianity, I know there is a wellspring there to draw from, and to formulate something based on what I now see is wrong. My father dropped the ball in this regard. He has nothing to teach me about family values because he has labored for years to undermine them to this day. The only family value he could reliably be counted to hold up is 'father knows best.' But even that is bullshit, because no father in his right mind wants the family to fall apart.

So, happy birthday, G-ma. The only present I have to give is for you to know that I want to pick up your thread and make something again, after some distractions kept me occupied. The house is gone, so we can't meet there. I did what I could. I know you understand and did what you could. But I kept the home, with your help. Some is in the garage, some in my heart, and some is between Kelli and I (and Buber, our pup who would have been a great buddy for you those last few years). Shalom.

Thursday
Jul192007

Theology Of Dentistry

The god of dentistry is quite like the Judeo-Christian god. It might be more Deuteronomistic and wrathful than the forgiving Father that Jesus spoke of, but it has a sin-redemption model that the institutional Christian church would envy. The god of dentistry that has prescribed commandments of how to live has announced the toll he will take for breaking those commandments. His prophets and priests, my dentists of old, have reiterated the contract from time to time. But I am a dental sinner who needs repentance. And hopefully a merciful savior to intervene on my behalf.

This is only half joking; many of my genuine ethical lapses have been processed and repented for and perhaps even forgiven, but when it comes to the dental god? Well, my soul is tortured. I just recently got insurance through work and went in to the dentist, heart in my throat, and took the news again that I am in some bad shape with a nasty case of gum disease. The first general dentist took a look and an Xray and just straightaway referred me to a specialist. He in turn saw me a couple days ago and only added more anxiety as he gave me a 100% prognosis for needing gum surgery. Man. I don't think I ever breathed less than in the 45 minutes I was in this specialist's office. He got me an appointment to do a full mouth deep cleaning in one session, coming up in a day or so from this posting. I had this done once before, in two sessions, and I recall it wasn't so bad, perhaps because I was numbed up some. I don't recall it being as agonizing as a regular cleaning, though the work was more intense. That was three years ago or so. I should have learned from that. Even back then—and before—I was warned that things could get to where they are now.

Ah but sinning is easy! It is amazing the sorts of excuses one can muster to avoid dentistry. Lack of insurance; lack of awareness of how cheap insurance can be; the decision that maybe a guitar, computer device, or trip to the clothing store was more important; 'I went this long before.' For many years when I was depressed, I semi-purposely allowed myself to fall into disrepair as I got more and more disillusioned and sometimes ready to just check out altogether. So, in that defeatist frame of mind, what did it matter anyway? It was sort of like these religious nutjobs that go wait on a mountain top for God to end the world, but then it doesn't happen so they have to scramble for a plan B. I moved the date back a time or two myself, and it never came. So now I have to try to get back on track, and as if a genuine sinner in the church, I know I have to repent. Funny enough, after the initial dread of gum surgery and a further possibility of losing teeth, I actually felt a bit better in just knowing the path to getting on track again. Making the fix is one thing though, but the real work is in the day to day work, and that is where I have a decision before me that only I can make.

Forgive me doctor, for I have sinned.

Wednesday
Feb162005

Goodbye Phil

My friend Phil Cole died this morning, just hours after I got an email alerting friends that he was pretty bad off with cancer and had a week or two left in him. I had a letter composed in December that I only managed to get sent off by email just last night. I don't think he got to hear it in part because of the timing but mostly that he lost coherence for the last few days anyway. His cancer was rampant, starting in his kidneys about two years ago, and slowly eating him away. The last I heard, it was brain tumors and nodes on his lungs too. He was 45. Cancer seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer. Only a few weeks ago, a friend of mine in Louisiana lost his mother at 57. Kelli too has known a few who got whisked away too early from this wretched disease.

Phil and I met in October 1997 and worked together doing sound for several years. He was rarely my direct employer. Rather we worked for Mitch Grant and his growing Special Event Audio Services company. I was one of Mitch's first associates, invited to work one month before Phil. Being pretty new to stage work and not really knowing anything about professional audio, I was always the assistant. Phil came on with a lot more experience, so I sort of became his sidekick for the next several years. The next few years, a few other engineers came to work with Mitch on an independent contractor basis. I worked with them too, and we all worked together on the big shows. Phil was always the one guy I knew I'd get along with and who I knew I'd enjoy working with (as much as I ever did in that line of work). We worked so many shows together, locally, regionally, and one time, I got sent out to Hawaii with him for a major eight-day event for IBM's international division. We worked almost anywhere, anytime.

He worked incredibly hard for Mitch's company. He even quit his lucrative senior position at Guitar Center to do it. I watched as he invested ever more steadily in his own studio and mobile recording business, and as he bought and remodeled his house (I did a little painting on it, and some studio setup), and as he just made his life what he wanted it to be, despite nearly having to forsake his bass playing and dirt bike riding to make time for all the work he had to do. When we sat at his studio or just outside in his little yard, sipping some brews, it had the feeling of a reward for a job well done. It was for him anyway. He deserved all the Coors he could suck down.

Most of our gigs tended to be challenging yet we somehow got by. We loved to complain a lot, then take more-than-generous smoke and drink breaks, then get back to it. Despite the complaining, he was totally reliable and was the guy that more bands asked for if Mitch himself was not able to do the work. His good nature and technical sense stood out among Mitch's guys, who may have had one or the other to greater or lesser extent, but Phil had it all. In this line of work, and with the way Mitch runs things, it's a lean crew doing some serious work. Rarely did we have any overwhelming force to get gigs done. It kept a few of us working steadily, and Phil always got the top gigs after Mitch. He worked like a dog sometimes to pull off weekends with a gig in Tuscon tucked between gigs in San Diego and who knows, Los Angeles. Sometimes he got calls to do international work. I never stepped up in Mitch's business because I just didn't want to work that hard, around the clock, and any day that work was dropped in our laps. But Phil took it all most of the time. I marveled but didn't try to match him.

My early experiences with Phil somehow gave me the idea he had bad luck, usually with vehicles. Once upon a time at the Catamaran resort where Rockola and numerous of "our" bands played, his wife's minivan was parked in the sloping loading dock bay, and a huge catering/bus cart rolled off the lip of the dock and smashed the front windshield to smithereens. Another time in the same cramped spaces, his own work van dragged its side along a pole that had a marking on it that said "Pole C." He looked at it, and delighted himself in saying "P Cole!" One time we were driving his van up to Las Vegas and were in severe danger of a blowout (the tire was bubbling and throbbing noticeably). We were able to stop at Baker and have a tire replaced at great expense within an hour or so. That was when auto mishaps were still a little bit funny. One time, on my birthday in 2002, Phil was driving his box van half full of stuff to Mitch's shop in Carlsbad, and he had a tire blowout that caused him to swerve and roll over on the I-5. He didn't make my birthday party because he was too shaken (but miraculously not hurt).

It was about six months later we found he had cancer. I don't know whether his "luck" was with him as he fought cancer since early 2003, but it has been nearly three years since he was diagnosed, so I'll chalk that up to a decent share of luck. He got too weak to do the real physical work but Mitch arranged for him to have work anyway, only having to mix the shows. In December 2004 there was a huge event thrown for his benefit. Rockola and some other artists who knew and loved Phil put on a special show to help defray his outlandish medical expenses that were eating into his mortgage payments and forcing him to cannibalize his studio. It was the day after Christmas, and Kelli and I were doing holiday things, so I missed out on what really was a last hurrah for him. I know they raised a good deal of money that day. But it's never enough. Grrrr.

Phil was more than a work associate. He opened up his home to me on some holidays when I would have otherwise fallen between the cracks. I was always a welcome guest at his studio to hang out, and sometimes he had the grill going with beers around, or bigger parties with lots of friends, and a keg and some jam sessions. He always had a big birthday bash in October and I was invited to those too. He asked me to assist at his studio, paint his house, and sometimes just hang out. He had some of his own contracted work that he sent me on and somehow those gigs felt differently for me. For all the things we've done, I think there might only be one picture I have of him. Of course, in my mind, there are whole home movies playing that reflect all the things we've done. The work we did was not the sort where I carried a camera around. It was often very physical, rushed, and ephemeral. Repetitive too. Most days it was just work, and not worth preserving just for that reason. After all, loading a van is loading a van, and wiring stages isn't much to get excited about.

I'm afraid that my letter didn't get to him in time. Much of it echoed what I am writing here as I tried to preserve some of those little things that made Phil more than just a work buddy. Phil gave me a level of respect and tolerance that I don't think came from many of the others I worked with at the time. Even if he just pretended to like my own music, that was more than some offered. He sometimes asked me my opinion about one thing or another I would have expected him to have an answer for. That we had occasion to talk more extensively "off the clock" set Phil apart for me. He was a validating person, in my experience. Everyone we worked with, and I mean everyone, had a soft spot for Phil, both as soundman, and as a person.

So goodbye Phil. When I hear the thunder in the heavens, I'll know it's you up there mixing up a storm!

Wednesday
Dec082004

Priority

My buddy Phil Cole is dying of cancer. He's about 14 years older than me, and we've worked together in the sound biz for about five years or so when I was doing that work all the time. It would be hard for me to name a guy who has been such a hard working guy who still manages to keep a basically cheery disposition. He's had cancer for the last two years or so. I first heard of it in early 2003. And it hasn't been getting better at all. They keep pulling chunks of it out of him, and he's on chemo. I don't really know what he has ahead of him, really, and that's sad.

The music community of which we were a part, as soundmen, is organizing a benefit to help offset his medical costs, which are spiralling upward at an ungodly rate. His family and his wife's family are both pinched way too hard trying to keep up. So the musical world is doing a charity event, which is actually open to the public. It is on December 26 at Humphrey's.

They want to have an auction of stuff too. I was thinking of putting something up. It isn't an easy call what to put up. I have some stuff that has gone unused, but damn, material items are sneaky bastards. I mean, here we are... I could help a friend by getting rid of some stuff I already don't use, but when I look at things, they all cry out for mercy, begging me to spare them. Oddly enough, the item I was thinking of getting rid of was my fretless bass. I have almost no business owning a fretless bass. My reservation is that it is really the finest guitar-type instrument I own, but soberly speaking, it is sort of a fish out of water, even though I love messing with it. I have recorded and kept all of about 24 bars of music with it in the three and a half years I've had it. Maybe I can blow out some extra snare drum or something. I have four snares. There has to be at least one that can go.

It makes me wonder, what is worth? What is worth? I mean, I could sell all my shit but it won't make Phil better. His shit is terminal and they are already taking out some stuff that is way too close to vitals. He has already had to sell a lot of stuff to defray the bills, and the mortgage he and his self-employed wife have. He's too weak to do much work at all, certainly not the very physical stuff we did for bands and events. He's had to sell off his home studio gear a few pieces at a time, so he can't even stay at home and do much recording for hire. All the basses we both own (six between us) don't do much in the face of his condition, unless it is true that music heals. Doctors want to be paid, so money is the only language they speak, and it's not like they offer refunds if their remedies aren't. For me, in the midst of all the bands and artists present there at the benefit, it's not really much for me to offer my "skills" or labor as recordist or soundman, because the place will be crawling with those sorts of people, and really, I was never anything special—just a guy who would show up if cheap work was offered. I suppose web design would be the particular skill I could auction off while still retaining my own investments in gear. Most of the stuff I have is pretty budget stuff—a Mexican Fender bass, a Korean guitar, a severely modified Fender Strat... I don't know what sort of change that sort of stuff fetches. The fretless bass is the one item that is not critical but actually has some worth because it is made in Germany (well, its a German instrument maker, but maybe they went to China too).

But for what it is worth, I did sit myself down and do something that would only ever come from me, and hopefully would help him feel a little better. I wrote him a letter. It's odd to think about it this way. We have known each other for some years, have traveled all around the region, flown to Hawaii, I've been a guest at his family parties and events, helped him in his studio, and other things. But really, all those moments have been a string of transient experiences, and never really brought together in any way. I may never write to him again, seeing how the first letter took seven years to start. I tried to make it a little irreverant, but it was sort of rough at points to actually open up to someone for the first time, despite some sense of familiarity from years of shared experience. I feel sort of bad that the time he has had his cancer has been the same time that I have been out of the music biz, and therefore, really out of the loop. I feel that I should have been able to fill in for him, or bought some of his stuff, or something. But it all comes down to money, and that is the only thing that seems to stand a remote chance to bail him out, or not. It just sucks, because I don't have the stuff pouring out of my ears, and the stuff I could do for him isn't really much in real terms, but I could hope that my letter or other such well-intentioned efforts would somehow send a cloud packing for a while, maybe give him a smile, or a new way of seeing something that previously was mundane or overlooked altogether.

Poor Phil. He's the guy who was already a lightning rod for problems. We joked when it was a matter of a hotel kitchen busser's cart falling on his minivan windshield while in a hotel loading dock. Or he had one of those exploding Firestone tires that blew out on the freeway, causing his fully laden box van to flip over on the freeway, scaring the living shit out of him, and causing him to miss my birthday party that night. That stuff is small potatoes compared to slowly having parts of your body excised out of you, and killing your cells with the same chemical cocktails that are meant to cure you. In this year of reflection about what it is to be human, or to experience humanity and all its ebbs and flows, it's sad to think that one of the best guys I ever knew in the music biz is really only a short way from death, and this at the age of 45!

I hope some of you who read this can come out to the show at Humphrey's and help him out.