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Entries in virginia (4)

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.

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.

Sunday
Dec172006

Evil Men On The March

the realtor's sign that I wrote a protest message on. The realtor's sign with my protest statement upon it for all to seeBad men steal home—
Makes life harder than it is
What more do they want?

Calsur eat my shit
Soulless absentee landlords
Thick as wicked thieve!

Assholes, pricks, landlords
Hard to discern the diff'rence
Landlords most worthless!

Suburbia's dead
Greed has met its match fine'ly
Manage this, fuckers!

Property value
Kills the family values
Family dead now!

Mike can fuck himself
Then he can count his bucks out
Get rich off mis'ry!

Broken family
Piece by piece by piece by piece
Property trumps all

I don't hate you dad
You will just die lonely, man
You stole my dear home

Sunday
Apr232006

The Flower

virginia lucas, my grandmother in 2000 or so.G-ma Virginia Lucas, 1909-2001Maybe you've heard it said that only God can make a flower, and that nothing a human could do would create the beauty of a flower, no matter how we can mastermind the use of its component parts. We could carefully dissect it and try to reassemble it but it would not be the same. And especially so, we could not create such a thing of our own minds and hands.

I could never collect back the library she had. All the books are scattered, probably doing some great good somewhere else, but nonetheless irretrievable by me. I still have a few of her Bibles—I kept three of the nine she had when she died.

I could never collect back the assorted knickknacks she had collected from the various trips she took to the Holy Land, South Pacific, Alaska, Central America, and Europe. Similarly, all the little things that dotted her shelves, walls, and cabinets are mostly gone.

I could never take back all the musical and recording gear I bought in the summer after she died, using the inheritance she passed on to me. It's been sold in large part after the economic wipeout after 9/11, and sometimes to get yet other gear which I never used like I thought I would.

I can't even really live in the house we used to live in. That decision was made by someone else now.

I can't hear her voice, despite the pages upon pages of writings of hers that I kept. In the years I lived at her house, I spent thousands of dollars on music and recording gear, and not one minute taking any of it into the room neighboring my studio and using it to record any of her stories, poems, or just a conversation. My gear and my studio time was more important than that somehow.

last easter for virginia before dying a week later. includes ed, eda, rene, and jessicaEaster Sunday 2001, the last day I saw G-ma alive. Surrounded by Rene (Eda's son), Jessica (caretaker's daughter); Eda (my step mom); and me.No, even if I had all the pieces of her life back here before me, I still could not conjure up my grandmother Virginia the way God presented her to me and the world. The first woman to lead me to God has been gone for five years today. I saw her on the floor of my neighbor's house where she spent the last several months of her life in their care. She was in peace. The room was brighter and breezier than any room at our house. The people she lived with were outspoken in their love for her, and she for them. They treated her far better than we did. My father and I were there within minutes after she died. This was the first we had seen of each other in three months after a huge blowout, and this was the first he had seen of his mother since maybe two months before that in what was a similar explosion of wills over her property and how she'd live after a fall and mild stroke. My father and I shared no words to amount to much as we both sat there and counted our respective losses and possibly contemplated how we'd wrangle with each other over the resulting property and money that would only really drive us to more madness and dysfunction. I guess we both were selfish in the wake of her death. He made it a quick task to come over and begin the chain of events which led to my expulsion from the house last summer. Within three days of her death, he came over and began to make the garage modifications like he had always said he would. His mother was not even in the ground and he was already riding roughshod over her wishes and mine, as if to cackle and laugh like a madman who can't be proven wrong.

For my part, I promptly spent the $26,000 which I got in the summer after her accounts were closed, and spent it on things I thought would maybe not make me happy, but at least be the tools of musical self expression. Now they pretty much disgust me, and are the monkeys on my back.

I never cried buckets for my grandmother. I think all that has been set aside for this time. For some, it would be an automatic reaction to do so. But not in my emotionally retarded "family" which consists of my father and me, if you can call that "family." He cried some on that day, but I don't know why. His few episodes of emotional rapture confound me. I guess I shall never really know what is in that man. He has ossified layers upon layers of emotion-restricting walls built up over him. I don't suppose I can ever say or do anything that would shatter all that defensive material. The sight of him sobbing on April 23 and the sight of him bringing power tools and lumber to the house on the 26th only causes me dissonance in my mind. I'm pretty convinced she was only a roadblock to his plans for expanding his materialistic ambitions. For years immemorial, he's told my grandparents about his plans for their house when they can't manage it anymore. And so it was that April 23, 2001 was the day when there was no further barrier to setting those plans in motion. As she laid on the floor that day, my grandmother's silence was an existential scream for me, as I sat hesitantly a few feet from my father, knowing full well this was not the time that would bring us healing, but the time that would finally remove the last person—except for me, maybe—that got in his way, and that I was no match for him. Who else but his own mother could speak with any authority to him, to tell him for the Nth time what is right, or that so-and-so is worthy of respect? To him, I'm the kid, the ignorant kid with everything to learn. He can't and won't listen to me in any way. And in many ways, he callously disregarded even what his own parents said to him about their own wishes.

But enough about him. You get the picture. For me, it was that my dear little house and studio were in peril, and ultimately succumbed to his domineering influence. And it was painful as I imagined, though I handled it differently than I imagined, primarily because I am married and couldn't be as careless as I once thought I would be when presented with such a thing. But it backfired on both sides—not only did my father "win" the house from his unfair game playing and manipulation, but I also managed to effectively lose my once-rabid interest in recording and composition, and fell into a materialistic malaise of endless gear purchases and sales and more purchases, none of which led me to better recordings of deeper ideas. Maybe it never was in me. Maybe my muse was gone. Maybe I just lost it. But blowing my inheritance was not the answer—that much has come into focus, and has been apparent for a while now. Yet, I can't take it all back and even get the $26k. This tape can't be played backwards. I can't put the flower back together, even if I had all the pieces. I guess it's this helplessness that is driving me to denounce my lesser self that is consumed in materialism. I could use a loving grandmother in my life now more than a studio full of gear. I could use someone in my life who can tell me the old stories and share the old wisdom. I could use someone in my life who could be one of God's representatives who leads me along a good path dotted with righteous actions. I could use someone who feeds my curiosity about the world.

Once upon a time, when I was learning piano (barely) back in 1993 or so, my grandmother heard me playing some exercise which I probably was just not getting. She asked me if I'd play by ear some real common and basic melodies that everyone knows at least how to hum. I could not even get some of the easiest stuff right by ear. In one of those sorts of moments which can be polarizing if taken the wrong way, she commented that maybe I just wasn't meant to be a musician. I rejected it for a while. Still, she gave me her piano later that summer after she broke her arm, and eventually allowed me to have my studio exactly opposite her bedroom wall. She didn't give up on me, but I also hid most of my recording work from her because she never would have gotten it. That is an easy estimation; she thought that Elvis was the end of music, so she never would have understood any of the stuff I did. On her side of the wall, she only heard and felt the bass notes—she never really knew in any detail what I was doing. I guess what I was doing was channeling the angst that accumulated as I sat by and watched my family fall apart. Preferring not to be hassled by either my materialistic and sarcastic father or my pious grandmother in a time when I needed to find my own way, I just sat by, accompanied by the often dark soundtracks I cooked up and committed to hard drives and tapes and disks.

In bouts of self-hatred, I often entertain the images of all my DAT tapes, CD recordings, and all my guitars, drums, and other gear all in a smashed up pile on the road out in front of my house, for all to see. In bouts of father-hatred, I envision the same thing, maybe to demonstrate in some way that I have some control over my materialism in some way that it seems he does not. Either way, whoever I profess to hate at these times, it never seems to be the greatest idea to smash all my stuff up and leave it in a heap in the street. But I don't know what to do with it. Selling it is humiliating (when you realize exactly how worthless it is and has devalued even if fairly new), but using it is maddening. I keep telling myself to try to use it for some more noble goal than to create dark soundtracks of a troubled soul. If it can record that, it can record a poet's exaltation and sense of justice, or an old person's stories, or anything else that people use this stuff for. I guess what I need to do is find things that need to be recorded, instead of forcing my will on these items when even my will is uncertain of what it wants.

So maybe I can't reconstruct the old flower and marvel at its beauty the same as if it were whole and right before me, but I've come to see how there is this new flower in my life now that brings some of the good old flower's qualities to life for me now, at a time when I seem to be better poised to appreciate them. Of course I'm talking about Kelli, who now inspires my sense of wonder in the world again, and who has a great moral compass, and who embodies some of the most timeless and desirable things that my grandmother had. Little by little, some of my own pieces come out of retreat as I stop denying myself the ability to live and love and relate to things of beauty, which of course was a hallmark of the time I spent holed up in my shack full of devices which I'd hoped would help me channel life, but don't seem to do that anymore, at least not like they used to. It's hard to want to retreat to such isolation now that I've decided that isn't where it's at anymore. It's as if I were living in a freezer for so long and have decided that I rather much like the warmth of the outside.

I like the flowers.