Category Archives: editorial

I think forgiveness more often comes from confusion than anything else

I think – at least in my own life – forgiveness is more accompanied by confusion than anything  else. Not relief, or peace, or love, or completion, but more a sense of, ‘Well, ok, what am I supposed to do with this?’

I’ll give you an example:

I had this relative that everyone in the family hated. His wife was nice, and he was mister get-rich-quick scheme. He was always shucking and jiving and coming up short because he was a sucker. He was also big into conspiracy theories. Over the years it got worse and worse to the point that no one could stand him in the family, and I suspect no one could stand him out of the family either. If his wife – who we loved – was invited to a party, he would just sit in the corner, completely ignored.

If you made the mistake of saying ‘hi,’ he’d try to talk you into paying for a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for him to start his own business, as that’s the coming thing, or something equally groan-inducing.

I grew to hate him because of the pain he caused my relative. She…I could never tell if she was unaware of what a mess he was, or if she was afraid to leave, or if she actually believed his latest rivulets of ridiculousness were actually gonna work and this time they’d make it big. I dunno. I guess I never will.

I had this recurring fantasy that one day she’d die – I just always assumed he’d outlive her as her health was not great – and then at the funeral I’d walk up to him and say, “Now that she’s gone, neither I nor the rest of the family have any reason to tolerate you. We hate you, and stay away. You are completely alone for the rest of your life.” The wording changed from time to time, but something mean like that. Events didn’t play out like that.

Over time I began to realize he was a paranoid schizophrenic, or most likely so. Undiagnosed. That’s one of those diseases that gets worse as you age if untreated, and he was too paranoid to ever go see a shrink. And he definitely got worse as he got older.

I don’t think anyone else in the family ever got that he was crazy, I think they just thought that he was despicable, and he certainly did some despicable things, so they weren’t wrong, but I’m not at all sure where the line between “Utter bastard,” and “Lunatic who really isn’t responsible for his actions” lies. I assume it’s a wandering border that snakes around a lot. I still hated him, of course. He was so easy to hate.

Then he got sick, and after a lot of rigmarole I won’t bore you with, he ended up in hospice. I called to straighten out some arrangements, and then the nurse guy said, “You wan to talk to him?” I said, “Sure,” and to this day I don’t know why. Probably just because it would have seemed mean to say, “No.” I’m plenty mean, but I don’t generally want total strangers to know it.

I ended up on the phone with him, and he was pretty deaf, so I had to talk very loudly. I asked him how he felt, and he said he was in a lot of pain, which wasn’t possible as the staff informed me they had pumped him full of oh-so-very-much dope.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked. It was a safe question because I’m 700 miles away and poor, and hence nobody ever asks me to do anything.
“It won’t be long now,” he said. In my mind’s eye I could see him staring at a big black hole that doesn’t exist somewhere between the foot of the bed and the far wall. In the background I could hear staff futzing around with tubes and wires and things.

“Ok, well, I’ll check in on you again tomorrow,” I said.

“Oh, God,” he said.

“We love you,” I lied. Straight-up lied.

“Ok, thank you.”

Not an hour later he died. I was the last person to talk to him. Last in the family, anyway.  The last thing I did was tell him that he was loved. He totally absolutely completely was not. Nobody loved him. He only knew like six people in the world, none of them could stand him by that time. I’m not some big, noble hero, I was just being polite. A polite lie for a dying man, and that’s all it was. There’s nothing noble in it.

So that hung over me for a few days, that mine was the last familiar voice he heard, and that even though I hate him, the last words from the family were nice. It was a weird, weird, weird irony. Confusing.

Time passed, and I got to thinking more about his obvious mental illnesses. Most of the rest of the family never considered the option, they just disliked him because of very good reasons. Most of them have since died.  Counting me, I think there’s only three people who even remember him. No, wait, four.

He had pissed away every dime he’d made in one lunatic scheme or another, and there was no funeral. He’d alienated everyone in 700 miles in every direction. I honestly do not know what happened to his body. Probably in a bar-coded thermos in some state-run crematorium somewhere, filed and forgotten.

His illness…well, I’m not saying he wasn’t responsible for a lot of the bad stuff he did, but his illness probably tended to push him in the direction of bad decisions. They were still decisions, mind you. I won’t go into what all he did. I got to thinking about my own mental illness, which does not drive me to make poor decisions, but it does make me pretty goddamned useless. If I’m better than him on some measure, it’s just the love and support of my dad in my early life, and my wife in the second half of my life. But I’m still pretty useless, and I still pretty much hate myself most of the time.

Awful thing to hate yourself, but I think it’s served me well. I’ve never deliberately hurt anyone, and I’ve only accidentally hurt very few. I’m worthless, so I tend to value others. In his case, well, you can’t second-guess crazy, right? I’ll never know, but I think that capacity for self-loathing wasn’t there to protect him. People like harmless, interesting, sad folks. People have always looked out for me. Even my bullies on occasion (Weirdly enough). Nobody likes the oily wheeler-dealer who’s lost money on his last 15 sure things, and wants you to fund number sixteen.

I’m digressing. He’s dead and nobody misses him, not even me. But how different from me was he? Well, a hell of a lot, honestly. Just the same, I do totally understand what it’s like to just never quite get the hang of life, how there’s some great gulf fixed between what the common people do every day without thinking about it, and the stuff that I can do, which ain’t much.  Him, too, I assume.

So he died, and I told him, “I love you.” As I’ve said, I was lying. DIdn’t love him then and I don’t love him now, but I guess I’ve forgiven him. I’m not sure if it’s because he was somebody’s baby full of hope once, and he came to a very bad end, and I’m sad over the loss. Or maybe I forgive him because I can see a disastrously failed version of myself in him, had I been so unlucky as to be unloved over the last 51 years. Or maybe it’s just because everyone connected with it is dead: His wife, his kid, the extended family. It’s all irrelevant now.

I don’t know, though the second one seems least likely.

But he’s dead, and I’m haunted by being the last to speak to him, and I’m happy I gave him a nice goodbye, assuming he was even aware of it (As I said: oh-so-very-much dope)

And I forgive him, I guess, but I’m more confused by the forgiveness than relieved by it.

And that always seems to happen to me, though this is obviously the most dramatic example.

What awful thing do you have to do to get kicked out of Paganism?

“What do you call it when you get kicked out of a religion?”
“Most commonly, ‘Excommunication,’ though that’s mostly a Christian term. It differs from religion to religion. Why?”
“I got kicked out of Wicca.”
“What?!”
“Yeah.”
“What do you have to do to get kicked out of paganism?”
“Yeah, I know, right?”
“No, I’m serious: What the hell did you do? Did you stab someone or something?”
“No, but I did argue that we should stab people.”
“Lemme stop laughing here. Ok: Please explain?”
“Well, you remember when I joined and why, right?”
“Of course.”
“Well, it turned out not to be what I expected. It was really political. You have to be a Green or Democrat to worship the earth, I guess, and they won’t shut up about it in the services. And they’re always talking about women’s rights and protesting the protestors who protest against abortion, and lesbian stuff. So many lesbians.”
“I thought that was part of the appeal?”
“I’m Bi, not lesbian.”
“Anyway…”
“Yeah, anyway, so it really was basically like my Women’s Studies class stuff, except that we sat on the floor in a circle and hummed a lot.”
“[Laughing]”
“So after a year and a half of this I was getting frustrated. I raised my hand in a meeting, right before the service, and I said ‘When do we sacrifice the goats?'”
“[Laughing really hard]”
“So they said, ‘what?’ and I said, ‘when do we sacrifice the goats? Or bunnies or whatever? I mean we’ve got the athame [sacred ceremonial knife] right there but we never slit anything’s throat with it.’ So high priestess explained that we don’t sacrifice animals, and that we’ve grown beyond the need for that because we have a fuller understanding than the pagans of old did about the importance of life and stuff. So I said, ‘so we’re not pagans?’ and she said, ‘No, we are pagans, we’re just more in tune with nature than the pagans of old.’ So then I asked if we somehow thought were were *better* than the real pagans…”
“I imagine that got some angry spluttering.”
“Yeah! So she told me to sit down, and she’d explain it all later, and I demanded that she explain it to me now, and then I said that she’s basically said that we weren’t *real* pagans, we were just playing dress-up pretend. So everyone was really mad by then.”
“I’m sure.”
“Finally I said, ‘look, if we’re pagans, and we’re not nailing seven men to seven trees on the seventh day of the seventh month in worship of Odin, then what the hell is the point?”
“[several minutes of laughing, then gasping from both of us.]”
“So I walked out and they yelled not to come back, and called the other covens to warn them about me.”
“[Laughing] You see, this is why I keep you on the payroll.”

Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show

My first real band after college was called, “Mahatma Randy’s Horror Show.” It was pretty much a disaster in every regard.

One day in 1992 or 1993 I was wandering through the Tarpon Springs Crappy Amateur Art Festival when, suddenly, a song struck me fully formed in my head. It was called, “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which, only a year or two after the end of the cold war, seemed topical and funny. I quickly abandoned the poorly-soldered windchimes and ran back to my car to write the words down before I forgot ’em.

It was a pretty good song. Well, good lyrics. Not a song yet.

That motivated me to form a band. My previous (And first) one was “Technicolor Yawn,” which was also a disaster, but for more typical college band reasons. The good thing about a band, though, was that it gives you something to do, people to bond with, and hot-and-cold running chicks. All of that appealed to me as I was bored, lonely, and going through the worst breakup of my life at the time.

I put an ad in the personals section of Creative Loafing, a weekend entertainment paper or tabloid or supplement or whatever you call it. Eventually the phone started to ring.

Now the important thing to remember here is that I am not now, nor have I ever been a musician. I’m a slightly-better-than-average singer, and that is it. There endeth my list of talents. I had no idea what this song would sound like, but I intended to put together as large a band as I could with a horn section. I was going for something like Oingo Boingo or Bad Manners or something like that. As to how to write the music, I figured I’d just hum or whistle melodies, and have the other guys jam something together. (I can’t read music. I should probably mention that)

Recruiting was easy. Super-easy. I got a drummer in no time. As anyone will tell you, drummers are the hardest thing to get. Keyboardists? Dime a dozen. Gutarists?There’s so many of them you actually have to pay to keep them away from you. Everyone goes through that “I wanna be a rock star” phase. Bassists? Well, every guitarist can be a frustrated bassist if you ask ’em nicely enough. Drums, though? Drums are hard. There aren’t a lot of drummers, given the expense and size and noise of the kits, and such as there are are always in demand. They have bands lined up waiting for them, so they’re not gonna put up with my crap.

But, nope, I got a drummer. I bought him some Mexican food and he told me about his weird love life, and I listened patiently and said some up-with-people crap of some sort, and – bang – he was in.

Thus I ended up with a nine-piece band, including a four-piece horn section. Ten piece band, if you count me, which  you probably shouldn’t do as I’m not a musician. I’m just a singer.

The first problem was how to explain the sound I was looking for to these fine folks, and that just didn’t go well. I lacked the vocabulary to explain it, so all I could do was play them songs and say, ‘like that,’ which went over worse than you’d imagine because either the couldn’t copy the style, or didn’t understand it, or simply didn’t wanna do it. They wanted to play stuff that sounded like Thelonius Monk or Skynyrd.

Now, that would actually be pretty awesome, and I’d jump at the chance nowadays, but back then I didn’t know a lucky break when I saw it.

The second most obvious problem was scheduling. Most bands are 3 or 4 or 5 people, tops. This makes scheduling easy. Show up at the garage and we’ll jam. We can take my car! With each person you add, however, it gets more and more complicated. An order of magnitude more complicated.

One of the horn players was a doctor. Initially we met at his house. I had to go to the bathroom once, and there were needles all over the place. I don’t know if he was diabetic, or a drug addict, or very sick in some way that required him to treat it at home, but he was definitely a dangerously negligent housekeeper, so we decided to meet somewhere else from then on out.

And he stopped coming.

My drummer volunteered his place, so we met there and jammed in his living room.

You know what? I’d forgotten about it until this moment, but I don’t think we initially had a bassist. I think I tried to play bass. Honestly, my memories are fuzzy, but I know I took a turn at it. I couldn’t do it (Because I’m not a musician) but everyone liked my voice, so we kept meeting.

Well, I say we kept meeting, but the horn section evaporated quickly. Horn players get excited about playing with other horn players because they never get to. There just aren’t many bands with a horn section, though a lot used to have a sax or (Less commonly) a trumpet. Those guys were invariably the first ones to get kicked off the bus, so to speak, when the money doesn’t roll in. And the money never rolls in. So once we were down to just one horn guy, what point was there? He was more interested in playing with the others than with us, now we were just another band, so…gone.

The thing is, I really only had one song. I mean, I had a bunch of songs left over from my previous band, but never recorded any, so I didn’t have anything I could convey to these guys, so there was really just “My Baby’s the Last of the Communists,” which I wanted to be short and punchy and funny, but they were thinking long, serious, dramatic rock ballad. I can’t recall if I ever played any of ’em any They Might Be Giants, but I imagine if I did they probably told me to go straight to hell.

Our drummer had issues. He’d told over dinner one time that he’d been married up until recently. Then he was driving home from work one night and saw this hooker. Then he took the hooker home and threw his wife out, and now the hooker was his girlfriend.

Drummers, right? Amiright?

What can you say to that? “Gee, that’s keen.” I didn’t want to ask any questions because honestly no answer would be a good one. I mean, was she still hooking? Is it possible that I misunderstood her and she just made those hook rugs that were popular in the early ’80s? He never actually said hooker, exactly. Maybe I misunderstood? And he’s a drummer…I mean, I had to keep him, right? And we were practicing in his house. I just resigned myself to avoiding touching anything in his house, and compulsively washing my hands.

Since I wasn’t a bassist (And I can’t remember if we had one before me or not), Tom, the guitarist (And the only guy who’s name I can remember) brought in a friend of his. They’d played together in a band in the past. Power trio. On the surface this seemed like a good idea, as he was a really good bassist, and Tom was a really good guitarist. As one might imagine of a prostitution-enthusiast, our drummer had good rhythm. So: Power trio + me as singer.  I could work with that.

But by this point we still didn’t have any music written out, and the bassist flat out didn’t like my songs, so they took to playing their originals from back in the day. And as I didn’t know their songs, the bassist took to singing them.

I’m gonna be honest: He probably had a better voice than me. So in essence I’d gotten their old band back together.

Nowadays, this wouldn’t present a problem. A decade ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Twenty years ago it wouldn’t have presented a problem. Right then, though…well, nowadays I can talk anyone into anything by charm, bluster, or some humorous combination of thereof. Back then, though, I was in my mid-20s, and I just lacked the confidence – no, wrong word – arrogance to step in and force these guys to do my will. I didn’t even know how to explain my will, honestly.

It went downhill from there. The hooker had a serious conversation with her boyfriend about taking over “Some” of the singing duties, by which she meant all. Even then, I would have said, ‘yeah, sure, you can do harmonies and backing vocals and I’ll give you one song to a set,’ but, well, hooker. I honestly didn’t want her around.

The only thing that kept me from being forced out was that the Bassist didn’t want her singing, which was lucky as I didn’t have to get into it with the drummer. As a result she just became the worst cliche of local-band-girlfriend, hanging around all the time, banging a damn tambourine at random intervals and…well, to her credit, she didn’t warble much. Generally local-band-girlfriends who want to be in the band just spontaneously sing along.

The downside, of course, was that I was basically the second vocalist in my own band, and tended to be ignored at my own practices. I *did* manage to spruce up a song that Tom had played with an earlier band. It was called “Spot.” We recorded a demo of it. Well, half a demo. The drummer kept spontaneously stopping after the bridge. We could never explain to him that wasn’t the end of the song.

I don’t know where the demo went, but years later I recorded a version of it with another band, “Mahatma Randy and the Randy Mahatmas.” You can listen to it here.  It’s not bad.

The bassist couldn’t make it to practice one day, so I decided to stage a reverse-coup. I brought Dave Teach along to play bass. That would shift things in my direction somewhat. When we got to my drummer’s house, however, he wasn’t there. He’d forgotten. Tom was there, as were Dave and I, but the drummer didn’t show.

We plugged in our instruments on his front porch and jammed there for a bit. I’d like to say we played really loudly until the neighbors came out and drove us off, but we didn’t. We intended to, mind you but, again, I was going through the worst breakup of my life at the time, and just lacked the needed arrogance to front a band, much less that needed for a good pranking.

So we just noodled around for a few minutes, and then Tom left and then Dave and I thought, “This is stupid,” (Given that there was only a bass there now), so we left too. I wanna say Tom was kind of souring on the drummer by this point.

Later on I called up and asked the drummer where he’d been. He’d spaced on the whole thing. I told him, “It’s ok, we plugged in and practiced on your yard for a while, so it worked out fine.” He got upset at that. “You did what? That’s not cool at all.”
“It’s ok, the neighbors only complained a few times,” I lied.
“What?”
“Look, it’s ok, we were gone long before the cops got there.”
“Cops?” He got weirdly quietly upset over the phone. By this point the silent spaces between his words were almost audibly announcing ‘crazy-crazy-crazy.’

He started in on wanting his girlfriend to sing, and at that moment I just gave up. “You know what? That’s a good idea. We could use a female vocalist to compliment my lack of vocals. I think that’d be a good sound.” He didn’t get it. He didn’t even notice it.

“Ok, well, I’ll see you next week,” I said, with no intention of ever going there again, and I never called him back. Never heard from Tom again, either, which is the real shame of the whole thing, as he was really good.

Ah well.

What brings all this up is that I’ve been converting old video and audio tapes to digital, and hear the one practice we recorded, which consisted of, basically, me sitting in the corner while my band ignored me and played their own stuff.

Good times. Good times.

Why I named my son Beyowulf

Twenty years ago today, (as of 11:11 AM), my wife and I had our first and only kid. he was a couple weeks past due, so we had to go in and get him. For various reasons, we opted for a C-section. “Grande!” A nurse said during the operation.  He was a big kid. I don’t remember how big, cuz I’m bad with numbers, but pretty big. Ten pounds? That sounds right. The doctor’s first comment was, “It’s a linebacker!”   We were very happy.

My wife got an infection, so they decided to make us stay overnight an extra night  in the maternity wing, and then he crashed. SIDS. Fortunately we were in the hospital, and they caught it, but if my wife hadn’t gotten sick, if they’d let us go home, he would have died.

They rushed us by ambulance to All Childrens in St. Pete, and he spent a week in the NICU while we stayed in the Ronald  McDonald House a block away (seriously: give them money. They do great things)

For various reasons, only one of us was allowed in the NICU at a time, so the wife and I took shifts. I talked to him constantly, sang him The Might Be Giants songs, and told him how strong he was and how much fun he’d have if he’d just get well and come home with us. I held his tiny little hand and prayed pretty much every moment I wasn’t talking or singing. My folks came down to see him in his little Lucite crib with all the IVs sticking in him and monitors attached to him and so forth. The four of us looked at him for a couple minutes and cried, then the nurses told us that they’d already looked the other way as long as they could, and three of us would have to leave. I took my folks out.
“I don’t see why we had to leave,” one of them said, “that other kid had six people visiting.”
“that other kid is dying,” I said. “that’s the family saying goodbye.”
“Oh,” the folks said, chagrined. They knew how bad off we were, they didn’t realize how bad off everyone else in there was.

All the other kids died. All of them. Mine lived. I attribute that to God, but you can say it was just dumb luck if you like. I won’t argue with you. This isn’t a sermon.

What this is, I guess, is me ruminating on that time. I’d like to say it was a fairly tale after that, but in fact it’s been a pretty hard couple of decades for all concerned. Additional medical conditions, awful, awful, awful schools that have no idea how to work with special needs kids, poverty, my own ineptitude as a parent, the list goes on and on. It really wasn’t until a little over three years ago, maybe four,  when it finally began to settle down, and feel like the train might actually stay on the track.

Through it all, though, my kid has been a treasure. He is the reason I am alive, the reason I keep on going. With all the odds repeatedly stacked against him, he’s kept fighting and, well, I suppose nothing’s going to change there. The fighting continues. Some people get a normal life, others have to claw and scrape for it. But the important thing is that we’re all still here, the three of us, we all still love each other, which is better than most people in our predicaments.

I could brag about that, I suppose, but I’m humble. I’m fully aware and ashamed of how outclassed I am. if I was twice the man I am, I wouldn’t be a quarter of what my father was, and it pains me that I haven’t been able to be nearly as good a dad to my son as he was to me. He was superhuman, that one. And my son is superhuman, too. All the times he’s faced death and made it back off…well, a hero is someone who keeps on fighting, right? someone who doesn’t give up, and just keeps slugging away when the odds are frankly abysmal?

There’s a moral dimension to heroism, too: like my dad before me, my son has always done the right thing, if he’s been aware of what it is. He is that rare person for whom there is no difference between what he should do, and what he does. He’s moral, he’s smart, he’s ethical, and he’s braver than anyone I’ve ever met in that there are times when he’s abjectly terrified, but he just keeps on going, fighting, striving, winning less often than he loses; but then “victory” isn’t the measure of heroism. A willingness to risk defeat is. I could see all that in his eyes the very first instant after his birth. He was born with them open expression was like someone desperately trying to make sense of the situation, and figuring out what to do next.

(am I reading too much in to that instant? Of course I am. I was overwhelmed then, and now. Just the same…it’s real to me, and it feels real to my wife and him.)

If those qualities aren’t the universal hallmarks of heroism, well, they should be. There is no one in this world that I am prouder of, no one I love more, no one I know who cares more, who feels more, who tries harder. despite all he’s had to fight against, he was, is, and evermore shall be the bravest, most noble person I know.

There’s a reason I named him Beyowulf.

Why am I an Asshole to Amateur Writers on Amazon? (Part 1)

Here’s an online-social situation where I’m repeatedly an asshole, to my shame.
 
A few years ago, some guy and I got to talking online. I don’t remember how we met. He was kind of acerbic, but we got to talking about old-timey pulp SF. He said he’d written a book of short stories in that style and genre, and as I needed to kill some time in the hospital, I said ‘why not?’
 
The deal was he’d review one of my books and I’d review one of his. We’d give each other reviews on Amazon. “But don’t give a bad review if you don’t like it,” he said, “That’s like the biggest dick move you can do.” I agreed. (I personally don’t tell people to not give me bad reviews. I don’t *want* them, obviously, but it means someone read my book, and that’s worth more to me)
 
Well, his book sucked. I mean it sucked really bad. Grammatically and technically and spelling-wise, it was fine, which is a nice change of pace for armature kindle books (And one that I, myself, can not claim), but it was a terrible, terrible book.
 
Just a quick example of the level of terribleness I’m talking about here: It’s a collection of short stories, right? Ok, at least one of the stories was a fragment of a story he’d abandoned, one was more-or-less Star Trek fanfic, two were setups he’d invented for RPG games, and there’s two lengthy appendices, one of which is just how he’d reconcile the Marvel and DC timelines into one big sprawling universe if it were up to him.
 
I decided not to give it an Amazon review at all. If you can’t say something nice…
 
Meanwhile, he read my book, “The Undead at War (And Other Stories)” and he went off on me about the story, “The Cetian Sky.”
 
Quick overview: A bunch of American Southern refugees settle on the planet Gagarin, in the Tau Ceti solar system. There’s others, too. Mostly Chinese and Russians, but the overwhelming majority are rednecks. They are desperately homesick and there’s a wave of suicides. The main character (Who’s black and British) decides they need *something* from home to focus on, and ultimately she decides on the rebel flag.
 
Now, I gotta point out that this is a pretty controversial decision. A good number of people on Gagarin oppose it, including one of my biggest and most important recurring characters. He greats it as vile, is disgusted by the protagonist, stomps out, and never has anything to do with her ever again. In essence she got bitch-slapped by Moses. She’s very broken up. So it’s not a yee-haw oooh-doggie dukes-of-hazzard the-south-shall-rise-again kind of thing. It’s more about the cultural baggage people take along with them. The solution is morally ambiguous at best, though it does seem to work somewhat, and I don’t *tell* people how to feel about it.
 
I should also point out that this was in 2012 before the present kerfluffle over the flag flared up. I probably wouldn’t have written it, or written it that way if was 2018. Just the same….
 
Well, this other guy just went batshit over my story. He called me a racist, a scum-of-the-earth type, a pile of shit, and you name it. I tried to explain and he wouldn’t listen. He also couldn’t understand pretty simple things like how high the tides are on Gagarin (VERY). He gave me an overview of the book story-by-story, but he just obsessed over that one thing. This was all by email, BTW.
 
I gave him a needlessly polite item-by-item review, and he admitted that most of the stuff I said was true, but he wasn’t going to bother doing anything about it. Fair enough. His book, whatever.
 
Good to his word, he gave me a one-line review that was something like “This is an OK sci-fi book with some good dialog.”
 
I just fumed and fumed and fumed and finally I gave him a shitty one-star review. That was a complete asshole thing to do, even if it was accurate. I was also jealous, as he had like 7 books and I had 2, and his seemed to have a lot of good reviews, and mine had basically none.
 
Anyway, It sat there for a couple weeks before he spotted it, then he correctly said that he thought it was me and that I had it in for him. He couldn’t prove it though, as I don’t use my real name. (Actually, he could have easily proved it. It’s not hard to figure.) Eventually, feeling guilty, I took it down.
 
A few months ago I looked him up out of morbid curiosity. He’s got 25 books now. I’ve got seven. This time out I noticed that only maybe half of his books have reviews. I read them. Most of ’em were “This is a great book! This person is a great writer! They have talent! Read this book and tell your friends!” or “Tell your friends to read this book! He has talent and is a great writer and talented! Book is great!” or “Read this great book, which is talented and great and great writer! Tell your friends to read it!” Basically the same 5 or 6 keywords over and over in different combinations. That’s the universal Amazon sign that you begged your aunts and uncles to write reviews, and gave ’em a template. Most of the real reviews were mediocre-to-bad.
 
Probably ten years ago a different guy contacted me and asked me to review his book on the website I was editing at the time. I said, ‘sure,’ and honestly the premise was pretty unique and good – an interstellar antiques appraiser, who has adventures while running from star to star appraising things. Then it just sort of fell apart in the last act. It became some kind of largely-incomprehensible political allegory. I *think* it was how socialism is bad, but I honestly never knew. Then everything is resolved in one page, and it’s done.
 
I wrote him and said that I honestly didn’t think I could give him a good review, and I didn’t want to publicly give him a bad one. I would be happy to give him a detailed critique, however, to point out where it had problems and several ways that might help fix it.
 
He gave me a hurt little, ‘no,’ and disappeared…and I got mad at him.
 
Because I’m an asshole. This guy wanted to be a writer, he probably hung a lot of his self-image on the idea, wrote a book, timidly asked me to read it, and then I told him ‘it stinks,’ and then *I* got mad at *him?* What the frack kind of sense does that make?
 
I had it in my head that he’d eaten up my time and refused my sage wisdom and blah blah blah when I was trying to be nice. (or was I? Or was I just trying to drive home that I’m better than him? I don’t know.) I probably wrecked the poor guy’s life, or at least his self-image, and yet I stayed mad at him for *years.* It’s completely irrational.
 
So I’m an asshole. It only applies to amateur Amazon books like the ones I write, though. Never people with other ways of getting their stories out there. Never online stuff. Never vanity press. Never actual people in the meat-world handing stuff out. Just Amazon.
 
I don’t know why this is, but I’ll speculate about it in my next post. This one is already too long.

I actually don’t read very much

A friend of mine was talking about people who don’t own TVs and won’t shut up about it. They’re just pretentious. He said the same is true of pretentious readers, who brag about all the great stuff, but really “They’re just reading Latin ass-masters,” to keep their Pretentious dues up to date. (“Latin Ass Master” being the greatest quote Iv’e heard this month, and I’m totally stealing it)

Anyway, this has got me wondering if I’m pretentious or not w/r/t reading.  I mean, I read Dante’s Inferno, but I didn’t understand a word of it. I’m more likely to blurt out “I read it” than “I didn’t understand it.” I will reluctantly admit that if questioned, though.

I read Gulliver’s Travels, which you can’t brag about because everyone thinks it’s a children’s book, but (A) it’s not and (B ) it’s a fucking HARD read! It’s 300 years old. It’s not as tough as reading Shakespeare, but it’s much harder than reading modern English. (If you point out in comments that Shakespeare is Modern English, then fuck you, you, sir, are the problem, not the solution. Also, it’s now considered ‘Early Modern English.’) I also read “Tale of a Tub,” which Swift thought his greatest book, and which was widely regarded as his funniest.

Comedy doesn’t age well.

It took me about three years to plow through that book, and while I got about a third of it (It’s an allegory about denominationalism in Christianity) I couldn’t quote a single thing from it from memory, and I don’t think I laughed once. (Conversely, I did laugh quite a bit at Gulliver during the Laputa adventure). Any discussion of “Tub” generally starts with me freely admitting I didn’t understand it, and making a joke out of the situation. I’m less likely to do that with Dante, which I understood less of. So basically I’ll volunteer that I’m an idiot on something I *kinda* got, but will only admit I didn’t get the other thing when I’m cornered and have no escape. Seems reversed from the norm, but probably still pretentious.

I read Caesar’s Gallic Wars mostly just to say I did it. (Years later I read it to Bey during homeschooling for history. He liked it better than I did, though. It is pretty fascinating, it just did’t pop my cork)

Everyone assumes that I’m this amazingly well-read guy, but if you made a stack of all the Classical Latin Ass-Masters that I’ve read, and the Star Trek novels I’ve read, I guarantee you the Trek pile is higher. And I don’t even *like* Star Trek.

Thing is, I don’t even read all that much. I mean, I used to read a lot more than I do. When I was a kid, if I was good for a week, my reward was a Hardy Boy’s Mystery (“The Case of the Caper about the Capers in the Case”), which I’d wolf down in a day. There were a billion of those, so it was an easy way for my mom to buy my loyalty.

And I did used to read much more, but never what you’d call “A lot.” And it was generally pretty lowbrow. Whatever the school library had in Science Fiction (Generally from the 50s) or Space stuff (Generally from the 60s). In college I’d raid the flea markets and bookshops for used stuff, but again mostly old SF. I got in the habit of keeping  a book in my car to read when I was unpredictably stuck somewhere doing something – Jiffy-Lube, Doctor’s office, whatever – and had a half hour to kill, and I’d usually have another one or two in my room. So I might have 2 or 3 books going at a time, but that’s nothing special.

I always preferred Short Stories to novels. I’m Shallow. Short attention span. If you make a stack of all the SF I’ve read in my life and placed it next to the stack of ‘straight’ fiction – that is, stuff without rayguns and aliens and space ships (or at least submarines) – the trashy SF stack would tower above the ‘real’ fiction stack like Trump’s ego towers over the Burj Dubai.

Of course that cheap joke implies I’ve read a lot more than I have. It’d be more like a two-story house compared to a standard wheeled garbage can.

I’d have love affairs with some author. Iike I plowed through everything by Kurt Vonnegutt in one summer, and hence can not tell his books apart (They overlap a lot). Same with Philip K. Dick. (They overlap less, but he repeats himself a lot)

Thing is, after college I read a lot less, and then when I started writing my own stuff (12 years ago) I read less still (“Why listen to music when you can play it?”) and when my eyes started going REALLY nearsighted, I read even less still. And honestly, I don’t even write all that much anymore. 1/2 a book in three years? Unimpressive.

So am I a poser, or what?  I totally do judge people who read Trek novels. Including myself. A standard Randy joke is to make fun of SF geeks who’ve never read any SF apart from tie-in novels to Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, and anything else with “Star” In the title. (BattleSTAR Galactica?)

(Actually, the 70s/80s Galactica novels were pretty good. They weren’t much like the show at all. We should talk about that some time. And the SW novels from about 1990 on tried to maintain an internal continuity. Star Trek Novels have always been bullshit.)
And I regularly make fun of SF authors I don’t like. For instance, the grandmasters of the Genre are Asimov (“Brilliant technical writer for nonfiction, but somehow his fiction was always dry and passionless”) Arthur C. Clarke (“Never quite wrapped his brain about the need for a plot in his books. They’re all just a bunch of stuff that happens, then stops happening, but there’s no *story*”) and Robert Heinlein (“A self-obsessed creepy old swinger and *LITERAL* motherfucker”)
You could argue this is pretension on my part, or taste. In either case I’m fairly unrepentant about it. There’s stuff I can’t understand well (Highfalutin’ classics of centuries gone by) and stuff that I’m totally at home in (Science Fiction). I won’t mock stuff I don’t understand, but I’ll completely tear into stuff I do.
The only case where I consider that a problem is when I’m reading amateur work. I really am very good at what I do (In all modesty), and so there’s a tendency for me to be a little too rough with people who are just starting out. I had this problem early on when I was editing stuff for people, but I stopped, but I have to keep putting effort into *NOT* doing it. Also, I don’t edit stuff for people anymore.

I guess I am pretentious, slightly, as I take no efforts to correct people’s misapprehensions about me, but then again I don’t brag much, if at all (It conflicts with my fundamental self-loathing), so, hey, you decide.

I ruin movies by making them better…in your mind!

I tend to ruin movies by making them better.

See, I’m one of those annoying people who, for entirely selfish reasons, tries to get his friends to watch movies I’ve already seen. The reasons? Mostly so I can have someone to talk about it with, and of course, validation. (“Yes, Randy, that was a good film that I would not have seen were it not due to your incessant nagging. You have good taste in film, and hence are a good person, and you can stop hating yourself now.”) I have a lot of issues on that front.

Anyway, the problem is that I’m a pretty shallow man and hence have pretty narrow tastes. Mostly I just watch Science Fiction films. Current ones, old ones, classics, sclock-fests, I don’t really care. I also like anything by the Coen brothers, up to and including that bootleg of a very drunk Ethan puking his guts out in a toilet, while his sibling is laughing so hard that he can barely keep the shot in frame. (“[Rowlf] For God’s sake, Joel, why aren’t you helping me? [Rowlf]) I also claim to like everything by Terry Gilliam, but I’m lying about that. I really only like three of his films. Some war movies are cool. I mostly pretend they’re happening in space, anyway. Theoretically I like any western that’s more than two hours long, but watching a marathon of Terrence Hill films a couple years ago has made me question that. Oh, right, and I used to like some foreign art films up until I turned 40 and suddenly started finding them all disturbing.

So, really, not a lot of depth there, if I’m honest. Which I just was.

Bottom line: Nobody is interested in the movies I’m interested in, nor have they ever been, nor should they be. Yes, everyone will go to see Star Wars IX: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, but everyone was going to see that anyway, right? I’m grateful to have something to talk to them about, but it’s completely lacking in the ‘validation’ thing I mentioned above. It’s not like I talked them into seeing Colosus: the Forbin Project, or The Andromeda Strain (Both of which are super-rad and bitchin’ by the way). Do you know how hard I had to work to get anyone to watch Blade Runner in the decade between its release and the time it spontaneously became popular? And now everyone thinks it’s the 2nd best SF film of all time, and half the people reading this were born after 1992, so you’ve never known a world in which it was just me and Ridley Scott saying, “No, honestly, it doesn’t suck! And it’s pretty!” And Ridley, honestly, didn’t seem that interested after “Legend” also bombed. (That one totally deserved it. It sucks)

Since nobody likes what I like, I have to kind of oversell it in order to pique their interest. I’m sort of bad at this, in that I tend to be honest. “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is, unquestionably, the most original and important thing to happen to the vampire mythos in 50 years. However all that important stuff is in the last five minutes, and you also have to suffer through a pre-acting-lessons Bruce Campbell, which, as you know is painful, but here’s a list of concepts that, while poorly executed through the rest of the movie, are still sort of interested. And again: the last five minutes are the absolute best thing in the entire history of best things themselves!”

Needless to say, my batting average is pretty low.

Which brings me to the way I ruin movies for everyone.

See, I grew up in a semi-abandoned citrus grove that only had three other widely-spaced houses, and the occasional biker gang. Oh, and rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends to play with. My dad was a dad, and hence mostly interested in sports, and relaxing after a hard week at work. Movies were low on his priority list. My mom…wow. My mom worked as a ticket girl in the box office of a movie theater in the ‘50s, but never bothered to go in and watch any of the movies. In 1977 the last film she’d seen in a theater was “The Sound of Music.” That movie was two years older than I am, and I’m half-convinced that she only went to see it because she used to work for the Von Trapp family. (It’s true! She did!) There was absolutely no chance on selling her on seeing anything, ever.

I had a shot with my dad, though. The problem there was that his attention span for things he wasn’t already interested in – like football – was fairly short. It was even shorter when football was actually on TV while I was making my pitch. This meant I had a very narrow window of opportunity to make my sale. I’d wait for the extended commercial break between quarters, and I only had 15 minutes. Less if he needed to use the can.

Basically I’d stand directly in front of him, and run through the whole plot of the movie at lightning pace. I’d jump around to give an impression of any cool action scenes. I’d deliver dialog in different voices so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who was speaking – because, remember, I didn’t have time, and he was only half-paying attention. I would quote any cool dialog I could remember, and other dialog I couldn’t quite remember verbatim I’d punch up on the fly. Sometimes I’d hum or whistle theme music. I would describe in glorious detail any cool visual scenes, and then, hopefully, I’d get to the conclusion before “…and we’re back. It’s the fourth quarter, and the Bucs are down 21 points against the Dolphins. For the third time in three seasons.”

I never had much luck with my dad, but I got really good at my weird little presentations. Being constitutionally incapable of selfconsciousness, I started doing them at school. I had a better memory in those days, so I could just launch into one whenever the opportunity arose. These were always extemperaneous, always tailered to whatever the person I was talking to would find cool. Spoilers? Pfeh. Here’s the truth: most people won’t watch movies if they don’t already know how they’re going to end. Audiences are lazy. Particularly with old films, and remember, there wasn’t much Science Fiction in theaters in those days, so much of the time I was just trying to get people to watch, “It: The Terror from Beyond Space,” or “Fantastic Voyage,” or acting out why people shouldn’t watch, “Creation of the Humanoids.” Yeah, that’s right, I could use my skills to plug or kill a movie. I’m just that good.

It got so people would ask me to explain a movie just becaue they wanted to watch my floorshow. My pitch for “Outland” was referred to by a teacher as, “A one man show stage version of High Noon.” Which is pretty apt, really. I did this in college, I did this after college, heck, I still do it now. It’s become reflex. As society’s attention span dropped ever-lower, I got more effective.

Which brings us to the part where I ruin movies:

At some point, people started saying stuff like, “Yeah, ‘Brazil’ was pretty good and all, but I liked your report on it better than watching the movie itself.” Or, “Honestly I think the death scene in ‘The 9th Configuration’ was better the way you did it, then in the film.” or “Your rendition of ‘Forbidden Planet’ didn’t really prepare me for how corny and stiff the dialog in the movie was.”

Eventually, “I liked the Randy version better,” became a common complaint.

Why?

“Well, you get so excited about them, and you’re so energetic, and you emphasize stuff they don’t and downplay stuff they emphasize, and some of your mis-remembered dialog is cooler than theirs, and you leave out the scenes that don’t work. I end up with a picture of the movie in my head, I go in expecting that and I get…just a movie. Not The Randy Version of the movie, which is more fun.”

“And shorter?”

“Oh, yeah, way the hell shorter. I really don’t have the attention span for a three-hour movie.”

I miss John Bennett

I just got to thinking about how I miss my friend John Bennett. I haven’t thought about him in years, but he popped into my head on the way back from my kid’s school, and, dang, I miss hanging out with him.

John and I carpooled together when we were in high school. He was a somewhat-off, more-than-passingly shy guy who compensated with a sense of humor that I can only describe as random.

Example: One time we’d broken into an old building with lots of very old paint that was flaking.

John: I think this is lead paint.
Me: Probably.
John: Don’t eat the paint.
Me: [Laughing] Thank you for reminding me, John.
John: Don’t eat it!
Me: I won’t eat the paint.
John: Good. Because you shouldn’t.
Me: I wonder why this place was abandoned.
John: Maybe they all ate the paint and died.
[Time passed]
Me: Ah, crap! Back up, back up, back up! We need to find another way!
John: Did you eat the paint?
Me: No, the hallway’s full of snakes! Run!
John: [Running, screaming] As bad as this is, it would be worse if you ate the paint!

If that makes him sound aspergery or really OCD, it wasn’t. He was struggling to keep a straight face every time he said it.

Though incredibly low key, he was always a hoot. We’d be at his house, and he’d be making me listen to backmasked messages on Mylon LaFevre albums (Mylon was a Christian musician) and then he’d say, “Let’s go make bombs!” Being of an engineering mindset, he was really good at bombs. Being of a Floridian mindset, I as entirely in favor of this. Then, we’d sneak out into the well-known makeout spot for the high-school kids in the woods (It goes without saying that as a couple geeky Juniors, neither of us could get any chicks) and set the bombs off (Harmlessly). This, of course, scared the crap out of the people, and there’d be screams, and half the cars would go screeching off into the night, and occasionally a whole bunch of the guys would see us lurking and chase after us while we hauled ass back to John’s car. The time he looked over his shoulder while running, then slammed into a tree is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.

We got back to the car, and he was more concerned about spiders than his bleeding wounds. Terrified of spiders.

His nickname was “Evil Genius,” which he chose for himself. Uhm, we’d get on the CB to see if any truckers were Catholics who could help us with our latin homework (nope). We’d sit on his hobie cat on the trailer on the back of his car while a friend would drive us around the Dunedin causeway, which sounded hilarious, but was utterly horrifying. Uhm…oh, he joined the Navigators, a Christian Youth Group, mostly in order to meet chicks. Eventually he realized that wasn’t gonna happen, hence their unfortunate group nickname, “The Never-daters.” One day in frustration, he asked for a garbage bag, then we packed up all their snacks in the bag and left. (We shared them with our friends and total strangers for the rest of the night.) We’d drive up to Newberry and go poking around in the caves.

John: Hey, watch what happens if I turn out the light
Me: DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT, JOHN!

He introduced me to the concept of comedy albums (Bob & Doug MacKenzie), and I remember us seeing A Fish Called Wanda together for the first time while visiting him in Gainsville. It about killed both of us

Another fun moment! We were hiking across the unused, shoreward part of Honeymoon island once, through the tall grass, on our way to the woods, to set off bombs. This was broad daylight. I’d never done it before, but past experience had taught John that being on an island well away from the beach gave us a LOT more time to get away before the cops showed.

One time we went out to the woods on Honeymoon Island, which is where he used to test out some of his homemade explosives. Walking through the tall grass, and I hear rustling.
Me: “You hear noises?”
John: “Yeah.”
Me: “Rats? Snakes? Rats and snakes?”
Kpjm: “No. We don’t want to step on them, though. Here, I’ll clear ’em out.”

He lit an M-80, then chucked it randomly. It exploded. Suddenly, at *LEAST* a half dozen couples of elderly gay men hopped up out of the grass and came running out of the woods, either naked, or in their underwear, or speedos, looking horrified. He threw another M-80 high enough that it exploded in the air. The elderly homosexuals kept running. I said at least six couples, but it was probably more.

“Just in case there’s any stragglers,” he said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “So I’m imagining the first time you came out here, you didn’t know this was a place where gay coots go for anonymous gay coot sex?”
“It was a pretty awkward discovery,” he admitted.

I should mention John was wearing a pith helmet at the time. Whenever we went out in the woods or to the beach or the islands or climbing through an abandoned building, or sometimes even just swimming, he always wore a pith helmet. If you asked him why, he’d mumble something about monkeys.

We went to different colleges and saw less of each other after that, but it was always a hoot. The last time I saw him was his wedding. This was before I’d met my wife, and I was recuperating from a bad breakup, so I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. I asked a friend of mine who was a model to come along as my plus-one. Since we’d known each other for years, and had an easy back-and-forth, and a bunch of jokes only we knew, everyone assumed we were together. Every time she got up to go to the bathroom, the guys at the table (Total strangers) would compliment me on her.

“Oh my God, man, she’s gorgeous!”
Yeah, she is.
“You’re lucky to have a woman like that.”
I know. Her and her live-in boyfriend were going to go camping this weekend, but there was a last-minute change in their schedule, so…
“How did an average-looking guy like you get a girl like her?”
She’s not actually mine. I’m just borrowing her for the evening.
“Seriously, dude, how did you get a girl like that?”
I called her boyfriend, and I said, ‘hey, Bob, I need someone to go to a wedding with me, and Heather’s busy. Can I borrow your girlfriend?
[One of the girls at the table] “I think it’s the hair.”
Oh, for God’s sa—Yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s the hair. Chicks dig the hair. [My current profile picture is from around then. I did have gobs of pretty good hair]
“See?”
Grumble grumble grumble. Then she’d come back.
“What did I miss?”
Everyone was talking about how much they like your dress.
“Oh, thank you!”

This lengthy digression is because evidently this is the reason I never saw John again. His wife was….uhm….not gorgeous. Not ugly or anything by any means. She just wasn’t a model, and all the other girls were basically normal-girl-shaped. By bringing a ringer, I’d inadvertently upstaged the bride at her own wedding, which was a terrible thing to do, and I had no idea that was going to happen. I later found out she was very upset. They never came back from their honeymoon, they started it here, went to Cancun or Fiji or Newark or some exotic place like that, and then ended it in Texas, their new home.

And that was that.

Probably going on 30 years ago. hadn’t thought about it in years, but now that I have, dang, I really miss my friend John.

An Ultimatum on Ultimatums

I’m gonna make an ultimatum about ultimatums:

For the last two years or so now, we’ve all been getting posts from people saying “I love Trump, and if you disagree with me, you may as well just block me now,” or “I love Hillary, and block me now if you don’t agree,” or Bernie or whomever. I don’t like any of those people, but you know what I like less?

Being told that if I don’t measure up to someone’s standards of intellectual purity, I’m not worth knowing. I really hate that.

Firstly: It’s insulting. Not to brag, but I’m actually a really good guy. I’ve done a lot of really good things that have helped a lot of people in my life. I don’t expect or want any praise for that. It is clearly something that you don’t care about, however, if you want to ditch me because I don’t love/hate Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Whomever in the way you do. I’m also charming, funny, smart, and creative. I’ve written six full-length books, which I’m told are quite good. Presumably that means nothing to you, though, because we disagree on some random issue, like, say, abortion or gay marriage or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff act. In other words, in your eyes, *none* of my good or interesting qualities matter, *ONLY* the way I vote. If I don’t goosestep along with your liberal or conservative goon squad, then I’m not worth knowing.

Secondly: If I like someone, like *them,* flaws and all. I can name 30 friends who disagree with me bitterly about different things, but I sill like them. And they still like me. If I like someone, I like them as a person, not because of a rigid set of arcane political views. This is called “Friendship,” and “Tolerance,” which are things that folks who sling ultimatums around clearly aren’t really into. Because clearly people don’t matter to you, just dogma.

Thirdly: I suspect you’re hypocrites. Guys: The hottest Victoria’s Secret model you can imagine asks you out, you go to dinner, you hit it off, she clearly wants to jump your bones and as you’re making out in the cab on the way to her place, she mentions that she voted differently than you did. Are you *REALLY* gonna say “Stop the car, because despite this being *literally* my fantasy since I was 12, you think differently than me, and I don’t even care about your reasons.” Are you *REALLY* gonna say that? If not, then clearly you’re a hypocrite. Ladies, gender-swap that (I dunno what the male equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret model is, but I’m sure there must be something). My point being that *IF* your’e the kind of person who *wouldn’t* get out of the cab, then you lack the strength of your convictions, which means you really don’t have any convictions, and you’re just blowing hot air to make yourself feel better.

Which is fine: Spew all the venom you want, I really don’t care, but telling me – or anyone – “If you don’t agree, then just block me right now” is a really bad thing to do, and I don’t think you realize that. Or you don’t care.

I was raised to think, and not just react. To value people more than money. To never trust *any* politician. I was trained not to give way to anger, at least not in public. The only blanket standard I expect from people is that they *don’t* tell me I’m worthless because THEY, THEMSELVES, are intractable. In short, you people who say “Block me if you disagree?” Guess what: I’m *BETTER* than you. You are self-righteous and petty and mean and you do not value others at all. I don’t praise myself much. I really don’t even like myself much, but there it is.

I expect a lot of you are gonna block me for this 

If so, I wish you well. Have a good life, and maybe try to grow up a little. Lose the anger.

MY DIARY: Day 18,542: “Innocence.”

I’ve been thinking about my dad a little bit lately.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury on Christmas Eve, 2011, and died the day before New Years Eve, so it’s not surprising, I guess.

I never got to grieve for him. My mom is – I’ll be charitable – mentally ill. I have no siblings, no close relatives nearby, so keeping her functional and arranging the funeral and delivering the eulogy and all that stuff fell upon me. I did a good job, I say with no small amount of pride. I don’t take compliments well, and I compliment myself even less, but being thrown in cold into a trauma like that, I think I genuinely did good.

Life got worse after he was gone and, as I said, I never got time to grieve. I almost would, but people were counting on me. I couldn’t afford to let myself to fall apart. There were taxes to settle, corporations to dis-incorporate, estates to settle, things to re-title to my mom, finances to shift. None of this unique, everyone has to do it at some point, I suppose, but in my case if tell on me. I did adequately. I’m great in a crisis, merely ok in an ongoing state of duress. Barely-functional under normal circumstances.

As a result of all this, I feel oddly numb when I think about him. I packed it down so tight, suppressed it so thoroughly, even banishing him from my daydreams. (I daydream a lot). I was very afraid that if I wrote down the things I was feeling – like how it’s been years and I still can’t bring myself to sit in his chair – it would all come flooding out, and I’d be a basket case, and life would get worse for everyone, particularly my mentally-ill mother. And me. I definitely feared it would roll back on me.

A week or so ago my dad turned up in my dreams. Because it was a dream I didn’t remember that he was dead. I just said, “Oh, hi dad,” and he nodded and sat down while I went on about whatever nonsense was going on in the story. Eventually I woke up to go to the bathroom (Because I’m 50), and when I laid back down again, I realized he’d been there. I was suddenly sorry I missed him. Not sad, oddly, but just sorry. I tried to will him back as I drifted off again, but, no luck, he was gone.

Now, I know it wasn’t him. My belief in the supernatural is…measured… at best. I believe in God and an afterlife, but not ghosts or sleepytime messages from beyond the grave. That stuff doesn’t happen. I know full well that whatever goes on in my unconscious mind is a product of my unconscious mind, something I’m telling myself, sometimes with a reason, but mostly just random. I know all that. More importantly, I believe it.

Still, the next morning I was sorry that I had largely ignored him in the dream. Even if it was my own subconscious speaking to me in his voice, it would have been nice to hear his voice again. It’s been so damn long.

Now, anyone who knew my dad could tell you he was a great guy. I called him “A living saint,” and he always bristled at that out of humility, but it’s really hard to stress how great a guy he was, and what a long shadow he’s cast as a result. He was a living Horatio Alger story, only without the creepy understated homoerotic elements.

His family was poor in the Great Depression. His mom ran off when he was three. He was homeless, but managed to survive and be a normal kid. Played with the kids with houses, went to school, slept in a coal cellar. Eventually the state picked him up and put him in an orphanage, which he hated.  My grandfather eventually re-married so he could get custody of his kids back, then the entire family moved to Florida, where the Child Welfare laws were unreasonably lax even then.

They were still dirt poor, but they had a house. My dad took odd jobs, mostly as a delivery boy on his bike, and the family frequently lived off of stuff that washed up on the beach. Eventually he graduated high school, joined the USAF, served out the Korean War, GI Billed his way through college, became an Aerospace engineer, and ended up working for NASA in the Apollo/Skylab glory days.

Then he lost everything because Congress effectively shut down NASA in 1973/4.

He started over again. This time he went into business, and my mom went nuts, and we moved, and working – no joke – sixteen hours a day he managed to build a successful career for himself capable of supporting all of us in nearly-patrician fashion. He could easily have been a millionaire, but his opinion was, “What do you need all that money for? As long as you’re comfortable, isn’t that enough?” He was a deacon at the church, honest to a fault, a great guy. He built his life from scratch *Twice.* The second time in middle age.

He died at Eighty. He looked 60 or 65. He took care of my mom, and he took care of me (I’m mentally ill too, just in a more entertaining fashion than my mom) and while that wasn’t the life he wanted – come on, everyone wants a *normal* family – he never once complained. It was just his lot in life, and he accepted it and worked to make it better.

the impressive details of his life aren’t really why I’m thinking of him, though. I’m thinking of the “Living Saint” quality that he had, and it struck me today that really, he made it through life uncorrupted. He didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who did. He didn’t hate anyone, and he held true to his values even when they were unpopular. He treated people of all races equally long before that was the norm. He made it through life assuming the best of everyone, and because he so clearly assumed that, most people tried to live up to it. He made life better for the people around him, just by merely being him.

I mean, yeah, he had some negative qualities too, everyone does, but in his case they were trivial.

I’m told the definition of “Saint” comes from the latin word meaning “Set Apart.” If so, that’s definitely my dad. Somehow he made it from one side of life to the other still pure of heart like a child, still full of faith for all the good stuff in life, and still believing in the future. So many people don’t. So many people, like me, just kind of give up. My dad, though? He was a good man from start to finish.

I miss him. I feel numb about him, but when I think about his fundamental goodness, I can feel…something? I’m not sure what, but something more vital than the little glimmerings of all the memories I’ve compressed into a little ball in my soul. I can’t take him out of that ball and look at him, or think about him. It’s been too long. I couldn’t grieve now even if I had the option to. I’ve grown coarse and gnarled and complicated and sad and self-loathing in ways he never did. That opportunity is shot, and will not return.

But when I think about how good he was, it always makes me smile.

That’s not much, I know. It’s enough, though. For now, anyway.