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Monday, December 15, 2014

Today I turn the age my father was when he died

Today I turn the same age that my father was when he died. I was ten years old at the time and everyone said “he was so young.”

It doesn’t feel so young today. Yet, at the time, he was so young to die with five kids and a traumatized widow. It was a defining moment for me. More so than I realized at the time and I know so because the pain can still screech across my heart like a fork on glass. We were all fragile. We were all so young.

We’re not so young anymore. Too young to die, I like to think. Everyone has defining moments. It’s in our eyes or in the eyes of a stranger waiting for a bus or in all the other eyes in our lives—our mortality. We wear our defining moments front and center for all the world to misunderstand. Or not.
Since my father died, I’ve outlived a number of people. People I have loved have died as well as people who, in my opinion, survived long past their “use by” date. There is no detectable rhyme or reasoning. Out-aging my father seemed unrealistic. I’m too young, it feels odd.

Two days ago, I buried Arnie, my beloved cockatiel of 26 years (my longest relationship). There is no reason in the world that I would have ever let that bird go. There is no rhyme to it either, but there is a little poetry. The daily love and care that I gave and received healed me to a large degree. It was a healing that gave me many new defining moments.

"Visual phone calls” were first described, sometime in the 1980s, as a “thing of the future.” Possible, I thought, but unrealistic to happen in my lifetime. Here we are with camera phones and skype-type services and we even have cameras that go up our butts. This is my future.

With more time than my dad had, more time than some who were far wiser, kinder, and more talented than I, here I am, having more time than all of them and I spend it documenting time for someone else. I document for people who I will never meet, who probably haven’t been born yet, I worry what they will think. I worry if they will know the truth, a truth without conditions. I worry that they care about the time in which we have lived.

With some command of the digital world, I am able to do things that my father could never have fathomed as being necessary, much less possible. As versed as I am in technology, I am still startled when I click the button and it does exactly what it is supposed to do.

There is no rhyme or reason to explain the effects of defining moments.

It is too much effort to examine and evaluate my fate. My fate is not better or worse than anyone else’s fate. At times, I have tested my fate, flaunted it and abused it. I’ll share a little birthday secret with you. Sometimes I feel others judge my fate or they have resented it, and a few other folks have gone so far as to try to manipulate it. But here’s my secret: that too is my fate.

I will not spend this year wondering what anyone else might have done if they had been given more time. That is not my business. What I didn’t understand at ten years old, what I couldn’t see in the defining moments, I still don’t fully understand. Like I said, there is no rhyme or reason. I look for the poetry. I have come to believe in the power of the story and the beauty of words strung together just so.

This is my happy birthday to me.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Ramones Are At My Door

Gather ‘round kids, I’m going to tell you a story about the Ramones, yes that Ramones, the original punk band, and how they showed up at my apartment door one night.

But first, you need to understand who the Ramones were to me and to my compeers and really to anyone with a pair of ears. As an east coast transplant, for me they were the kids next door who done good; they were the boys in the garage who hit it big; they were the nice guys who found a lucky break with a great sound. As far the scene that I was in at the time, some punk bands demanded a whole lot of commitment to feel a part of them, like tattoos, spiked hair and ripped clothes. The Ramones weren’t like that, there was no flash and no pretense. They didn’t portend a cult-sense to appreciate their music. They were every syllable punk rock and roll. And it wasn’t by accident.

We could all agree on the Ramones.

In the 1990s, I was living in the foothills of Hollywood. It was a decent place, nothing fancy but clean and safe, certainly for Hollywood standards. There was a pool, so many of the tenants knew each other and we were all pretty friendly. A new girl moved in, down the hall and on the same floor as me. She was odd, for sure, loud, needy, and a bit whiney. She had “a caretaker,” was how the apartment building manager described the guy who was always with her. He seemed like he was just some guy who made sure that she didn’t fall off her bar stool when he wasn’t falling off his own. Even though I wouldn’t testify to this in court, there was definitely some kind of “substance” involved. We’ll call her “Cathy” because no one else did and that wasn’t her name. I don’t remember the caretaker’s name. What I remember most about him was the first time that I met him when they had just moved in and were new to Los Angeles. It was on the roof of the apartment building during the LA riots in 1992 as we all watched the city ablaze. Hollywood Boulevard looked like Kuwait and the news copters overhead were almost deafening. There were no cops to be seen anywhere. Cathy’s caretaker, scrawny wet-noodle of a guy, puffed up and started talking shit about how he could hold his own, “Let them try to get in here, I’ll stop ‘em at the front door. Blow some heads off…” Not the sound mind you want to be around in an already tense situation. His bloviating ignited some other testosterone-carrier to mouth off about what he was holding, and then the next guy started—and before you know it, they were all giving an inventory of their ammo and arms. The whole conversation had me on edge, being as we were all stuck so close together. Scrawny caretaker guy won the pissing contest by claiming that he had three 450 magnums and a machine gun with a couple of magazines. It could’ve been all talk, but someone on that roof was telling the truth.

Cathy and the Noodle weren't real social. They didn’t mingle well with others. I always assumed that they preferred the company of their substance. They were loud and then they’d turn it down, and then they’d be loud again. I heard rumors that Cathy was an old friend of the Ramones, she grew up with them or something like that in Queens. She was in some kind of car accident with one or more of them and she got quite messed up and they took care of her. They helped her out. Every so often, she’d disappear for a month or more at a time. One day the caretaker was taken away on a gurney and we never saw him again. One time, she was gone for a couple of weeks and left her apartment door wide open with the radio blasting. It was a couple of days before anyone went in there. I poked around, was too curious not to but I didn’t touch anything. The place was in much better shape than I had imagined. She had nice framed photos of herself (not looking at all like she did at the time) with different people, family maybe friends and some might’ve been members of the Ramones, but I couldn’t be sure. No one in the photos had their signature hair styles or fashion sense and I know that they didn’t always look like that themselves. So, they might’ve been old friends and taking care of Cathy.

Eventually, Cathy got a dog. And that dog was going to get lonely, so she got another dog.  During a brief elevator trip we shared, Cathy was taking her dogs out for a walk and told me how they were going to help her get her act together. I mumbled “good for you, good for them” or something equally inane.

I never saw her with the dogs again. The dogs didn’t go away. The two cute little white Pekingese pups were holed up in her apartment. She’d lock them in her bathroom when she was out.

Cathy’s bathroom window faced my bedroom window with the pool courtyard below which echoed sound. Specifically, it echoed the sounds of the two forgotten pups in Cathy’s bathroom. The dogs yelped and cried and this went on for weeks. I talked to the apartment manager about it and she talked to Cathy. I left notes for Cathy about her unhappy puppies. I called the animal control bureau. They wouldn’t do anything unless someone actually saw abuse.

August 6, 1996, I was about six months into a year-long migraine headache when Cathy was out for the entire day and evening and the doggies were locked up in their bathroom. I was confined to my quarters with a cool towel over my eyes. It was me and it was them. And then it was me versus them. Around midnight, it was them versus me with the dogs winning. I don’t know exactly what they were winning but it felt like they could run off with my sanity as soon as that bathroom door opened. If it ever opened again and they’d shut the hell up. Oh, damn you Cathy and your problems. You’re nothing but another damn self-centered drug addict. I have problems too. “Shit,” I’d curse Cathy, “the woman is a mess and she breeds her problems into everyone else’s life and blah blah blah.”

It was church quiet in the building except for the two yelping Pekinese pups. I was wide awake and miserable as no medication could provide relief, with or without the Pekinese. It was no surprise when at 3:00 AM I could hear Cathy coming into the building on the first floor and rumble her way up the elevator and down the hall. She was cursing, there was talking, and some falls. I got up, put on a robe, and opened my apartment door and stood in the doorway and waited. Suddenly, I was Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched. When did this happen to me? I had no time to think it through I needed to straighten out Cathy about dog care.

Cathy barreled down the hall, bouncing off the walls, and I stood in the doorway with my arms folded over my robe. When Cathy was in front of my door, I called her name. She wasn’t alone. Cathy stopped, looked at me with her tear-stained donut glazed eyes and jello’d knees. Hey ho, Cathy was with the Ramones. I swear as I am breathing, the five of them stood there, two of them holding up Cathy.  I immediately recognized Joey and Johnny, I’m not sure if the other two were C.J., and Marky or one of them might’ve been Dee Dee. Mrs. Kravitz adjusted her tone (which, as a friend pointed out, only made me all the more like Mrs. Kravitz). I said something along the lines of, “you got to do something about your dogs, they’ve been barking and crying all night.” Feigning selflessness, I added, “It’s not good for them.” Cathy stumbled and mumbled, “Help me, they’re trying to kill me.” It was clearly drunk bitch babble. The four gentlemen and they truly were gentlemen, apologized profusely. They promised that it’d be taken care of and the dogs would not bother me again. I thanked them. Yes, after more than 12 straight hours of yapping Pekinese, I thanked them.

Yes, I wanted to shout after them that once upon a time I had been cool. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t always Mrs. Kravits and that if it wasn’t for the gawdforsaken migraine that I might have been at their show that night.

It turned out that was the night of their last gig. They must’ve just come back from the Palace (a few blocks away). I know one biographer has stated that after the show, without many words, they each left the theater on their own and went their separate ways. Not exactly, first they had to take care of some lose ends at Cathy’s.

There was no end-of-the-tour rowdy party that night, as one might imagine. Cathy’s apartment was quiet. I heard them leave, not together. They were soft footed and soft spoken and, it seemed to nosy neighbor Mrs. Kravitz, they left one at a time, on their own. I don’t know what happened to Cathy and which one of the Ramones she grieves the most.

I never heard the dogs yelp again. Cathy still had the dogs, maybe she stopped locking them in the bathroom.

I’ve witnessed fame drag people down like a tidal wave, destroying exactly what made them famous. I saw the Ramones on the other side of that tidal wave and they stood up like good people on a journey.

They have responsibility for making a generation ‘wanna be sedated’ while causing major adrenaline rushes. They made a lot of people very happy. Their music will survive and can drown out any yapping dogs.
Happy journey guys! Bark bark.

A respectful nod to Charlie Haden, who also died this week. Unfortunately, Charlie never showed up at my door.