Monday, December 27, 2010

clement clarke moore is rolling in his grave right about now...

'Twas two days after Christmas, and all 'round Camp Cactus
Not a creature was stirring...they were all out of practice;
The stockings were emptied, the presents unwrapped,
Just recycling the paper left our energy sapped.
Girl child and puppy cuddled snug in a chair,

Whilst commercials on TV continued to blare;
And Poppa in his rocker, a cat in his lap,
Had just settled down for a little nightcap,
When out on the porch there arose such a clatter,
Cat sprang from his perch, sending cocktail a-splatter.
Away to the basement he flew like a flash,
As the dogs began barking and got into the trash.
While he hid in the basement, an unearthly light
Lit up our street like Las Vegas at night,
Then, all of a sudden we heard a Bronx cheer,
As the neighbor's bright decor again did appear,
With rope lights and candy canes, and icicles galore,
They had no competition, that was for sure.

More brilliant than searchlights, those ornaments were,
And they blinked and played music and caused quite a stir;
Blow up Snowman and Snoopy and reindeer aplenty,
And penguins, I swear there were as many as twenty!
Then the cars came! And vendors! And people on foot!
I found myself wishing Christmas would go kaput!

Our street filled with gawkers and kids by the dozens,
All with their cellphones, taking pictures of cousins.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the sky,
A TV news 'copter in a prime-time fly-by.
As I closed all the curtains and turned my head 'round,
Through the door a reporter burst in with a bound;
He was dressed in a parka, his news station's logo 
Emblazoned all over, from his head to his big toe;
A microphone clutched in his hand like a club,
The former top newsman was now a poor schlub; 
His eyes -- they looked haunted! his complexion, how scary!
His cheeks were all puffy, his nose like a cherry!
His mouth was a grimace, drawn up like a bow,
And his teeth, oh! his teeth, they were whiter than snow!
The poor man was a wreck, hadn't slept in a week;
And the stress, it showed up in his flabby physique.
He had a broad face and a big ol' round belly,
And his nerves made it shake like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and bent, a right shaky old elf
And I gasped when I saw him, in spite of myself;  
A tick in his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know he was just filled with dread;
He asked all his questions, finished his interview,
And fulfilled his damn duty to me and to you,
And laying his microphone down by the door,
He escaped out the back to be seen never more;
But I heard him exclaim, as he fled from the lights,
"Happy Christmas, my ass! This holiday bites!"

with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

Sunday, December 12, 2010

alien beings inhabit potatoes

I cleaned out the potato basket in the kitchen today, and found this:

It definitely belongs under the category of miracle food.

It creeps me out that it was lurking in my kitchen. 
Now I'm afraid to clean out the refrigerator.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

a morning full of memories

I started writing this on a warm and sunny September day. The sky was the color of a bright chunk of turquoise, the sweet sounds of singing birds in the back yard and the chaotic noise of construction coming from the house across the street, coupled with the distant wail of police sirens, reminded me of San Francisco, and of a time I flew down there a few years ago to hang out with my older brother Jim for a week or so before the cancer that was sapping his strength left him unable to savor the warm sun and a trip to a favorite bookstore.

He wanted to take me over to this bookstore in Bernal Heights, my old neighborhood, knowing I loved rummaging around the musty used books as much as he did. It took awhile for him to get up the strength to get dressed and out the door (as much a mental preparation as a physical one) which in part involved waiting for his morphine to kick in, and then for the inevitable nausea to pass. It was difficult to witness his pain and determination to rise to the occasion. I'm sure he felt he may not get another chance to spend time with me in this way.
When we finally got out the door of his apartment, he was bundled up snugly against the warm breeze, overkill at the moment, but in anticipation of the fog that would soon come tumbling over Twin Peaks into the warm valley of the Mission District. It struck me then that I'd never seen him in more than a denim jacket layered over a sweatshirt in all the years he'd lived there. Now his body was betraying him, his internal thermostat suddenly unreliable.

We climbed into his car, and as soon as he started it up and tried to put it into gear, it became apparent he was too weak to handle the shifting and the braking and the clutch. It was a difficult thing for him to admit, this man who had until recently driven a Yellow Cab for twenty years, who knew every neighborhood, street and blind alley in the whole 49 square miles that makes up the city of San Francisco. We switched places, and I got in the driver's seat, but professing that I had been away too long and the city had changed too much, I made him guide me over the familiar streets from his apartment to Bernal Heights. 

I did manage to parallel park his car, touchy clutch and all, in a tiny spot facing uphill on Cortland Street across from a coffee house where we had espressos and pastry to fortify us before attempting to browse the bookstore. When we finally made our way across the street and into the store, the books seemed to revive him a little, but I could tell he was already exhausted. I remember thinking later how grateful I was that we had that afternoon together.

Weeks later, he lay propped up with pillows in the living room on a rented hospital bed, his feet sticking out from under the  blanket, its light weight too oppressive for his fragile bones.  I remember he wore clean white socks, because the coolness of the slight breeze from the open window cut across his bare skin like a glacier carving a valley across the landscape.  His left arm, by now shrunken and bony, nevertheless still bore a deep tan: the badge of a longtime cabbie. It looked odd now, as if it belonged to someone else.

Now all we could do was to try and keep him comfortable. The whole family gathered in his little apartment, sleeping on the futon or the floor or in a chair at the old kitchen table, quietly waiting.

Pumped full of morphine, sometimes he was here and then he was there, and when he returned, he'd give us a report. His son Casey and daughter Lily kept a notebook to log those reports from wherever it was he went.  After returning from one such sojourn into the unknown, he told us we needed to clear some of the furniture from the room to make space for all the kayakers.

It's hard work, this business of dying. I wonder if that final moment when we move into the unknown is similar to the moment we enter this life --  but instead of crying noisily, the silence delivers us into the embrace of loved ones who have passed before us.

So when I started writing this it was a warm and sunny September day... as I finish, it's a cold and dark December morning, and the anniversary of my brother's passing. He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, wit and grace, and I sure do miss him.

You can read a bit more about my big brother here.