Sunday, October 31, 2010


Okay, so I'm not sure exactly why I thought of this, but here is what I'm wearing for Halloween. It is for real creepy, not just Halloween creepy, so you may not want to read this. I'll leave some space just in case.

I took a ring from my mother's jewelry collection. It's a poison ring, where the "stone" flips up and there's a little hole inside for you to casually poison people's drinks with Iocane powder. Except I didn't put Iocane powder in the hole. I put a small piece of grey, charred bone that didn't entirely turn to ash when mom was cremated. I am otherwise dressed perfectly normally, just with this morbid piece of costume jewelry.

Slightly ghoulish, certainly, but I find it oddly comforting and also in the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Career goal

Some days, all I want in life is to be a second-rate cabaret singer in a run-down bar. I would drink more than I should, choke a little on other people's cigarette smoke (my fantasy bar is in a time before smoking bans), and hold the microphone just barely too close to my mouth. The regulars would have an inflated idea of my musical talents, and the more occasional visitors to my bar would look for alternative establishments with the same divey atmosphere but less singing.

I would sing almost exclusively long-forgotten Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart songs, usually too softly and with an edge of unexplained bitterness in even the most amusing numbers. On special nights, when I'd had an extra whiskey before my act, I'd belt the alto numbers, an octave down, cracking on the not-really-that-high notes. Then the bartender would cut me off, and I'd go back to mildly discomfiting folks with my wry—and now hoarse—takes on "Dancing on the Ceiling" and "You Took Advantage of Me."

Then everyone would be shocked when, one night, my good friend Queen Latifah would show up and we'd sing duets. I'd suddenly remember how to perform, and we'd wow the small but slowly growing crowd for hours. At 2 AM, when the bartender would start urging the now-packed bar to settle up on their tabs, Dana and I—we'd be on a first-name basis—would retire to a 24-hour diner for a cup of tea (hers with honey, mine with bourbon) and a conversation about how I could do better than this. Around 4:30, she'd admit that I probably couldn't, pay for both cups of tea, and walk me home.

After taking a week off from singing, I'd be back at my usual post, alone, and singing my standard solo repertoire. The regulars would wonder what had happened, and if they'd imagined the whole thing in some kind of absinthe-fueled hallucination. Every once in a while, I'd throw in one of the songs from that magical night, awkwardly transformed into a solo that would feel somehow incomplete, and they'd look at each other knowingly.

Melancholy fantasy, no? But it would make a great movie. Joel Grey would play me. Queen Latifah would play herself, B. D. Wong would play the bartender, and Edward James Olmos would play my accompanist. The waitress at the diner would be played by Randy Graff, and the most prominent regulars at the bar would be Siân Phillips, George Takei, Justin Kirk, and LeVar Burton. Emma Thompson would have a cameo either in the diner or in my apartment building.

Producers, if you're out there, you'd better get on this soon. Several key players are already north of 70 and probably losing their short-term memory.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fire safety!

"Choose the correct order to fill in the blanks. Use a fire extinguisher only if you have been ________, you feel __________, and if the fire is ______________.

A. small, trained, comfortable
B. comfortable, small, trained
C. trained, comfortable, small"

If you answered A, you know enough about fire safety to be a UCLA employee!

(Not really, but it's my favorite.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A different topic

I posted once before about my feelings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Y'all know that I am a huge supporter of equal rights and a totally unhuge supporter of the US armed forces. I have said, and I passionately believe, that adding more people to the military in this country is not a step in any right direction.

And now there is someone who will not be taking any steps in any direction, ever again. Lt. James Byler of the US Marine Corp has lost one entire leg, half of the other, and part of his left arm in an explosion in Afghanistan. Lt. Byler was "Little Byler" back in high school, to distinguish him from his older brother, John (one of my earliest childhood friends), who went just by "Byler," and to distinguish him from the other two Jameses on our fencing team.

Little Byler was a much better sabre fencer than I ever was or would be. Depth perception, I am told, is helpful in fencing. Legs are also pretty useful for the sport.

I am not a praying person, but the Byler family all are, and some of you may be. If you pray, please do so for them; I know they would appreciate it. I will just be remembering times spent with Bylers large and small, wondering why so many people I know rejoice at being allowed to serve their country in this particular way, and listening to Eric Bogle.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

One memory

I remember once, when I was a little kid, I was sitting next to her on the couch. I don't remember if it was her foot or her hand, but I noticed that one of her extremities looked different from mine. It had wrinkles and calluses. I think it was probably her foot; her hands were never that callused. I didn't know what wrinkles or calluses were, or why they were there, so I asked her. She said it was because she was getting old, or something like that. I was so upset. I didn't want her to be old. I wanted her to be forever.

She wasn't old, of course. She was probably in her mid forties at the time. She didn't get to be old, because of some shitty disease. She didn't get the wrinkles she should have had with all that wisdom she'd acquired. She didn't even get the gravitas of gray hair, thanks to some quirk of genetics. Dark, shiny brown until the day she died.

Now I want her to be old. That's different. But I still want her to be forever.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An end

On Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:45 AM, my mother died. She was 63 years old.

I have not yet processed this information fully, and I don't know that I ever will, but there it is. She was a stubborn, warm, irritable, brilliant, lazy, selfless, unbelievable woman, and the world is so much better for having had her in it. I find that, now that she has finally died, I can remember what she was like before she got sick. When she was deteriorating so rapidly, it was hard to think of a time when she was healthy and happy. That was unbearable.

I will probably post more about her in the future, probably at great length. For now, though, I don't have the words.

We will be celebrating her life on November 6th at 2 PM, at Adelphi University's Alumni House. If you would like to join us, please do.

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In lieu of flowers, my father, my sister and I are asking for donations to whichever of the following charities you feel suits you the most:

1. Amnesty International, which was always important to Mom
2. Project Main St., which provides direct aid to NY-area people suffering from ALS, the disease that killed her
3. Sonidos de la Tierra, a Paraguayan organization that works to empower poor children through music. Mom loved Paraguay, music, children, and empowering the powerless; this one seemed most likely to come close to summing up what she did with her life.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I am sitting in the hospital next to my mother and her morphine drip. She has significant pneumonia. There is nothing left to do but to try to make her as comfortable as we can.

Please don't call. I need this last time with her.