Postcard from Paradise Island

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I have not been writing much since my father passed away. This confession would probably sadden him a bit. Once, when he and I were driving to Kansas City last summer, the day we went to watch the Royals play, he told me that he thought I had a book in me.  I laughed it off, saying that I didn’t feel like I could write a book.  What I did not tell him, something he already knew, is that I wanted to write a book but was afraid of failing.

A few months ago, while my dad was alive, my mom pulled out a box of photos and cards that had been tucked away in some closet.  Some pictures were familiar and others, new to me.  The cards and postcards were mostly tourist notes from family and friends’ visits to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and San Francisco, placed I grew up dreaming about and except for Chicago, went on to live in for a while.  The notes on the back could all have been written by John Cheever or Evan S. Connell characters, simple observations from a new city.  “The wedding was beautiful!” “This church is the view from our hotel room.” “Tell everyone at Newberry’s I miss them.”

My Dad’s work trip to the Bahamas in the 70s looms large in my youthful memory.  It sounded so much more far away and foreign than Tan-Tar-A or Colorado. After a week, when he came home, he brought gifts for all of us. He brought my Mom a straw beach bag with the word Nassau embroidered into it.  (She still has it.) He brought giant coconuts that we had to crack open with a hammer.  And Bahamian coins and dollar bills for my brothers and me. (I still have mine.) He told us stories about his time there, not that I remember any of it.  I was a little kid, just happy to have him home.

Apparently, he sent my Mom at least one postcard from his travels because we found it a few months ago.  The image above is the front and the following image is the message he wrote to her.filename-1-1 copy

“Theresa, Boys,

This is where we eat at about every night, (sic) the water. We went downtown last night to see a show that they have on the street. Everything is high here. This is Sat and we just got back from golfing. We went out at 9:30 am and we got back at 4:30 pm. Everything they do here is slow. We are all having a good time. I wished you were all here to see everything with me. Will see you Wed.

Love, Ray”

And then at the top of the postcard, written in ink, he wrote, “This looks just like it.”

The postmark, I believe says July 14, 1975.  I would have just turned seven.

43 years later, I reread every sentence.  I try to imagine him sitting down to write the postcard in his room or maybe the lobby bar. Was he drinking Cutty Sark and water while he penned this? Maybe smoking a cigar?

Did he really wish his family was there with him or was he glad to just be unencumbered for a few days?  No negotiating with his wife over whether each decision was something the family of 5 could afford.  No disagreement among 3 very different boys as to how an afternoon should be spent. I don’t really know what thoughts passed his mind, but I can ponder.  A mystery.  I study his penmanship and admire its attention to detail, its politeness.  I compare it to the writing in the notebooks he kept to communicate in the last few weeks of his life, when most of us had a hard time understanding his words.  His pain medication made writing difficult for him too.  There are pages where he wrote most of a sentence and then he would scratch it out.  Fearful that he could not communicate the things he was trying to say.

So many times, I’ve thought about something I wanted to say, about my Dad, or my Mom or my family or this new place I’ve found myself in life. Something will cross my mind while I’m swimming or reading a book or driving home from work, but by the time I sit down with my notebook, I don’t know what it is I want to say.  I start a sentence then scratch it out.

I don’t think my Dad thought I was an especially great writer.  (Not that he thought I was a bad one, I hope.) But on that day, almost a year ago now, as we drove to Kansas City, I think he knew two things.  He knew he was dying and he knew how much I would need to write to get through the days once he was gone. Certainly, I need writing more than it needs me.

So, here I have shared a postcard from 1975.  A message from a midwestern husband and father to his family back home.  It can be taken at face value, or it can be studied like a mysterious code.  Unlock the mystery of your father and you’ll unlock the mystery of yourself. Maybe.

 

 

 

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For Whom The Bell Tolls

bell-tower-viewIf the rumors are true, there is a woman dying in my building. She is neither an old lady or a young girl, rather a woman roughly my own age. She has been ill for a while and, from what Eric heard, is being attended to by hospice. For the sake of this story, I will call her Callie.

Callie was here when I moved into this building. She introduced herself in my first few weeks, nearly 17 years ago. She was a constant presence in the building, often doing laundry in one of the building’s two washing machines, often smoking cigarettes on the stairway, her smoke emanating throughout the building. She always had a hello, even if it was followed by a complaint about other tenants. Callie was a modern day Gladys Kravitz and I should know, it takes one to know one.

If Callie and I were friendly, we never became friends. I have thought so much about her in the last few weeks. She is too young to die; she is my age. What haunts me, I guess, is how, we have lived steps away from each other for the last 17 years, saw each other daily or weekly, known certain details about each other’s lives, and yet, there was not much of a connection. If I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I didn’t like Callie very much. I do feel guilty about admitting this, but it is part of the story, it even adds an extra layer of sadness to it all.

I will say this about Callie. She loved my first two dogs Lucy and Mandy. When both of them passed away, within a few months of each other, she offered condolences about each and I didn’t doubt that she meant them. My current two, Millie and Ricky, are not as friendly to people in the building as Lucy and Mandy were and I sometimes wonder if it’s related to the fact that I don’t like most of the people in my building either, now.

One of my first blog posts was about my building, this big, old brick building with hallways like the hotel in The Shining. Before I moved in, I dreamed of living here every time I drove down the street. And I felt so lucky when my friend Ted, who lived in our friend Russell’s old apartment, told me there was a vacancy. And then I got the apartment and then I adopted Lucy and then I moved to a bigger apartment, with french doors in the bed room and views of my historic street. And then I adopted Mandy. And the three of us would go for leisurely, amiable walks, we had leisurely, amiable relationships with all our neighbors. Some of my best friends were people in this building, maybe you are reading this now and you know I am talking about you.

But, for many, Los Angeles is a transitory town. Apartments are by nature transitory too. People move away, people die. In the last few weeks, I made a rough count of the number of people who lived in this building who have passed away before their time, and it’s been jarring, haunting actually.

And speaking of haunting, when I first moved in, I was told by several sources to be on the look out for ghosts. One neighbor once told me that she woke up in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone sitting on her chest, attempting to strangle her and that when she came to, there was no one there. For 17 years, I have been waiting for my ghost moment or moments.

As I said, people move away, people die. Also, though, some people move away, and then they die. My friend Ted, who is the reason I am here, passed away after an illness several years ago. I know it was several years ago, because I remember waking to the phone ringing in my old studio apartment and answering it and one of our mutual friends calling to say that Ted had died. And I remember him telling me that the thing about folks being at peace at the end is really not always the case, that even in his last moments, Ted was clawing and screaming for more life. Which makes me sad, but a little comforted too, that that is how much he still wanted to be here.

It’s silly, but I’ve been tempted in the last few days to run up to Callie’s apartment and knock on the door and ask if I can come in, to spend a bit of time with her. Maybe thank her for always being nice to Lucy and Mandy and patient with Ricky and Millie, to acknowledge what we shared. We lived, not identical, but parallel lives, for 17 years. Of course, I will not and should not do that. I would only be an imposition, an annoyance.

I wish I weren’t so narcissistic. You don’t have to be a therapist to know that part of the reason Callie’s illness has burrowed into me is that I am eternally cognizant of my own mortality. I know that Callie had more things she wanted to see, do, accomplish, as do I. This town is full of people who transition from renting apartments to owning homes. Did Callie dream of a house, with or without picket fence? Is there something wrong with me, is it my failure, if I live in an apartment for the rest of my life?

I do wish Callie peace in her transition from this world to whatever is on the other side. I know she loved her family, she loved her friends and I know that she was loved in return. I hope that love is a comfort to her and to them.

As for myself, I don’t know why I say that I’ve never experienced ghosts in this building because that couldn’t be further from the truth. The dead are still with me, the friends I made here who’ve only moved away to just below Pico or a house in Echo Park, are still with me too. Lucy, Mandy, Ted, I think of you three every day. Every day. You are all my ghosts, you all haunt me. But I want you to know that while there is sadness in your absences, there is a grace, a solace in knowing that how lucky we were to, for a time, at least, roam these halls together.

Lucy

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A couple days ago, we recognized the four year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.  Whenever I think about MJ’s passing, I think about my dog Lucy who passed away a couple days after Michael.  This video I’ve posted was filmed two weeks after Lucy’s passing.  I remember talking to my friend Traci, the show’s producer, that morning, saying I didn’t know if I had it in me to go on stage and be funny. But sometimes grief can lend itself to comedy and the laughs get us through the sadness. Doing this piece helped me heal and move forward.