Makua Kane

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My Mother has a hutch.  As with most hutches, especially in the midwest, hers is filled with old plates and bowls and glasses and mugs and pictures and greeting cards and tchotchkes, all holding some kind of sentimental value.  When I was visiting in July, I found a pair of ceramic mugs with the Hawaiian phrases Makua Kane (Dad) and Makua Wahine (Mom) on them.  I have no recollection of buying them, but it is assumed that these were gifts I gave to them when we went to Hawaii as a family in 1980.  Which means, those mugs have been collecting dust in that hutch for 37 years. Or, I guess I should say, had been collecting dust, because I asked my Mom if I could have them back.  “Sure,” she said and added, not for the first time, “All of this will be your headache someday anyway.” On that visit, one of our goals, the three of us, was to declutter some of their house.  We had mixed results.

Anyway, I brought my two Hawaiian mugs home to LA.  I showed Eric, we both have a thing for old stuff and tiki stuff and sentimental stuff so it was a perfect fit for our home.

A few weeks later, on the morning my Dad began his chemotherapy and radiation, I saw the Makua Kane mug hanging from one of the nails in the converted ice box (old building) that stores our plates and mugs and bowls.  I selected the Dad mug and began my daily coffee ritual.  One packet of raw sugar, a little half and half, poured cold, then the coffee.  I sat on the couch with my coffee and I thought about my Dad and Mom, in Bartlesville, kicking things off.  They were on my mind, in my heart, and in its way, this time was a sort of prayer.

The next morning, I did the same thing.  Same mug, same ritual.  My Dad’s early response to his treatment was exceptional.  For several days, he felt few side effects.  On one day, I skipped my mug ritual, and on that day, he hit a rough patch.  Certainly, I know the rough patch was not because of me, but still, I did not want to take any chances.  Except for that one day, every morning since August 14, I drank my morning coffee from a hotel souvenir I gave my Dad 37 years ago.

When I drove back to Kansas, to help in his final weeks of radiation, I brought the mug with me.  Too cumbersome to fit in the car’s coffee holder, I balanced it in my lap.  The next morning, I brought a coffee up from the hotel lobby and poured into my mug that I’d cleaned out with the hotel’s Pantene shampoo sample.

In Kansas, my parents did not ask me why I had brought this mug home.  No mention was made, but knowingly, as I packed to leave on Monday to return to Los Angeles, they both said, “Don’t forget your mug.” And then later, “You do have your mug, don’t you?”

On Tuesday morning, me just leaving Albuquerque where the dog and I had stopped for the night, my Dad took his last radiation treatment.  I drank hotel coffee out of my special mug.

On Wednesday, it occurred to me that I needn’t drink out of the mug, the whimsical deal that I had brokered in my mind, was just to get my Dad through his radiation.  I could drink out of my favorite dog mug now.

Of course, I didn’t drink out of my favorite dog mug, which is a very cute mug. (Fishs Eddy.)  I opened my packet of raw sugar, poured my cold cream then added the coffee.  And I sat on my couch and thought about my parents and all they’ve been through and how well my Dad navigated it all.  There were rough patches, of course.  Quiet moments and painful moments and worried moments. It will be weeks before we know the effectiveness of the treatments.

Until then, we wait, doing the things that keep our mind busy.  My Dad is golfing today, my Mom listening to her books on tape.  I go back to work tomorrow.  But every morning, until I see a reason to veer from the habit, I will pour my daily cup of hope and drink from it.

 

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Notes from Kansas, Part 2

I am once again back in Kansas, visiting my parents. My days are mostly filled with trips to Bartlesville for my Dad’s radiation, several trips to grocery stores and bakeries throughout southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, and driving around Independence, with my dog, looking at old houses and buildings. My Dad is doing well, all things considered.  

I get a little bored, our entire day revolves around a 10 minute radiation session. That’s not a complaint, it’s kind of beautiful really. Ten very important and hope filled minutes. 

I like the downtime. I like taking my dog Ricky out with me for a walk or a drive. I take him to Riverside Park and we walk around the fountain. Tonight, after two days of rain, the sun had returned, with a few lingering dramatic clouds. The trees a little greener, the sky bluer, I wondered if maybe this was the most beautiful spot on earth. Had I really travelled the world in search of paradise when all this time it was yards away from me?

I’ve said it before, but I can’t believe that after dreaming, moaning, bragging during my entire childhood that I would someday leave this hick town, that I am back, in awe of its beauty. Also, charmed by peeling paint on old Victorians, haunted by houses in varying states of decay. 

When I am in New York City, another place I once called home, I walk and walk and walk every day that I am there. I try to walk down every street and avenue. I ask myself when I was last on this block? Have I ever been on this block? I’ll see a structure, something noteworthy like a 100 year old church or a miniature park or a just a bakery and wonder, did I know about this and forget or never notice it before? 

And here, in my most hometown of hometowns, I find myself doing the same thing. I drive down streets just for the sake of taking it in, recovering old memories, like the SCF lock-ins at the Nazarene church or the carnivals that blanketed the Washington school playground or that library that I spent so much time in growing up, reading about people who lived in faraway places. 

Also, though, I discover new things, like an apartment building or a miniature park or a bottling plant and wonder, did I know about this and forget or is this completely new to me? 


And while I drive, and sometimes stop and take pictures, I wonder, why am I doing this? Is this going to make me smarter? More successful? What am I gaining here? 

To be honest, I don’t know. The other day, a friend, in all kindness, commented, “Your sincere wistfulness at the past is a lovely memory of the midwest.” I had to laugh as I wondered, am I the Miss Havisham of bloggers, weeping for a time that only lives in my memory which means maybe it never existed anyway? Am I the sentimental guy buying Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel slide machine? 

From that Mad Men episode: “This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

If you’re still with me, I reckon it’s because you have a place that holds that kind of weight for you too. I know I can’t say it better than Matthew Weiner, or Jon Hamm, but this week, these drives, these discoveries, these memories, they have fortified me. 

Maybe just as all children, whether they are close to their parents or not, must eventually make peace with the people who raised them, we must all make peace with the places that raised us too. Am I the only one who sometimes blames a weakness or failure in myself on the town that raised me? That thinks, I would have had so much opportunity if I’d just been raised in New Jersey?!?! (If I am the only one, don’t tell me, let me wallow in my delusions.) 

But this place, it’s pretty special. And not just because of Miss Able and William Inge and that first lighted baseball game. Much of what I am today is because of her. And just as we carry the people we love with us in our hearts, even when separated by miles and states, we carry with us, any place that we have ever called home. And Independence, I know this now, will always be my home.


How to Take Ambien. 

Tip #1. Don’t do Ambien every night. Once every week or two is ideal, that way, when you fall into this wizened, actualized state I am currently in, it will feel like a gift, but also, an earned gift. 

Tip #2. Drink some water, hydrate yourself.

Tip #3. Do a non dangerous household chore. No ladders. I walked my dogs and then cleaned out my freezer. It’s so orderly I could get a job as a Schwan’s ice cream man. Ambien helps us take pride in our work, even as it deters our ability to edit grammar and spelling.

Tip #4. Acknowledge what you are feeling. Today, I am sad, today, I am worried, today, I am grateful, today, I want to get in my car and drive to Kansas. 

Last week, I told my parents and Eric that I felt I needed to move closer to home, to be there for my parents. Eric and I talked about moving to Kansas City, a town steeped with the kind of history that Eric and I both love. I would not say his response was ebullient, but he said he would definitely think about it, definitely consider it. 

My parents, they simply assured me that I wouldn’t like living in Kansas OR Kansas City again. They remember the speed with which I fled my hometown. At 20, I thought there was nothing that was not only interesting to me but also representative of me. But now, nearing 50, all I dream about are home cooked meals and walks in the park and sitting by a fountain and contemplating life as the water rises into the sky and falls into the pool. Driving to doctors appointments with my parents, they are a sacred ritual, like going to church. The  reward a sticky bun from Laurel Street Bakery or a chocolate long john from Daylight Donuts. And at night, I read a library book.  Books about faraway places that at 16, I read and thought, I hope to live there someday. And now, I read and think, I’m so happy I lived there. I once said in a piece that the local library was my window to the world out there, the world beyond Kansas. All true, and now I find myself luxuriating in the memory of being that chubby teenager, behind that window, warm, wistful, emotional, dreaming. 

These big medical stories that come up in our lives, they suck. Definitely they suck, but with the grim prognoses, there comes a permission to tell those we love just how much we love them. We get to spend more time with them. We try harder to make them laugh a little. We hold each other’s hands. We hug.  These last few months, this is the closest I have ever felt to either of my parents.  My Mom probably wishes I listened better when she explains the plot lines to her Mary Higgins Clark books on tape. Some days, my Dad’s voice is stronger and clearer than others. And some days the strain of trying to get people to understand his speech probably weighs on him more, but these conversations, even still, are for me, and I suspect for them too, touchstones of our days.

In just a few days, ETD still to be determined, I will be driving back to Kansas. This time, Ricky will be my co-pilot as we cross half of the country. Millie will stay here in LA with her other Dad. I am truly excited about Roadtripping with Ricky, I just hope he doesn’t get mistaken for Guy Fieri at all the diners, drive in and dives we plan to stop at along Route 66. 

Driving long distances, I don’t know, it’s kind of like those “what did you do on earth scenes” Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep bear witness to in Defending Your Life. You hear a song or see a sign or listen to a podcast or drive by a car, and you are flooded by the big and small memories from your entire life. The things you did right, the things you did wrong. 

Tip #5. When you become very tired. Turn off the lights, climb into bed and close your eyes. You will still hold the burdens of your day, examine them, polish them. But you will find grace in knowing all decisions do not have to be made tonight. Or tomorrow night. Think about the things that excite you.

Tip #6. In the darkness, with eyes closed, plant a smile on your face. Dream happy dreams.

Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time

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A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York,  I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels.  Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.

I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight.  I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with.  Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric?  It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.

I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment.  And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness.  Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.

IMG_9876I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me.  And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for.  And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST?  (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.

I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy.  I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them?  And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older.  But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel,  it was my parents.  Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta.  I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents.  Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it.  I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor.  And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.

 

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I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me.  Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is.  A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen.  But on vacation, I really do find joy.  I laugh, i have more energy.  I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I  go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful. IMG_9818

So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days.  It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back.  Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves.  And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

The Tide is High

2048x2048So, I’ve reentered the workforce. And not only am I back at a restaurant, I’ve returned to waiting tables after a few years away. I feel a little old and a little slow, but I genuinely like the people I work with and for and the food is amazing. Turns out, I like being around delicious food.

There is another thing I like about working in a restaurant, it’s not confined to restaurant environments, but it is a trademark. It’s when you start talking to a person, a customer, a client, a guest, whatever you’re asked to call the person and you start talking about what’s good on the menu and you somehow transition to talking about where you grew up or what you love/hate/love about LA or what are you passionate about.

A few nights ago, I waited on two women. I asked them where they lived, they told me. One of them lives in Venice. “Born and raised,” she told me. I asked her if she’d seen the exhibit about Venice Beach that’s at LACMA right now. She told me she had not seen it and I told her she must. She asked me where I was from. Kansas. Then she asked me when was the first time I saw the ocean.

I paused. Although it’s not a question one often gets asked, suddenly, I was 12 years old, on my first 747, seeing the ocean from my window seat as our plane prepared to land at San Francisco Airport, a stop on my family’s trip to Hawaii. As I told this to these ladies, the hair on my arms stood up, reliving one of the most exciting moments in my life up to that point.

Memories flooded back. I told them how Blondie’s The Tide is High was playing on the airplane’s radio playlist and I couldn’t figure out if the synchronization was random or orchestrated. To this day, I still don’t know, but every time I hear The Tide is High, I think about that sight.

I live 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. I sometimes see it several times in a week. It’s also not rare for me to go months without seeing it. But every time I go through that tunnel that drops you onto PCH and I see that beach and that water, it thrills me. I just never get tired of it. I tell myself, one of these days, I’m moving to the beach. And maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

When I lived in New York, I lived near the Atlantic Ocean, blocks from the Hudson River and I would see the water almost every day. During my San Francisco days, I could run from my apartment, through Golden Gate Park, all the way to Ocean Beach.

I don’t have to see the ocean every day, but I like knowing it’s there. When I go to Kansas, I actually get a little nervous, a little itchy thinking about how far I am from the ocean. Weird, I know, but it’s the truth.

I’m not the only land locked Midwesterner who followed the siren song of the ocean to a coastal city. Los Angeles is full of people like me. It’s even full of waiters like me. As much as I feel that tv and movies and that Hollywood illusion called to me from my living room floor, eyes and heart glued to the tv set, there is something about the geography that beckoned me too. Like the end of Inside Daisy Clover, when Natalie Wood barefooted it down the beach after her shanty exploded in flames. Or Jim Rockford’s trailer in Malibu. And even though we never saw them go there, except in the opening credits, we knew that Jack and Janet and Chrissy’s apartment was mere steps from Santa Monica Beach. They did not have to actually go there, for us to know it was there.

Which brings me back to my relationship to it. I probably won’t see the ocean today. Work, traffic, minutiae, they all can keep me from making the time to make the trek. But soon, Eric and I, or maybe I’ll go by myself, either way, I’ll get in my Jetta and head west. Maybe the traffic near the 405 will make me curse a little, but I’ll keep going and inevitably, I’ll take that little dip on the 10, into the tunnel, and spill out on the other side. I’ll see it, my enduring friend. I’ll try to keep my eyes on the road when all I’ll want to do is gaze to my left. And up the coast I’ll go, California dreamin’, a sunshine day, the tide high…

They Can’t Take That Away From Me

1558465_10152687343022755_4171630263640324445_nIn my first few hours in Manhattan, I wondered if this would be the trip where I learned that I’d aged out of New York. After a frustrating three hour Super Shuttle experience from JFK, when I finally checked into The Jane in the Meatpacking district, I felt like New York City’s oldest, most out of the loop visitor.

I had actually hopped out of the Super Shuttle with the second to last customer whose hotel drop off was a trendy hotel on 16th and 9th avenue. Chelsea was my old neighborhood so I definitely felt safe walking at night from there to my hotel. As I maneuvered from Chelsea through the Meatpacking district, I passed a world of 20 and 30 something’s, enjoying their Saturday night in the city, dining al fresco at expensive restaurants, spilling out of loud, expensive night clubs, walking around in expensive, impractical footwear.

After a quick check in and shower, I was out on the streets, looking for a place to eat something easy and inexpensive. I walked down Hudson to Christopher, then up 7th Avenue. Eric called me as I was grabbing a slice of pizza at an old pizzeria I sometimes visited back when I lived in the neighborhood. A little lonely and missing Eric and the dogs, I talked to him while I ate my slice, watching the cool, young people walk up and down 7th Avenue, to and from their youthful adventures. After I ate, I walked up to 15th, past my old apartment and then up 8th Avenue to 22nd before I turned around and headed back to the hotel. Back in the room, I watched a little tv and had a somewhat restless sleep.

I awoke at 8:00 a.m., unadjusted to the time change, but my first thought was, let’s get going, make the most of your time here. I put on my shirt and shorts and tennis shoes and hit the streets, stopping to get a cafe Americano from the hotel’s Cafe Gitane.

When I was a New Yorker, my favorite time to roam the city was Sunday morning, before the crowds woke up and I felt the city was all mine. I walked up to Chelsea Market and bought a Grilled Cheddar and Ham Biscuit from Amy’s Breads. As I sat there enjoying this old favorite, sipping my coffee, too, I felt a restoration begin, maybe New York was still mine.

After my meal, I walked over to the High Line, new since I lived there but not new for the locals. I walked along the path, taking pictures, enjoying the momentary quietness of a favorite tourist destination. It started to sprinkle and it was just the right amount of rain for me to enjoy walking in it. After the High Line, I walked southward down the Westside Highway paths, looking out onto the water and New Jersey and beyond. The sun came out and continued shining as I walked back to my hotel through Soho and the West Village.

And that morning, as I took my shower, preparing to leave the hotel, to move uptown to the hotel where Eric and I would be staying for his work, I was giddy from my long, adventurous walk, revisiting the old, discovering the new.

I covered a lot of ground in my 5 days in New York. I had my Metro Card, too, but mostly I explored the Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island, Midtown, Lower East Side, Little Italy, Wall Street, Chinatown, Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Time Square, Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Central Park by foot. Every time a New York friend commented that I still walked like a New Yorker, I blushed and beamed. They can’t take that away from me.

New York is something different for me than what it once was. I am not a cute young hayseed in cutoff shorts and tight white t-shirt and flip flops anymore. Eyes don’t fall on me and linger with the same frequency as when I walked around Chelsea and the Village back in my glory days. I actually can’t even wear flip flops anymore. For the duration of my trip, I tsked my way through Manhattan thinking, you children need to take better care of your arches!

So, I wore my sensible Adidas and I soldiered along, with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. And that song was They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Time and again, I would find myself humming or quietly singing it as I walked the streets. A Gershwin tune, made more famous by Frank Sinatra, it was an apt companion. Because here I am, aging faster than I want, fatter than I wish, remembering to take my blood pressure medicine every day, but I could still behold the beauty that is New York at a fast clip because I had my strong legs and feet to carry me. And New York is no longer mine, not really, but even separated by physical distance, my memories will always remain.

And maybe someday, I won’t even have my strong legs and fast clip. Maybe someday, I won’t even have the opportunity to get on a plane and fly to New York and take a three hour Super Shuttle into the city. Maybe someday, all I’ll have is my Instagram pictures and my Manhattan skyline dishtowels from Fishs Eddy. But, hey, it’s nice to know that even if all I one day have of New York is my memories, it’s still mine. She’s still mine. They can’t take that away from me.

10 Goals for 2014

I am sitting at the American Airlines terminal at LAX waiting to board my flight to New York. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you probably know how much I love New York.

A few months ago, on January 2, I wrote a note to myself on my iPhone titled, 10 Goals for 2014. It’s somewhat revealing that I only managed to write down six goals before I lost interest or got distracted.

Number 3 on my list, just under “book and shoot a commercial” I wrote “visit New York twice.” Eric and I try to visit New York every winter/spring. This year we joined our friends Michael and Kim there in February. And now, here I sit, next stop JFK. If all goes well, I’ll be in New York in just a few hours.

I don’t say all this to brag. In a way it’s comical, 2 visits to New York in a year has been my resolution for about 10 years now, so it’s not like I’m, like, unstoppable, when I put my mind to something. I’m stoppable all right, plenty stoppable.

But this time, it looks like my goal will come to fruition. Not completely unrelated side note: I’m also on track to complete my goal of swimming 365 miles this year.

And this really isn’t me bragging. I’m so much more comfortable talking about my failures. There are just so many of them. I always feel like it’s more accommodating to be self-deprecating.

So I am a guy who seldom achieves his goals, but today, I hope to achieve one of those 10, I mean 6, goals for 2014. And I have to let it give me hope that before 2014 is over, I might also lose those 25 pounds and book that commercial. And if I can do it, by all means there is so much more hope for you!

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