Monday, September 26, 2011

Being home: Chapter 2 - the art of English to English translation

The flights to Chicago and then Omaha were uneventful. 

On the first leg, my seat mate was a well-dressed but fidgety young lady who appeared to be fighting with a significant other via text messaging – a battle she was obviously quite anxious about putting on hold between takeoff and landing.  She curled in her seat, contorted herself against the window and basically looked uncomfortable for the hour and a half ride. At the end, she apologized for being such a fidget – to which I politely acknowledged that she hadn’t bothered me in the least (except for the way she kept turning her smart phone away so I couldn’t read any of the scintillating details).

The brief jump from Chicago to Omaha takes just over an hour, so the fact that the plane was jam-packed and that I had been seated in a 2-seat aisle with someone as tall and broad shouldered as me didn’t seem too big an ordeal to face.

My seat mate on this flight was obviously a local.  St. Louis sports team ball cap, crew cut, dressed in Lee apparel from head to foot – Nordic complexion and features – and as bland as a third cup of tea from the same tea bag. Everything about him screamed “beige”.

As we approached Omaha, the extent of the Missouri River flooding became apparent.  An entire interstate highway shut down – major sections under water.  Bridges and sections of roadway gone.  Fields and homes inundated.

My seat mate turned halfway to me and uttered his first words to the person he had literally been hip and shoulder to for the past hour.

“That’s a flood,” he said.  

Only the word flood was pronounced more like ‘flUud’.  Like the soft U had not only been verbalized, but dropped onto the kitchen floor like a 50 lb. sack of wet corn meal.

“Oh. Yes,” I said.  “I left quite a bit of that home in New York.  Where I am from…  We had a hurricane, you know…  Ooooh – lots of destruction…”


Minutes passed.

“How’m I gunna git home?” he asked to no one in particular.

“Swim?” I threw out there.

<*Blank stare*>


Just over two hours after landing, I pulled my rental car into the driveway of my parents’ home. 

Mom – of course – had dinner waiting, even thought it was well past her normal dinner time.

We chatted a bit and I turned in early to go to bed and read – and to rest and prepare for the week ahead.

The next morning, Mom made breakfast and we spruced up and headed to the hospital to see Dad.

I had been prepared to see quite a bit of aging and deterioration with the old Pater, but was still kind of surprised to see how much he truly had aged - reminding me more of how my grandfather had looked in his later days.

Dad was his usual mess of drips and wires and bandaged spots and IV lines – this stuff seems to be increasingly more standard apparel each time I see him.

For someone four days after his first chemo treatment, having suffered swooping bouts of emotional roller-coastering, and facing his eldest progeny who – just 48 hours ago – had told him to get stuffed, he didn’t look too bad.

As the week went by, it became apparent that he was feeling better and improving.  His physical therapy folks were happy with his progress and he became increasingly less gray hued as the week rolled along.

The real education for me during this visit was two-fold.  There were lots of little bits I needed to respond to, fix or make go away (like finding out that everyone my parents know thinks I single-handedly created Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer – or that I live in a Jewish neighborhood based on the fact that there IS a temple down the street and Dad once got “Shalom’d” by a passing Rabbi) – but the major issues were quite eye opening.

The first discovery was that my job for the week was to act as interpreter.  I quickly realized that I was occupying a space with two people who were very well rehearsed at talking and reacting AT each other – instead of actually communicating TO each other.

I was handed all the obstacles they could muster as to why the situation was so dire.
  • Mom - “Your father will never leave this house.  But I can’t care for him in a space not designed to accommodate wheelchairs, lifts and crutches.”
  • I asked Dad – “So – if you and Mom needed to move to a senior apartment designed for medical needs, you’d go – right?”  

    “Yep,” he said, “There’s absolutely nothing tying us to that house anymore.”


  • Dad – “I worry about your mother.  I try to get her to take care of herself but she won’t leave me for any extended period of time.  She needs some time to herself.”
  • Me – “Well, quit calling her every ten minutes, for Christ’s sake.  She doesn’t need a first hand account every time they successfully get you to the commode on time - or be alerted to the fact that you finally figured out how to adjust the volume on the TV. ”

I spent the week asking each one questions and then attempting to get an answer from the other one.

  • Dad – “Your mother would never let me go to a nursing home. It would kill her.”
  • Mom…

    To save time, I’ll just say that his head would spin if he was aware of how ready an already exhausted, asthmatic 71 year old woman would be to have someone else hauling his flabby butt between bed and wheelchair.
The next discovery was how hard it really is to care for someone in this condition, especially when they are not at home.

The week practically flew by.  At first, I didn’t understand why Mom had so many errands she had been unable to complete, small projects to finish, etc., since Dad was safe and sound in the hospital and she pretty much had the house to herself – especially since my lummox brother was working steadily.

But I came to discover that you can easily eat up an entire day from eating breakfast, getting ready, driving to the next town over (about 15-20 minutes – but when he is hospitalized in Omaha or Lincoln, it’s more like 1.5 hours), visiting for a few hours, grabbing lunch somewhere, visiting some more, driving home, making dinner, a little TV or computer time…and you find you are dead on your feet, wondering where the day has gone.

Add to that, my Dad calling every time the wind blew and nosing in on stuff he wasn’t handling or able to handle anyway:

Dad - “Did you call the insurance company about blah-blah?”

Mom - “No – I haven’t had a chance.”

Dad – “I need to understand coverage limits for blah-blah.  Damn it – give me the phone number and I will call them.”

Mom – “Fine.  What day is it and what’s your middle name?”

Dad – “wellphhhh!…fluster-bluster-blubber-blub!!!..what’s that have to do with anything?!”

Mom – “You called the house at 5:30 this morning to sing me a song about the pretty cow out in the field.   I’ll handle the insurance.”


Dad’s on methodone, an oxycontin-type painkiller, mood stabilizers and much, much more.  He has trouble operating a phone, let alone negotiating benefits.

Friday morning was Dad’s birthday, so we invited his morning coffee buddies from the local diner to join us at the hospital where my mom provided a cranberry/sour cream coffee cake and coffee all around.

The nurses had Dad bathed, dressed and combed and in his wheelchair by the time we arrived.  He had a great time and made it for a couple hours before needing to go back to his room.  

He really looked the best we’d seen him all week.  His moodiness was lessening, he was much more alert and aware.  And best of all, the visible lumps that had first indicated the presence of cancer had all but disappeared.

After we left, he had a few more visitors and a half dozen phone calls from family and friends.  All in all, a big day for him.  But he was so much the better for it.

Fortunately, he was so tired from the day’s events, we were able to skip the afternoon visitation.

This allowed me to prepare for the next exciting installment of my visit home.

The first meeting between my brother and myself in over 25 years – one that didn’t involve law enforcement officials of any sort.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Being home: Chapter 1 - Why having family is a really bad idea

Posted 9/18/11 - written 9/17/11

Well – here I am.  Five days later, trying to get home.  Unfortunately, the assholes at United Airlines had other ideas.

I’m currently on a flight from Omaha to Chicago, where I will then be required to find accommodations for the night.  I will also need to locate a toothbrush as my luggage won’t find me until tomorrow.

My originating flight didn’t leave until two hours later than the original departure time, making sure I missed the last flight out of Chicago to Albany by ANY airline.

Given this past week, this reminds me of the old adage, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.”

You see, this has been a rather difficult and uncomfortable week.  My presence was required to fly in and help my parents deal with a cancer diagnosis for my father.  He was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after a recent CAT scan.

For the last 20 years or so, he’s been plagued with myriad health problems including but not limited to two knee replacements that have gone bad, leaving him with no knee in his now-fused right leg; a hip replacement on the left leg that went bad – and not just with any old infection, mind you, but the flesh-eating bacteria kind.  He now has no left hip.  He also enjoys a completely destroyed immune system and has had a heart attack, pneumonia, bronchitis, a pacemaker, and a variety of other charming illnesses.

And just prior to the diagnosis, he broke his right leg.  The only one he could stand on.

So – in a hospital bed he lies, waiting to find out if he will ever stand again – should he beat the cancer, that is.

To make matters even more fun, my journey home requires me coming face to face with my long lost brother, who I haven’t seen in more than 25 years. 

I can’t quite remember our last face-to-face meeting, but I am sure it was right before I slapped him into jail for the first time after I found out he had been writing bad checks on my account.

Since that time, he stole my identity, sold my vintage comic book collection for drug money, ran up bad debts in my name, ripped my parents off for thousands of dollars, and – if that were not enough – spent three years as me in a Federal penitentiary in Louisiana.

As you might imagine, I was less than thrilled to see him again.

In fact, I think I conveyed my dismay to my parents quite eloquently some time back when I heard he had returned.  It was during a phone call where I wept, wailed, made strange keening noises and occasionally screamed out loud to Jesus for no reason in particular. This is particularly disturbing as my religious identity as an athiest-leaning-agnostic-but-I'll-try metaphysical-stuff-too person doesn't limit itself to one deity.

I have strategically avoided visiting over the past few years, hoping that my younger (and only) sibling would meet an unfortunate accident with a piece of farm machinery before I was recalled to the nest.

But it was not to be.  In just over a week since the happiest day of my life – my wedding to my life’s love of 20 years – I was on a plane heading west.

We had come to a family accord (meaning, I cleared it with Mom) where the miscreant sibling was to vacate the premises and abide with a friend for the length of my stay.

This, however, prompted a last minute decision by my father who – thanks to a combination of chemotherapy, methadone, a sense of the dramatic and mystical, and a heaping dose of martyrdom – decided I should not come out if it meant that my brother had to leave.

In response, * I informed him of my advanced age and accumulated wisdom, my general lack of interest in a teary reunion with the jerkling, my extreme distaste for the smell of burning martyr, and my driving impetus – to free my poor, retired mother from the bonds of indentured servitude to a man who was now about as much fun and useful to the rest of us as a pile of disgruntled meat with a major over-acting problem.

You may find this analysis a bit harsh, but let me assure you – I am coming to this from a place of love and forgiveness.  I have made my peace with my father and his foibles.  I have forgiven him his insanities and his abuses.  I have received his apologies with grace and have never taken him to task for anything he has attempted to make right.

Imagine what I though of the bastard before.

Anyhoo – my mother called me very early last Sunday morning - in tears - to tell me he said not to come.  I told her I would respond after some coffee, proceeded to pound down three cappuccinos and then dialed the asshat up.

I presented him with the above information (*see previous) and explained to him that if he didn’t care to see me, he could call the nurse, get himself lifted into a seated position and take a fucking flying jump at himself.

He backtracked, of course, said he had been misunderstood (as he climbed back up on his cross – they have phones up there.  Who knew?) and then began to lament that he was “fighting for his life”  (Yeah – when aren’t you fighting for your life?  Jesus on a cracker…) and that he could not cope with our family being in discord as he struggles to save his life (Cue:  dramatic music, dark clouds roll in from afar).

I basically said, “whatever” and hung up.

Next day – I’m on the goddamned plane.

(To be continued)

Stay tuned for Chapter Two where I tell you how Dad and Mom actually do and why being near and actually smelling my brother reminds me of the cigarette butt, pack and sad coffee cup littered cab floor of a 1972 Ford pickup with an exhaust issue.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

OMG - a new favorite

If you haven't read this blog and you're a foodie - it's the ultimate unexplored realm of food.  Aggravated assault cookery with second degree bitch slapping for good measure.

From the site:

Cooking for Assholes

"You suck at cooking. You fuck up rice. You think Cayenne is that fat bitch from around the way and Old Bay is the piece of shit that keeps calling the cops on you and your boys. Stop being such a fucking loser and grow a brain. Cooking is easy as shit. Learn it."

Dive in, kiddies.

Good news, bad news

The good - nay, GREAT news is that we received our official marriage license today via the post.

To frame?  To lock into a vault box?  What to do?

Maybe we'll just have cocktails and wave it around for a bit. 

Because we can.

The bad news - well, I'm heading back to see the folks in Nebraska.

A couple days before the wedding, my Mom called to tell me that my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma.  A CAT scan revealed spots across his chest, lungs and spine.

So - it's home I go.  To help Mom work through the diagnosis and to help plan what comes next.

Look for some tough discussions on the near horizon.

But there may be a silver lining. 

My younger brother will be vacating the premises during my visit, which tickles me all kinds of pink.

At this stage of my life, I'd rather avoid meeting up with him and becoming a crime headline.

Wish me well, kids.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Wedding anecdote #2

Interestingly, this squeaky rubber chicken played a pivotal starring role in the brilliantly funny, heartfelt and moving wedding toast made by my beautiful sister-in-law.

For those of you familiar with our family, something like this will come as no surprise.

Video coming soon.

and by the way, who has a more gorgeous sister-in-law than this?  I ask you.

Love you, Dah!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Wedding anecdote #1

Our great friend AerialPJ provided the music for our wedding via one of his iPods (or so we thought) and his Bose Sound Station with a special playlist he had created for us.

Earlier today, Brian was bemused while perusing AerialPJ's gift - an actual iPod Nano with our entire wedding playlist on it.

He turned and asked me what was AerialPJ thinking, giving us a blue metallic bath tile that plays music....until I explained it him.

Ladies and gents - there has not been such wonder since man discovered fire.  Or Nell.

He's still freaking out.

Here come the grooms

More photos on the way - but here are two early shots from our wedding on Saturday.

Thanks, AerialPJ!