Thoughts on the Election

I’ve had multiple panic attacks since Tuesday.

I had four on Tuesday alone. Starting when the election results started coming out. Too much “red” was showing up too early on the maps and I started getting scared. The 2000 Bush/Gore fiasco taught me to be very afraid when I saw Florida turn red and that’s not a lesson I’ve ever been able to forget.

Jesus…that was 20 years ago. I’m the same age now that I remember my DAD being when his friends threw him a surprise “over the hill” party in our house’s basement. Some of the party favors are still down there, I think.

I had FOUR panic attacks on Tuesday alone. Each time a state I “trusted” turned red, it set one off…and I knew I needed to stop watching, so I went to bed. And lying in bed, right in that stage where you don’t know if you’re awake or not, I had another one. And it was BAD. VERY bad. So bad I was clutching my chest, and I had the phone in my hand with 9-1-1 dialed, just waiting to hit “send” because I thought I was having a heart attack. I had the active thought, “All I have to do is press send and help will come.” And that phrase “help will come” registered with my higher brain and slowed my pulse…and I knew my heart was fine. It was just a VERY bad panic attack.

That is what Donald Trump does to people.

Well…that and grabbing their pussies. #NeverForget

I’ve calmed quite a bit since then. I was almost happy today, in fact. I have my team at work to thank for that. (I’m a manager of a small team, and they’re good folks.) In the time of COVID, we’ve all been working from home, but I’ve made it a point to have a weekly “meeting” via Google Meetings, where we’re all on a webcam, talking. Sometimes we have serious work stuff to talk about…but I’m sure to always dedicate 10 or more minutes to just bullshitting. We’re all (by the grace of God or something) like-minded politically, at least for now. So today we spent some time with our “election stories” and there were tears and there was anger and there was laughing. It was good to feel less alone. I didn’t realize I’d felt alone. We usually talk for 20-30 minutes. Today we went 50–30 of it was just enjoying talking to each other. I needed that. I thanked them for it multiple times…and told them I was taking off work on Monday because I need some fucking sleep.

Today, the election results look better. And if they don’t look better to you because you’re a Trumpeter… Get the fuck off my page, excommunicate yourself from my life, and wallow sad and alone in your hate. You have no place here. No have no place in society. You have no place in America. America is RUINED because of YOU and you are not going to be tolerated any more. Fuck off. Die alone. I mean it. You do not EXIST to me anymore.

Clear?

But…again…today the results look better. But they didn’t yesterday. And I feel no guarantee that they will tomorrow… I wrote about how I feel on my Facebook page. And maybe it serves me best to simply post it here too…here’s what I wrote:

I’m sure we’ve all been watching the numbers coming in. Personally I’ve had a laptop in my house that has ONLY had the electoral map on it for four days. And while it presently looks like I might be able to breathe one of the DEEPEST sighs of relief I’ve ever breathed–and by the way I’ve had multiple panic attacks since the election results started coming in on Tuesday…I must say, I was hoping to write a smug little victory post DAYS ago that I presently feel no desire to write. It was going to include things like “it’s going to feel good to call someone ‘President’ again, because I haven’t said that word in 4 years.” And it will, assuming this holds in the forthcoming challenges and whatnot… But…

If this is a victory, it is a pyrrhic one. There are some realities to face…

206,347,000 people are registered to vote in the USA. 143,300,000 voted in this election–which is a pretty high percentage compared to other elections. (It’s about 69%. Heh. Nice.) 73,600,000 voted for Biden–the most voters EVER recorded for one candidate…but hang on. 69,700,000 voted for Trump–I do believe that’s the SECOND PLACE (first to lose) most votes ever in the popular vote. 63,047,000 didn’t vote for either–and most of them didn’t vote at ALL.

A lot can be said about those numbers, but climbing on my soapbox, the important thing to notice is that for nearly 50% of voters in this election, racism, sexism, bigotry, corruption, hypocrisy, hate, and fraud were ONCE AGAIN not deal breakers, at the very least. Babies in cages didn’t sway them–because “Prolife” ends at delivery–neither did…well you know the list. Although there’s no way to know the actual percentage, it is very depressingly clear that for many those were actually viable reasons TO vote for Donald Trump. That’s a lot of you. Yes…sadly, I mean a lot of YOU. I want to be able to convince myself that I can limit that to just my casual Facebook acquaintances rather than believe it of some of those who I’ve called family and friends…but I can’t do that. I learned years ago that the lies one tells oneself are the most damning. I know why a lot of you felt you couldn’t vote for Biden…but I just can’t do the mental gymnastics required to figure out why you WOULD vote for Trump–you must be gold medalists.

On top of that, there’s the 63+ million who didn’t vote… Look, I know that for most of them they just said, “sure?” when asked if they wanted to register at their DMV when they were 16 and probably now view standing in line once every four years as an inconvenience that wouldn’t really make a difference…but this year, in THIS election, they had WEEKS to vote in most states. On their own time, some of them not even having to leave the house. And racism, sexism, bigotry, corruption, hypocrisy, hate, and fraud were not big enough motivators for them to even care enough to do THAT. Not even motivation enough to throw their vote away in the main race then vote on their local issues where they might make more of a difference. 31% of eligible voters simply didn’t care about who won, who lost, and who suffered for it. Again.

Also…this result is going to be fought and fought hard. I don’t think we’re actually going to know the results FOR SURE until someone is standing up at the swearing in ceremony. To me, even if this is a “win,” it feels fragile. It feels temporary. It’ll probably hold…but it doesn’t feel like it will. Like duct-tape on a broken bumper.

So… Game point…nobody wins.

TL:DR – You’ve got a couple years before another major election. Start giving a damn. And maybe give a damn about someone other than yourself. I’m tired of feeling alone amidst the 35.67% “majority” that sees it that way.

I’m happy with the result. I really am. But I’m very disturbed by the way we got there. I don’t see any way NOT to be.
And you can Google “pyrrhic” yourself. I’m not defining it for you.

…and that’s pretty much how I feel. It’s not good. None of it is good.

But even though it’s not good… Tonight, Joe Biden addressed the nation and my immediate reaction was, “Oh…I’d forgotten how it sounds when a President is speaking.”

I’m not joking when I say I haven’t used that word in 4 years. I really haven’t, unless I’m speaking about a PAST president like Obama, Clinton, or–God help me–even BUSH. (And longtime readers of the blog may recall what kind of trouble talking about Bush used to get me into back when I was still miserably in ministry.) Tonight I felt like I HEARD one. And I hope that sticks. It should. It might. It could.

Right?

There’s a lot to be worried about.

In 2016 after Tr*mp the Worthless won the election I was having a conversation with a friend and I jokingly said, “Well look at it this way, we’re both white, middle class men… WE’LL be fine… It’s just our friends and loved ones who will suffer.” And neither of us laughed…because we knew I’d accidentally said something true.

Well…I’m very, very, bone-achingly tired of watching the people I care about suffer. I’ve got friends who are brown-skinned who’ve been told to “go home” in the past four years–they were born in a Missouri suburb…they WERE home… I have gay friends who’ve heard “fa**ot” more in the last 4 years than in the previous 30 of their lives. I have a bisexual friend who got the shit kicked out of him for the first time in his life because he was flirting with the “wrong” person. I have a Black friend who served time in jail because she made a clerical error on a tax form–a simple mistake. I have a Jewish friend who opted to shave his curls and wear a bald haircut because “God cannot protect me, but a haircut can.” I have a Muslim friend who stopped covering her head because “you have no idea how hard it is to get spit out of an hijab.”

That’s just within the last FOUR YEARS–most within the last TWO. I don’t think any of the above people I referenced are under the age of 35, but they’ve all described those experiences to me as having happened to them for the FIRST TIME in their lives under the reign of Tr*mp. Under the Pr*ud B*ys. Under this bullshit we’ve all been living in… And that isn’t even accounting for what most of my Black friends are going through on a daily basis–which frankly isn’t going to change under Biden either, but maybe the active racists will feel less empowered. Christ, we can at least hope for THAT, right?

ALL of these problems are systemic. They were all RIGHT THERE…but the perpetrators might not have done it under Obama. And God (if any) willing they won’t under Joe. But under Tr*mp? They’ve felt empowered. They’ve felt free. They’ve felt “right.”

I hope every one of them burns in Hell.

And I hope Donald Tr*mp lives into his 100s…but from now until the day he dies, I hope he never produces a solid shit again. And I hope that when he’s in the triple digits, in a hospital bed with none of his children or 17 ex-wives gathered near him, it suddenly all dawns on him. He realizes the person he’s been. The person he IS. That he’s unloved and alone… He finally feels regret and remorse and thinks, “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?” And with his last ounce of strength, he just barely whispers out the words, “God…please forgi…” and he doesn’t get the words all the way out before the EKG reads a flatline.

THAT is what I want for Donald Fucking Tr*mp. And I’m not sorry.

Because I’m tired of seeing only the GOOD people suffer. And I’m tired of jerking awake in a cold sweat, and dialing 9-1-1, wondering if I should hit “send” or not because of HIM. Fuck him. He doesn’t deserve my fear.

Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) was talking on his podcast about the last full conversation he had with The Amazing Randi, who recently passed away. Randi was one of Penn’s mentors–a father figure. When Randi was still lucid, Penn went to visit him and took him out on his own in his wheelchair…and they talked about Donald Tr*mp, of all things. They KNEW they were saying goodbye…and that’s one of the last two conversations they ever had. (For the record, Penn and Randi’s final conversation was 20 seconds long–Randi woke up briefly, saw Penn, and they both said “I love you.” But Penn seems to count the former as their “final” real conversation.) Through much emotion and thinly held back tears, on his podcast, Penn said, “What business did (Tr*mp) have in that conversation?”

Do you have an answer? Because I sure as fuck don’t. Donald Tr*mp didn’t deserve to be in Penn Jillette’s last conversation with James Randi. He doesn’t deserve to be ANYONE’S last thought. He deserves to be forgotten. But he won’t be…because we live from tragedy to tragedy and we never get over the true evils.

In my team meeting today–which again was GOOD for my soul–I said, “We’ve all got PTSD.” And nobody laughed. Because it wasn’t a joke. I can imagine myself in a therapist’s office describing the last four years…and I’M a white, middle class male! I’m lucky! I’m privileged! …but I’ll never get over it. And I’ll flinch every time I hear his fucking name.

Wanna know how bad it is? Okay…here you go…

Memo to President George W. Bush: Dear Sir. Mr. President. Please forgive me. I am sorry for every word I said about you. Don’t get me wrong…I think you laid the groundwork for what led us to this point…but you yourself? You were a harmless idiot, and I was wrong to hate you. I forgive you for your missteps after 9/11 and I hope you can forgive me for mine. God bless you and keep you, Mr. President.

THAT’S how bad it is now. I’m sorry that I hated George W. Bush.

But… Could it get good? Could it even get GREAT?

If the numbers hold–and I’m a pessimist, so I have my doubts–but IF they hold… We’ll have the guy who marched to the podium right next to America’s first Black President and speaking of Obamacare said, “This is a big fucking deal!” (confidence) running the show. We’ll have the guy who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and when he realized it was happening, his first action was to shake his head in disbelief and quietly mouth “no” because he didn’t think he deserved it at the helm (humility–also trustworthiness). We’ll have the guy who when Bill Clinton was in St. Louis on his way to the White House, my Dad had the honor of driving around town for a little while sitting in the FRONT seat of the nation’s highest office (that’s just neat). And folks, anybody who’s okay by my Dad deserves your trust–he rarely misjudges anybody.

It…could…be…good. Maybe great.

But we have a long way to go. Joe will HAVE to address the racial divide. He will HAVE to address the poor. He will HAVE to address the pandemic. He will HAVE to address the political divide. He will HAVE to address the just plain fact that except for America’s bigots, we’re all scared and exhausted.

And friends…for the first time in four years…I have FAITH. I have faith that he will. Assuming it holds… We elected a good man. In the weeks leading up to the election, a dead-inside pissant Tr*mp advisor (Mercedes Schlapp–you’ll notice her name is parenthetical and her description is NOT) compared Biden to “Mr. Rogers” thinking it was a derogatory thing to say…but folks…we (probably?) elected someone who is COMPARABLE TO MR. ROGERS. GOOD FOR US! I think we’ll be okay. I think Joe will get us there, or at least get us READY…

And maybe if he doesn’t quite get us there… Let’s not forget who our Vice-President will be. The first WOMAN to hold that office (bye-bye, glass ceiling!). And as a bonus, she is also Indian American and Black. Joe Biden has the privilege of having been the VP to the first Black President and the President alongside the first Black, female VP. Tell me that’s not fucking amazing… When Kamala runs in either 2028 or 2024 depending on Joe’s health and decisions, I’ll be glad to vote for her.

And I’m going to live the rest of my life fucking THRILLED that I never have to vote against a Tr*mp again. Unless one of his feckless kids gets a wild hair up their ass…but even if they do, Donny made it because people liked his TV show. Nobody actually knows what his kids even DO, including Don. I bet they’re not even actually in the will. They shouldn’t have a chance…but I don’t want to jinx it.

This has been a long post…it needed to be, I think… I hope to God (if any) that the numbers hold, that someone talks sense into Tr*mp (ha!) and he quietly concedes, and that we can all go back to when America wasn’t great but at least wasn’t infested. Wouldn’t it be nice to have just ONE conversation where he doesn’t come up? One conversation where you know that if that was the last time you talked to that loved one, at least nobody said the word “Tr*mp?” Wouldn’t it be nice to have just one DAY where your first thought upon waking up wasn’t “aww, fuck, has he tweeted yet?” Don’t you WANT that?

Folks…I NEED that. And it’s looking like we’ll have it in January…holy shit doesn’t that feel good?

Until then, wear your fucking masks. Stay the fuck home. And try to be good to each other.

I’ll blog again soon. I promise.

————
Current Listening: Bruce Springsteen: “Letters to You” — His best album in AGES. Listen to my podcast for more on that.

Rest Well, Eddie…

My mother hated this shirt.

She almost cut it up with a pair of scissors and threw it away instead of letting me keep it. Yet I’ve still got it in 2020. Although in fairness, she died in 1994 and was therefore unable to continue that fight. But I digress (already!).

It wasn’t fair, of course. I don’t have a lot of memories of Mom that I’d call “fair.” I already had a “Damn Yankees” shirt in my collection, and I hadn’t even SEEN them! The Damn Yankees shirt was a gift from my brother. “Well it’s in the NAME of the band” she said, “so that’s different.” Although the back of THAT shirt included the phrase “Shit-Kicking Rock ‘N Roll” and she ruled that I just had to wear an over-shirt on top of it if I wore it outside the house. But “ass?” She wanted to take scissors to it.

The previous Van Halen tour was the “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” tour. The name of that abbreviates to “FUCK.” They called it the “FUCK N’ Live” tour and my brother had at least one, maybe more shirts that said exactly that (though in fairness he was 8 years older and had a job). When I bought the “Kicking Ass” shirt, one of my motivations was “I have a shirt that says “damn” and “shit” on it already, and Dave has a shirt that says “fuck” on it… “Ass” is the least offensive of all those words… But no… Mom was–as was her gimmick–irrationally furious about it.

Let’s just take a moment to examine those words… Fuck = Sex. Ass = A Butt. Shit = What comes out of a butt–and we don’t like the smell and try to get rid of it as quick as we can–we generally consider it to be the most worthless of all things. Damn = Eternity in Hell. If anyone can tell me why my mother thought a butt was worse than shit, sex, or eternity in Hell, I’m all ears. In fact, if anyone can tell me why eternity in Hell isn’t the worst of the profanities, I’ll fuck the shit out of your ass for the favor. (Seriously…think about it… Why are you so offended right now???) Mom… Mom was not a fan of exegesis.

Dad, for his part, expressed some dissatisfaction with it when I bought it, but let it happen nonetheless–I think mostly because I had a friend with me so he didn’t want to make a big thing of it at the show…and also, Dad is a rational person and probably thought, “Hell…he definitely says WORSE at school by now and he can just wear a shirt over it…” I think he KNEW there was a fight with Mom coming, but even if he wouldn’t have said it at the time, I think he thought it was winnable.

So that’s how I almost lost that shirt. The way I kept it was that I took it with me to bed that night and also Dad and Dave stuck up for me. I don’t know what most of that fight was like…I just went to bed confident it would solve itself. I think it was even DAD who told me what the verdict was instead of Mom… The rule was that I could wear it around the house (which I didn’t) but that I couldn’t wear it outside the house–not even to practice with my band (which I did).

And that’s how Eddie Van Halen drove a wedge between my mother and me, from which we never really recovered before she died.

Okay…maybe it wasn’t THAT serious…but it’s one of the first things that screamed to mind today. Because today, we lost Eddie Van Halen. He died. Cancer took another god from us. Cancer is a real son of a bitch.

My mother also once called my brother a son of a bitch. He replied, “I’m glad you’ve got the right opinion of yourself” and promptly locked the door to his bedroom and I listened to a solid half-hour of her pounding on his door, trying to get in…but again, I digress…

I guess Van Halen just takes me back to my teenage years. That band meant EVERYTHING to me then. I was evangelistic about Van Halen, deep into my teen years. I vaguely believe that the cheerleaders at my high school only performed to “Aftershock” because I got one of them into the band in my Sophomore/Junior year. I *know* that there are people who were sad today specifically because I forced them to listen to something from the Van Hagar era–my personal era of choice. I think of Van Halen and I think of a time in my life where everything was urgent, every girl was “the one,” every experience was new, and every moment was miserable, except for the ones where Eddie was playing. They were the band I grew up with. Their songs were some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

In more recent years, I haven’t talked about Van Halen that much. I don’t know when their most recent mention on this blog might be…and I doubt that it was positive… Let’s face it…in recent years, the band did a lot of stuff I didn’t like–some of which I downright opposed…

But that doesn’t diminish what they MEANT in my life. Even if “meant” is a past-tense word.

…and even then… As recently as March of 2020, I was listening to them, anticipating what was supposed to be a Summer Sammy Hagar concert in St. Louis. Of course, COVID-19 delayed that along with everything else anyone might’ve been looking forward to (please wear a goddamn mask)… But as recently as six months ago I was thinking about Van Halen, smiling to myself about old memories of shows and experiences gone by, remembering when my friend Paul and I lit candles to listen to the “Balance” album together for the first time, and feeling great about being a fan. Van Halen hasn’t always been my FAVORITE band (unlike The Who) but they’ve always been important. They’ve always mattered…

And today we lost their most important member.

I know people will want to argue that… I know people invest deeply in Roth or Hagar (or Cherone?) or argue for a chemistry between specific lineups or are just loyal to the two brothers…but if Eddie Van Halen hadn’t been one of the best in the world at the thing he did, there would be no need to talk about ANY of that. Van Halen without EDDIE Van Halen is just a bar-band, hoping a record exec is somehow in the bar and likes “their” version of a Seger song. The band was named for HIM. Not for Alex. Alex is a great drummer–don’t get me wrong–but you can throw a rock in any city and hit a bar with a great drummer in it. But the guy who redefined the electric guitar for the LAST time? There’s only one. He was special. And–THANK GOD–he started a band with his name in it and got the attention. And everything changed.

Eddie Van Halen was my generation’s Hendrix. No hyperbole. He changed the guitar forever. In 1978, everyone heard “Eruption” for the first time. Everyone thought, “I didn’t know the guitar could do THAT” for the first time since Hendrix died. And no one ever said it again.

Name the person after Eddie who redefined the electric guitar. Who’ve you got? Tom Morello? He just did shit Hendrix was doing with more pedals–and he did it very well–but it wasn’t NEW. Joe Bonamassa? Nope…he plays really well, but every 2nd year student knows the Pentatonic Scale–he’s just got better amps than most of us. Dan Auerbach? He’s trying to sound like guys in the 70s and that’s all he seems to know how to do. Jack White? Go fuck yourself–being able to build a Diddly-Bo doesn’t make him special. John Petrucci? Phenominal player…who has Alex Lifeson to thank for his chord structure, and who never would’ve thought to tap a single fret without Eddie laying the groundwork. John Mayer? I’m sleepy…wake me up after his solo so I can shit on his awful lyrics…

…am I missing any? Well fuck them too.

Eddie Van Halen was the LAST person who will ever redefine the electric guitar in its current form. The guys who are great who came after him stole every tapped-note from him, and they KNOW it. Whatever the electric guitar becomes next–if anything–will happen because someone completely stripped it down and rebuilt the whole fucking thing into something new. Eddie defined it in its final form. I will accept no argument–and if you look deep inside yourself, you KNOW there is none to be made. I’m right. I’m fucking RIGHT.

There are a dozen stories about what Van Halen meant/means to me that I could tell here. All of them have different impact. Some of them meant more to me than others. Some are happy. Some are sad.

Those are MY stories. And for now I’ll hold on to them…

What’s important is that you KNOW you’ve got your own story that revolves around their music. You KNOW what happened in your heart and your memory when you heard Eddie died today. Even if that thought was only, “He was a real asshole, I won’t miss him…” you knew the NAME and why it was important. (And you’re a dick, by the way.) Eddie Van Halen’s legacy is indelible. There isn’t a grown-up on this Earth who didn’t know his name. There isn’t a grown-up on this Earth who doesn’t know exactly WHY they know his name.

Some of us just have the shirt to go with the story.

***loud guitar noises***

Thinking About Robin Williams

I’m writing this on the sixth anniversary of when we lost Robin Williams.

Robin with his daughter Zelda, playing Legend of Zelda. (Source: https://winkgo.com/zelda-williams-streaming-legend-zelda-charity/)

I don’t feel like I ever really mourned Robin. When he died, Ferguson, MO was at the peak of its protests. (And for what it’s worth, I count the rioting that was then and is now happening as a form of protest. I no longer believe in separating the two.) I live a bike-ride away from Ferguson. I worked at a church with the word “Ferguson” in its name in a different life. I have deep ties there. (Side note: That church is no longer in operation. It also took no real public stand in the immediate aftermath of the murder–I’ll say it again MURDER–of Michael Brown. Do what you want with that.) At any rate, I was distracted at the time. It didn’t feel important to mourn someone who I admittedly admired, but who ultimately was a fun distraction in my life rather than a friend.

So…I failed to mourn Robin Williams.

But today, I feel a heaviness in my heart that has been on and off when I’ve thought about him over the past several years. I wrote after his death that Robin Williams was a man who could’ve picked up any phone in America, dialed any seven numbers, and found someone who said, “Yeah, I LOVE Robin Williams!” Yet that wasn’t enough to save him. “Because that’s how depression works.”

A lot has come out about Robin’s health since he died. He had an incurable illness. He was losing himself, daily. As deeply as I find suicide to be unpardonable, I also believe that the fact that Robin went out knowing who he was is a small blessing. That he was able to KNOW what he was leaving–and more importantly what he was avoiding–is a small consolation. I understand it. I do not support it. But I understand it.

And tonight I mourn. I loved Robin Williams. He made me laugh. He made me cry. He made me *think.* And that last one is the most important.

In this post I used a picture of Robin playing Legend of Zelda with his daughter, who is also named Zelda (for obvious reasons). If you’re on the e-mail list, I don’t know if they send the pictures with it, so I want to mention it. In the picture, Robin doesn’t look like Robin. He has a big, thick beard that’s mostly grey. And I love that version of him. That’s my favorite Robin Williams. As my beard gets thicker and greyer, I see myself in that Robin Williams. I don’t know if you can see it too…but I see it.

See it?

I miss Robin Williams. I wonder what he would have done with Donald Tr*mp being in the White House. I wonder what he would have said about COVID-19. I wonder what kind of streaming media he would’ve given us now that it’s a regular thing in all of our lives. Jesus…can you IMAGINE Robin Williams unfiltered on a live-stream or an Instagram story? We’re missing out on a lot.

And I’m sad about that tonight.

Off the top of my head, here’s a brief list of Robin Williams movies I’ve enjoyed–that actually MEANT something to me (in no order):

  • Awakenings
  • Dead Again
  • Hook
  • Good Morning Vietnam
  • Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen
  • Toys
  • Death to Smoochy
  • Mrs. Doubtfire
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Birdcage
  • Good Will Hunting
  • One Hour Photo
  • Patch Adams
  • The Fisher King

…etc…etc…

I’m embarrassed by how few of those I own on BluRay. (I plan on fixing that soon.) Think about just that list for a moment. There are movies you want to add to it. There are some that you think, “well of course.” There are some that are cliches. There are some you haven’t seen. There is at least one you haven’t HEARD of… As I’m writing this, I’m realizing suddenly that I didn’t even have Aladdin on that list…or his role in Hamlet…or Jack…and I didn’t even TOUCH his TV roles…shit…

He was versatile. He spoke to EVERYONE. Robin Williams was everything to everyone and I have not heard any negative story about him from anyone in the industry. The worst I’ve ever heard was a weak accusation of “he stole my joke!” from hack comics who just happened to write the same joke Robin ad-libbed about a current event, or the odd story that is tempered with “well…he was on cocaine at the time and…” but ends with a smile and acceptance.

Robin Williams…

Robin Williams was special.

It has taken me six years to realize just how much I miss him. Six years, and I’m just now realizing that I’m never going to see a new Robin Williams movie again. More than half a decade to realize I’ll never see an unexpected cameo on a sitcom again, like when he and Billy Crystal walked onto the set of Friends. (And good lord that was in 1997–where has the time gone?) It has taken me six years (and the deaths of countless other unarmed Black people at the hands of police in America) to realize how deeply it hurt to lose Robin. Because he was the kind of guy you just thought would live forever. And even now, I feel like he will still pop up again. And I know he will. I know he’ll live forever…

I don’t know where I’m going with this. You’ve probably realized that by now.

In all honesty this is somewhat prompted by the fact that I’ve been listening to old episodes of the podcast Harmontown, on which Robin once appeared. I’m up to the year in which he died and they’ve mentioned him a bit. His loss was felt by anyone he touched, and he was on their stage, joking around with them, making their night a lot more fun. I can’t even imagine that…yet Dan Harmon and company were right there for it and shared it with their listening audience. And I’ve listened to that episode a lot. It’s serendipity that I happen to be listening to this era of the show on the anniversary of Robin’s death–just a few weeks after what should have been his birthday.

I guess one of the things I want to say is that I forgive him. I forgive Robin Williams for killing himself. That’s hard to do. Suicide is one of the few things I find unforgiveable in life. There are friends and family members I haven’t forgiven yet. Most of them had temporary problems. Robin’s medical problem was permanent and was only going to get worse for both himself and everyone he cared about. Maybe that makes it easier.

I didn’t know him personally and can’t comment on what his family or friends should feel…but I’m finding it easier to accept his decision than it has been to accept “my marriage was falling apart” or “I lost my job” or the excuses I’ve heard from those to whom I’m closer. At the same time, I wouldn’t fault Zelda or Bobcat Goldthwait (Robin’s best friend) if they’re having more trouble forgiving it than I do. The proximity of your love is always a factor in your loss. I was Robin’s fan–I can shed a tear and move along.

Nevertheless… Robin, I understand and I forgive you. Even though I would never make that choice myself…and for what it’s worth, if you’d been yourself, I don’t think you would’ve either.

And I guess that’s all I really want to say.

I miss Robin Williams. I get why he did what he did…but it’ll never stop being sad that he did it.

If you’re reading this, please don’t make any decisions that it takes the randos who don’t even know you six years to forgive. Go back on your meds. Go back to your shrink. Talk to your priest. Fuck, start drinking again… Whatever it takes for you to stick around and keep pouring love into this world.

But whatever you do, KEEP pouring love into this world. We need it.

Small(?) Update

Well my last post got some attention pretty much overnight. 🙂

I did end up reading essentially that post at Grandma’s funeral. It went well and I hope it helped people celebrate her life. I made some semi-spur-of-the-moment edits to it, because some stuff works in a blog post but not in speech and vice-versa, but more or less it was the same.

There were a couple things that needed to be corrected when I actually spoke–most notably that the story I told where Grandma hitchhiked home WAS true (my uncle confirmed it for me that morning–she’d been driving a 1986 Buick Century). But also, she wasn’t rescued by a Prime driver, she was rescued by a JB Hunt driver in Farmington, MO. Per Ron (he’s my uncle) she wanted to write a letter to JB Hunt to thank their driver, but he asked her not to because they’re not supposed to do that kind of thing and he might get fired for it. So I’ve got to make the transition from thinking about Grandma when Prime comes up to thinking about her when JB Hunt comes up…and I got my first chance to do that on Thursday! 🙂

I took this screenshot instead of answering the phone, like a jerk. Sorry “work.”

My brother also spoke at the funeral, and you can read his transcript of what he said here. He did great. I wish he had more opportunities for public speaking and writing and whatnot. He’s very good.

The day itself felt really long, although also really cathartic. With a few exceptions, I’ve been pretty much locked up in my house since mid-March, so being out at the funeral home and cemetery over those two days was the most I’ve been out and seen people in pretty much four months. It didn’t feel *too* strange, but I was a little anxious about it. Fortunately most people who attended chose to wear masks and there was a decent amount of social distancing going on. My favorite moment was when my cousin Drew walked in and saw me. He walked up to me and said, “Hey Derek! How’re we doing this?” and gestured to ask if I was comfortable with a handshake, hug, or elbow bump. We settled on the elbow bump. I think that Drew’s “how’re we doing this” is going to be my default greeting going forward from here. 🙂

The funeral was lovely. The pastor who ran the service read some texts and e-mails and whatnot from different family members, and via social media my cousin Samantha (Sammy) pointed out that Grandma had passed away on Grandma’s husband’s birthday. He’d passed away in the mid-70s, but Grandma never re-married and always talked about Mel in a way that you could tell he was the one and only love of her life. I guess her final birthday present to him was to come home to him on that day. I didn’t know that she’d died on his birthday–he’d died a few years before I was born–but that fact is so beautiful that it immediately rushed to my heart and my tear-ducts and made the start to my eulogy a little shaky. (I acknowledged that I hadn’t realized it, through tears and a shaking voice as I started my remarks.)

I’ve found that as I get older I’ve been crying more. And it’s not because I find things to be sadder than I used to… It’s because some things are just TOO beautiful.

After the funeral service ended, we all piled into our cars to take the roughly 45-minute drive to the cemetery, due to the weird route we took. I had the honor of being a pallbearer alongside my brother, several cousins, and a close friend of the family. I didn’t always call Grandma when I was supposed to, but I’m glad could do that for her. She was buried alongside her husband Mel, just about a block down the road from where my mom is buried. Y’know, I’d never known where my grandpa was buried. Somehow it’s just never come up–probably because I’ve never met him. So that was an informative moment for me.

After the graveside moment, several of us then drove another half-hour out to my uncle’s church (which was also Grandma’s church in her final years–although I think her heart was still in Ferguson) for the repass/repast (depending on where you’re from) lunch. That felt weird. Usually during those moments I’d work the room a little and decompress. But with COVID in force, I mainly just sat at the table with my immediate family and even then it felt strange to take off my mask to eat. (And of course now I’m 100% sure I have the virus as a result, even though I have no symptoms.) The time we live in makes mourning harder than it’s ever been before… But I did get to have a nice few moments with my cousin Cory that afternoon. We’re going to get a drink together once it feels safe to do it. He’s a good cat.

And that’s one of the things that’s been tugging at my heart this whole time… I’ve got family all over the States, and even into other countries in some cases…but I’ve also got family RIGHT HERE. And for a while now I’ve been wanting to do a better job of honoring that. My cousin Pam–with whom I spent a little time this week–does a GREAT job of keeping up with all of the cousins, aunts, and uncles. But I just kinda fill in the gaps by talking to Pam (and/or our cousin Terry). I spend a lot of my free time just kinda sinking into myself and my own interests when I could be reaching out and building close relationships with family. And I want to get better at being an active member of the family. Maybe a beer or whiskey with Cory is a foot in the door of that. Or maybe I just need to text more people. Or something…

All I know is I don’t want to find myself saying “I should’ve called more” again.

I got home from the funeral, sat down on my couch, and fell asleep for three hours without even loosening my tie. I hadn’t been sleeping much the previous few nights–because Derek–and I guess I needed the rest.

All said and done, Grandma has been laid to rest after a life well lived. I’ve been thinking about her a lot over the past few days, of course, and it strikes me how much she overcame and managed to smile through. Born in the 20s with the nation in a shaky-state, she eventually lost her husband, lost her daughter, lost most of her siblings (there were 12 of them!), had a host of medical problems from strokes to diabetes to who-knows-what…and yet always had time for people and always had joy. For 95 years.

I’m lucky if I hold on to joy for 95 minutes.

Way to go, Grandma.

Rest in Peace, Grandma

My grandma died at around 3 a.m. on July 3rd. (She was my last living grandparent. That’s a new feeling.) She reportedly went peacefully in her sleep. She had been in the hospital with pneumonia and fluid around her heart, but it seemed like she’d be okay–from what I understand there were even talks that she’d be going home within the next couple of days. Then–just like that–she was just gone.

I was off work that day and slept in. I woke up to the message on my cell phone from my uncle. Or rather I eventually noticed that I had a message. Unfortunately my phone doesn’t really grab my attention with a flashing, neon, “someone died” light or anything. So I was late in finding out. Very Derek. So a few phone calls later and I was alone in my house just thinking about it for a while.

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on what to say about Grandma. My uncle was kind enough to ask if any of the grandkids wanted to say a few words at her funeral and at first I thought I would, but when I started trying to write something it just felt self-indulgent and not in tone with what I would WANT to say at her funeral, so I declined. It’s almost midnight after the wake with the funeral to come at 11a.m. and I’m just now typing this, so I feel like that decision is valid…but if anyone sees this prior to the funeral and insists I could be tempted to read it, for the record.

…but basically I didn’t think a room full of my relatives needed to hear me say, “she was right–I should’ve called more.”

There’s more to it than that, of course. But yeah, it’s in my nature to think back on how I could’ve called or visited more. At the same time, Grandma didn’t call me that often either–I think she thought I live a busier life than I do–but that’s a two way street and I know I tend to just kinda park once I get home from work. Still, every time I looked at the caller ID and it was Grandma calling, I did pick up. I don’t pick up for everybody.

This is already too self-judgemental. See why I didn’t want to do this in the room?

I have good memories of Grandma. I have some that make me sad and regret stuff too (those are my default settings!), but I have a majority of good ones. Grandma was kind. That’s such a small word for a big thing, but it’s a good one. That’s who she was.

When my mom died in 1994, I remember how hard it hit Grandma to lose her daughter. I remember someone having to bring her a chair during the wake while she fell apart and her legs grew weak upon the initial viewing. That’s a sad memory, but it’s an important one…because I also remember how freely and generously Grandma welcomed Susan into our family as Dad’s significant other in 1995. It was never an issue or a problem. There was never any standoffishness. Dad had found someone new that he loved and Grandma welcomed her. She told me once that she was glad Dad moved on because after her husband (Mel Herweck) had died she kind of didn’t and it took her a long time to start having fun again. So she was glad Dad had friends and a girlfriend because she knew what it was like to feel alone. I don’t know if I’ve ever told Dad that. But that was Grandma. She was happy to see Dad happy. Because that’s who she was.

And I remember how excited Grandma has been at every wedding for her grandkids. She was all about spending time with family and loved seeing it increase. The grandkids’ husbands and wives were new grandkids to her. Because at her core, she was happy that we’re happy…that’s who she was.

In hand with that, I remember how for years almost every time I talked to her, Grandma would ask me when I was going to find a nice girl and settle down. I’m not sure what kind of lifestyle she thought I led… Usually my weekends consist of sitting quietly and reading until it’s time to go to work again. There’s not much more “settled down” that I can get. But that’s the phrase she always used. I had a variety of answers. In better times, “well I’m working on it” and in worse, “well I’m pretty settled” would be go-to replies. It took me a long time to realize that she wasn’t being a busy-body or pressuring me. She just wanted me to be happy. That’s who she was. (For what it’s worth, now that I’m 40… Grandma, I’m working on it…but I’m pretty settled.)

Grandma did know that the great love of my life has been music, though. And she made it a habit to ask me about that too. Are you still playing your guitar? Do you still play at church? Do you have any gigs coming up? (Although she always called them “digs.” She misheard the word and went with it…much like she always called K-Mart “K-Mark.”) Grandma was unfamiliar with my songwriting–thank GOD!–but she knew I loved doing it and would ask about it because she knew I found joy it in. She took joy from hearing about the things that gave YOU joy. That’s…who she was.

I have a memory of Grandma that I’m not sure is true. I ran this story by a couple of the cousins and my brother earlier and none of them remembered it…but I think I’m right. Grandma went to Arkansas to visit family a lot. There’s a family farm that kind of connects everybody and it’s typical for there to be a bed there waiting for any family member who needed it. In years gone by, Grandma went there a lot and often on her own. On one such trip her car broke down and she needed to get back home so she caught a ride with a truck driver–and the reason I’m so sure that’s true is because I specifically remember it being a Prime truck (they’re a specific delivery company for those who don’t know). After getting home she later was riding in a car with one of her brothers and every time they passed a Prime truck on the road, he locked the car doors to make sure Grandma wouldn’t get out and hitch a ride, as a joke. Years later, I now work in commercial trucking insurance and Prime trucks come up a lot in conversation. Every time they do I briefly think, “better lock the doors so Grandma doesn’t hitch a ride!”

Grandma, for all of her proper Southern Baptist-ness, was a free spirit when it came to traveling. She took a lot of trips and had a good time. My cousin Cory was out of town when she died and cut a trip with his new wife short to come back and he commented that he knew if it was up to her she’d want him to keep traveling. And he’s right. Because that’s (say it with me) who she was.

I last talked to Grandma two weeks ago. My birthday was May 29th and she sent me a card with a check in it for $25, but a mail SNAFU meant that it didn’t reach my house until a couple weeks later. It arrived and I called to let her know. (Of course, being Derek I called two days after I should have.) She seemed in good spirits. She was glad I got the check and wished me a happy birthday again even though we’d already talked closer to the date. She knew, of course, that I’m 40 and it wasn’t necessary to send me a check at this point…but she wanted to. She wanted to make sure I had a little extra pocket money to spend on something fun. She wanted me to enjoy my birthday. That’s who she was.

In that last conversation I am very proud of the fact that I said “I love you” quickly enough that she didn’t get the chance to say it first. I think you should always make it a race to say “I love you” to somebody. I won that one. I didn’t call enough–I know I didn’t. But I hope the “I love yous” always felt real. She didn’t know it…but I think I have the last 10 years of birthday cards she sent. (But I cashed and spent the checks.)

There are a dozen other things I want to talk about and a dozen other memories coming to mind. One of the things that knocked me over earlier this week was the realization that I’m never going to have another piece of her banana nut cake. That’s my favorite cake. At all or at least most of the family gatherings when she knew I would be there, Grandma made SURE I would get a piece of MY banana nut cake. Because that’s who she was. And that’s not going to happen again. And no…you don’t know how she made it. You don’t have the recipe. You aren’t sure you know a great recipe that will remind me of Grandma any time I eat it. And even if you do…respectfully, I don’t want it. I want my Grandma’s banana nut cake.

And that’s okay.

I know she’d want me to have the recipe–that’s who she was–but sometimes losing something means more than having it.

So…

I guess if I have any message I’d like you to take with you from this post it’s this. Be kind, be accepting, be generous, take pleasure in the pleasure of others…

And enjoy every slice of cake.

Make that who you are. I’ll try to, too.