Thursday, May 28, 2009

Did You Know?

Mimi Smartypants occasionally writes no-edit Tuesday (or maybe it's Thursday, but it's definitely a day that begins in a T and ends in a y) posts where she doesn't edit. At all. I could never do that. Ms. Smartypants can do that because she's a) an editor and b) a genius. I would just end up cringing all over the place. My version of editing is mostly deleting long passages that I figure are over the limit in terms of self-indulgence. And I have a pretty high limit for self-indulgence. There is likely a therapeutic value to writing many many many many words about subjects of no interest to anyone but myself, but those benefits remain even after I delete the text. Deletion is the better part of valor. I should be even more valorous, but I'm not.

I remember feeling the foundations of my intellectual/word choice world shaking when, one day, I came across what seemed to me an error in a Smartypants post. The divine Ms. S had used the phrase "give free reign" instead of "give free rein," and I was nonplussed.8 I kept trying to justify the use of "free reign" as a metaphor derived from politics and monarchical oppression instead of the usual metaphor derived from animal husbandry6,7, but I couldn't quite get there. I emailed Ms. Smartypants to explain that I was having trouble seeing how "reign" was appropriate but that I took it as an a priori truth that she was incapable of error, so I would appreciate if she could explain her thought process so that I might be enlightened. And she responded, fairly quickly, with something along the lines of "Oops. That's just wrong. I'll change it." Talk about your mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was glad that the whole reign v. rein matter was settled. But then there was that whole my-god-has-feet-of-clay! thing. Mimi Smartypants fallible. How can anyone believe in God in such a world?

But then I was also feeling kind of bad ass because -- whoa! -- I found a Smartypants error and got it corrected. It's sort of how I'd feel if God actually existed, and I had sent him an email saying, "Excuse me. I know I don't really understand your overall plan and that I should be prostate and eating dust and all that, but I really don't get how Newt Gingrich was a good idea," and he had replied to say, "Sorry, TED. It's a really big universe and sometimes things slip through the cracks. Thanks for bringing the Gingrich matter to my attention. You'd be surprised at how reticent people are to tell me when I've fucked up. I guess they think I'm going to strike them with lightning. As if! Then again, that might be appropriate for Newt. Or I could arrange for a very public autoerotic asphyxiation 'accident.' Tell you what: your call! Thanks for writing, and forget about eating the dust: it's bad for your allergies. BTW, the allergies? Not my fault! LOL." And then I'd be all, you know, God's not such a bad guy, but what's with the scare quotes?

Mimi Smartypants occasionally uses scare quotes, too. It's very disheartening. Whenever she does it a small part of my spirit dies, but I haven't emailed her to complain. I don't want to sound like (even more of) a crank.

If there were a God, I'm pretty sure that he or she wouldn't choose to live in Chicago, but perhaps my notions of deity are misguided. They are certainly more fluid these days. On NPR recently, I heard a couple of reports wherein various people suggested that our experience of the divine may be an artifact of brain chemistry. Hmmm. Part of me believes that matters that can never be either proven or disproven are not appropriate matters for scientific study. This part of me also reckons that if people didn't stop believing in the Bible as the literal word of God after Darwin, nothing's ever going to convince them otherwise.

Recently, two or three days after I learned that my father was terminal, I received some other extremely disturbing news from someone else who is close to me, and it made me very upset. That is to say, it made me very upset after I got over being numb about it. Because, you know, your psyche only puts up with so much at one time. My psyche had already cried uncle so that when this person delivered the news (along with "I know this is a really bad time to be telling you this"), I had to tell him, "Listen, I'm really really sorry to hear that, but my ability to grieve is a little overtaxed at the moment, so if I don't sound devastated, it's just a coping mechanism." But then a few hours later, I was in the car, heading somewhere, and the numbness lifted enough for the wracking sob sort of devastation to start, and I realized that this was the sort of unpleasantness that normally leads people to call out to some deity or other for some sort of assistance. So I started to think what sort of prayer a person like me could legitimately offer, and it would have been something along the lines of, "Hey, you know, I really don't believe in you, but if you're out there, then surely you're big enough not to mind my disbelief, so if you want to offer up some help here, that'd be great, but absent an actual parting of the clouds and a hand descending, you probably shouldn't expect me to attribute any good news to your actions. Sorry about that." But I couldn't say that. What I could, and did, say was, "Listen, if you're out there: FUCK YOU." Then there was more of the sobbing, but I felt better.

Later, I felt bad about the outburst. Not about the substance, but surely it's possible to curse God in a more polite manner. I didn't apologize, though. I don't reckon he's out there, and if he is, he's heard worse, right? Or at least he should have, given his record. But mostly, the whole meltdown-while-driving (one of many that happened around that time) made me wonder how non-drivers survive modern life. If you're driving alone in your car, you can sing (well or badly), you can shout at the traffic, and you can have all manner of emotional outbursts, and no one's the wiser. I find it entirely acceptable, even therapeutic, to tell people how difficult of a time I've been having, but actually showing the devastation is something that I can't handle. If you live in Manhattan (or Chicago) and don't drive, all you have is the subway, and while experience has shown me that some people are perfectly willing to have all manner of emotional outbursts in public, most of the people there are stuck with lives of quiet desperation. Or maybe they fall to pieces during power outages, but that seems like it would be hard to coordinate. Granted, non-drivers don't have to deal with traffic, which -- at least when nobody's dying -- accounts for about 85% of all that oppresses me. But they have transit failures, and I understand that city life in general is not without unpleasantness.

Anyway, my anger at the non-existent Judeo-Christian deity notwithstanding, I've been more open to the notion of non-imagined divinity lately. Imagined divinity has always been relatively easy to experience: I just have to sing well or walk through some particularly beautiful countryside or have good sex. But my father's easy and absolutely certain cheerfulness in the face of death makes me consider that there might be something more out there than wonky brain chemistry. It seems to me entirely obvious that if there is such a thing, it doesn't take a predictable or comprehensible form. It's the most human of impulses to reduce that which we do not and cannot know to myth and law, and this impulse explains the specificity and frequent stridency of so many religions. The specificity and stridency used to bother me considerably. But I've decided, recently, to view those religions (or at least the ones that aren't attacking or trying to convert me) as quaint, rather than evil. If going to church gives you comfort, then I don't mind, so long as you don't mind that I comfort myself, in times of torment, by curling up in a ball and singing "Lord Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz." (Really, try it sometime.)

So, my early and intense religious indoctrination notwithstanding, I no longer fear that when I die (many many years hence), I'm going to end up in some celestial courtroom where I'll be found wanting. Just as I don't think any amount of faith and practice would result in my hearing "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Of course, there are powerful incentives to believe what we want to be true, so perhaps my acknowledgment of the possibility (calling it a belief is about six degrees too strong) of the existence and endurance of the soul is simply another coping mechanism. I can't help thinking that Mimi Smartypants would find the whole matter silly, suggesting instead beer and loud music as superior insulation from the perils of contemporary existence. But I say: whatever works. Ultimately, the white light that so many survivors of near-death experiences report might be the portal to a superior plane of existence. Or it might be the brain's way of powering down painlessly as we dissipate into nothingness. From my point of view, the destination isn't nearly as important as the hope and the painlessness.

6"Animal husbandry" is really not the right term here, but I really like writing "animal husbandry." A day without writing "animal husbandry" is like a day without sunshine, and today needs all the animal-husbandry-related help it can get.

7There is no footnote 7. I just thought that having only one footnote was a bad idea, and there was originally no footnote 8. There are also no footnotes 1 through 5, and the footnotes that do exist are not in order. Expecting a cogent explanation for all this tomfoolery would be foolish, yet you persist. What's up with that?

8Do I have to rant again about the near constant misuse of "nonplussed"? It means that you're unsettled and taken aback. It does not mean that you're taking it all in stride. Stop using it to mean its exact opposite, people.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Weekend in Fabulousness

While others were busy traveling to semi-exotic locations, partying to escape the financial crisis, or commemorating our many war dead, I was busy living the title of the blog. And it was fun, though maybe next year, I will delegate some of the food preparation for the fundraiser to other people. Or at least insist on a ballpark figure for the likely number of attendees.

Anyway, I did introduce a lot of finished or semi-finished foods to the freezer this weekend. Then I got nervous when we had frequent, unexplained power outages. Fortunately, most of them were just long enough to reset all the clocks, and none of them lasted more than a couple of hours. Anyway, what you see above was the less successful batch of cheese straws. In the second, and more successful batch, I went for wafers, made in the manner of refrigerator cookies. Yummy.

Below you see the beginnings of a strawberry sorbet.

After macerating with sugar for a while, the berries got covered with red red wine, then they sat in the refrigerator for a day or two before being sent to the abattoir blender. Tonight they freeze, as does the lemon ice.

As usual, I neglected to take pictures of most of what I did, so you don't get to see the Swedish ginger thins (yum), spinach puffs (yum), apple puffs (yum), cold tomato soup (yum), almond biscotti (yum), black walnut biscotti (yum), pistachio meringues (yum), vanilla thins (yum), chocolate custard (made with ground chiles and cinnamon and destined to become a Mexican chocolate mousse, which will be very much yum), or feuilletage. I am especially disappointed that I neglected to take pictures of the puff pastry, but perhaps I will get some later. I cut it into small rectangles, which I froze. I baked some of the scraps to be sure that it was going to perform, and it did, as it always does. Puff pastry is really a lot easier to make than people say it is. There's a tutorial here, if you're into that sort of thing. These particular puff pastry rectangles will be split apart and filled with lime curd to make mini Napoleons. Is "mini Napoleon" redundant? The Bonapartes get no respect.

I may have neglected to take pictures of most of the food, but I got pictures of this view from my driveway:

Wheels on fire!

I decided to make some bowls out of flatbread for serving the hummus (yet to be made: there is still much work to do), so I started by rolling out some very stiff dough as thinly as I could.

It was quite the upper body workout to get it that thin. Then I formed the dough over a greased bowl.

If I were a sculptor... but then again, no. For the second and third bowls, I switched to a mold that I hoped would impart more structural integrity to the finished product.

The bowls came out pretty well. I'm not so sure about the cheesecake filling, though. I'd decided that I wanted a dulce de leche cheesecake filling to top my Swedish ginger thins, but instead of baking the cheesecake, I made the usual custard mixture and cooked it to about 162 degrees over a double boiler. I will have to taste it again tonight to see how it behaves when chilled. When it came off the double boiler, I thought it needed some more rum, so I added some. I'm sure it will be fine tonight, and if it's not, I can fix it. It needs to be of piping consistency by Friday evening so that we can assemble the dessert quickly.

The weather was pretty good this weekend, and I did get out with the kids some, and I did get to church for an hour to rehearse "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" with the other two guys in my pick-up trio. That'll be fabulous, too. Sadly, it won't be dull, but you can't win them all.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Man Walking in the Desert

I have, for obvious reasons, been thinking way too much about mortality over the past few weeks, and since I really can't stop, I've decided to indulge myself. Some people probably think that I already indulge myself far too much on a number of fronts, but fuck them.

The death of your same-gender parent is as close as you're likely to come to a rehearsal for your own death. It's also the beginning of the end. We all know, intellectually, that we have to die eventually, but I, at least, never had an emotional appreciation of that reality until, oh, about two weeks ago. On the one hand, you can look at being born as the first step of the inevitable march towards death, which means that the process is already well underway. And on the other, I'm planning to be around and happy for another forty or more years, which means the end is nothing like imminent. But it's the acceptance that it's going to happen sometime that marks the beginning of the journey.

And that's probably a good thing. If you weren't forced to acknowledge the impermanence of life until you were about to die, you'd miss out on doing all of those things that you're much more likely to do when you realize that your days are numbered. At the same time, when you've got such a long way yet to go, there's no pressure to grieve your own eventual demise.

Most of the talk about men losing their fathers comes from the tedious, inaccurate, and shallow discussion of the so-called midlife crisis. To the extent such a thing exists, it appears to be a largely heterosexual phenomenon, and I suspect that it has more to do with a sudden explosion of disposable income (because of entering a higher level of management and/or no longer having children in college) and boredom (because of entering a higher level of management and/or no longer having children in college). In any case, I can assure you, for so many reasons, that there is neither a young wife nor a bright red sports car in my future.

All the same, the transition from the end of the beginning to the beginning of the end is a big deal, and there should be ways to deal with it. I'm thinking that the impending death of my father is a sort of chopping away of my roots and that the best way to acknowledge/repair/celebrate that situation might be some solitary wandering. Some time alone in the unknown.

Solitary perambulation as a rite of passage appears to be a largely male phenomenon, and it certainly goes beyond midlife. It's probably more common at the beginning or end of adolescence, but in any case, it's widespread. One of the best known examples comes from the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

Or, more succinctly, from the first chapter of Mark:
And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

(Do you get the idea that Matthew was the sort of disciple who was always calling meetings and telling people what to do where maybe Mark just went and quietly did things? People probably saw Matthew coming with that look in his eyes and suddenly remembered that they had a dental appointment across town.)

I realize that the Biblical example is not relevant, on a number of levels, but it was what I remembered. I could never bring myself to read Kerouac. I certainly have no intention of fasting for forty days. No wonder Jesus thought the devil was speaking to him. Eat a sandwich, dude.

I spent some time walking in the desert this past January, and for at least some of it, I was alone. It was a profound experience, though mostly just because Joshua Tree (where we were) is so profoundly beautiful and moving and big. I imagine that I would experience it much differently now or in another year or so, and there's a particular stretch of seldom-traveled road in the park that would make a highly appropriate base for the beginning of a solitary ramble, but I don't think I'd go there for that purpose. For one thing, I reckon Joshua Tree is exceptionally harsh in the summer and autumn, and it seems to me that the autumn after the death of one's father is the right time to make the journey. For another, the literal wandering in the wilderness is something whose time may have passed.

For a twenty-first century American approaching middle age, the voyage of choice is likely the solitary road trip. Nowhere is an American more simultaneously just like every other American yet completely alone than when he's driving. The highways that join us together also very effectively isolate us. They are both a cause of and a metaphor for the way we live now.

I imagine that the solitary road trip is a common enough event, but I'm surprised that it isn't explicitly codified into our culture and institutions. It's bad enought that we've given up all the visible signs of mourning. It strikes me as odd, and cruel, that employers don't have policies giving a month (or, hell, I'll settle for two weeks) of paid post-mourning leave for any employee whose same-gender parent dies. Or perhaps for the earlier or later of the death of that parent or when the employee reaches the summer of his fiftieth year. It is surely a lost opportunity that automotive dealerships don't offer short-term leases on well-equipped pick-up trucks to be acquired specifically for, and disposed of after, the midlife ramble. In a more sensible world, we would take off our black armbands only when we were ready to put on the black leather jacket that we had acquired specifically for our travels and that we would put away when the travel was done. Or, for the very fortunate, the jacket that our father had passed down to us and that we would, in turn, pass along to the next generation. People would see a solitary man emerging from his vehicle at a gas station and would know to tell him, "I am sorry for your loss."

These traditions don't, obviously, exist, and I have no real interest in engineering new rituals for the population at large. (I will leave that to the New Age types. Do New Age types still exist?) But I recognize that such traditions would be valuable, and I'm certainly willing to adapt the substance that would underlie them to my own needs. Next year, I think. I have the means to take a couple of weeks off and even, if I really feel like it, to temporarily acquire a pick-up truck. I would set off some September afternoon with a general direction (southwest? northwest? west?) but no fixed destination in mind. I would feel the solace of the open highway. I would spend time alone with my thoughts. I would cross bridges as I come to them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I haven't been sleeping all that well lately, so I guess it was just as well that we had tickets to see Turandot last night. Almost any time we have see a three- or four-act Italian opera with two intermissions, I doze off during the first act. I should probably feel guilty about all the sleeping, especially since I don't pay for the tickets or even the parking, but I don't. There are occasions when I'm eager to go to the opera, but most of the time, I'm fulfilling a spousal obligation. Especially on a Tuesday night. Especially to see Turandot. Especially when the Washington Post reviewer said that everything was great about the production except for the singing and the orchestra.

She was right, too. The staging, the acting, and the set were all very good, and those factors combined to create a mostly compelling second act. Or at least it was good theater. Even if Turandot's (Maria Guleghina's) forceful voicing of the riddles was answered by a supposedly triumphant Calaf (Dario Volante) who could not be heard above the orchestra (and, no, they weren't too loud; or at least they weren't too loud for Turandot, Liu or Timur). B&c and I had the following conversation during the second intermission.
B&c: That was a lot better than the first act.
TED: I guess so. I didn't fall asleep. And, ok, it was very dramatic, but if I'm to judge by the relative strength of their voices, I just don't buy Calaf getting the better of Turandot.
B&c: Well, yeah, but her voice was a bit screechy, wasn't it?
TED: Yes, but that seems apt for the part. She's an ice princess, right? And a sort of strident proto-feminist. I can't imagine that Puccini liked her very much.
B&c: Yeah, but she has to have something going for her or why...
TED: Why would Calaf fall for her?
B&c: Yeah.
TED: Oh, dude. C'mon. You win her and you get ALL OF CHINA. You don't really think that he fell for her in just one look, do you? He's defeated, he's on the run, he's got nothing to lose, so he might as well take the test. He doesn't have a lot of options, really. And ALL OF CHINA is a big deal. Do you think those other twenty-one princes risked death because she's pretty?
B&c: Calm down.
TED: Why?
B&c: Well, we're in public, to start with.
TED: Oh, please. They all turn off their hearing aids when they leave the hall.

Things went quickly downhill after that. The tenor made such a mess of "Nessun Dorma" that when Turandot, shortly thereafter, was ranting around the stage demanding toknow his name, the only thing that kept me from yelling "His name's Calaf. Now kill him already!" was my extremely weak knowledge of Italian. Alas, we still had to watch Liu (Subina Cvilak, who sang beautifully) undergo enhanced interrogation techniques and then kill herself before Calaf and Turandot got down and dirty (eww) and things resolved themselves in an uncomfortable gush of hormones.

I don't understand why Puccini wanted to waste such beautiful music on such loathsome characters. You have to figure that they won't exactly end up like Donna Reed and, well, whoever Donna Reed's handsome TV husband was. Calaf had to use a little brain power and some sex appeal to get through Turandot's resolve, and he's likely to be repaid by having to spend time satisfying a sex-crazed shrew. Fortunately, they're royalty, so apart from some occasional drunken procreation and the odd state function, they can pretty much never see each other and satisfy their urges with Ping, Pang, and Pong, who, frankly, didn't seem to be getting any.

There were numerous times (again) in the third act where Calaf could barely be heard, and there were numerous times throughout the production where whoever is responsible for the supertitles decided that we should maybe just fill in the blanks ourselves. It was maddening. As we were leaving the theatre, I said to b&c, "That was weak. The supertitles kept leaving important stuff out, I couldn't hear the tenor half the time, and he cut off the final note of 'Nessun Dorma' at least two beats early." An attractive, tall gentleman who was descending the staircase at the same time, looked at me and said, "I agree entirely. Except it was probably three beats early."

I have to say that I have very mixed feelings about the impending slow death of opera as an art form. I've had a few splendid nights at the opera, but I more often than not leave feeling that the return didn't justify the investment of time and/or money. It's a very difficult art form to master, and it's the sort of thing that usually isn't pleasant unless it's extremely well done. There don't seem to be that many people who can do it extremely well these days. If you layer on top of all that the current economic climate, it's not surprising that so many companies are going under. And it's not clear that, in twenty years or so, anyone will be left to mourn them. These days, you very rarely see any children at the opera. Indeed, very few members of the audience are still of the age to have minor children, and those who are of that age aren't the breeding type.

Friday, May 15, 2009


EFU returned home for the summer from Vermont earlier this week, and lo! There was much rejoicing. I am, of course, always thrilled to see her, but after the last couple of weeks (I have only mentioned the most acute item of bad news that surfaced during that period, but believe me when I tell you that I had annus horribilis crammed into a fortnight.), her appearance was especially restorative.

Let me rephrase that: the fact that she appeared was especially restorative. I was too overjoyed to have her home to let it show, but how she looked left me momentarily nonplussed. EFU normally has gorgeous, dark hair that extends well below her shoulders, but when she opened her bedroom door on Wednesday, she had approximately half an inch of hair. About a year ago, she had cut her hair drastically (but significantly less drastically) in order to donate it to Locks of Love, but she had never received an acknowledgment of the receipt of the hair from the organization, and she really missed her long hair, so she'd said she wouldn't do it again. So after giving her a long hug and rubbing her fuzzy head (Irresistible! And, apparently, I am only one of many, many people who are powerless to resist the fuzzy head.), we had a brief, hair-related conversation:
TED: Um, I thought you said you didn't want to cut your hair all off again.
EFU: I said I didn't want to donate it again. This time I sold it.
TED: Really? For how much?
EFU: A thousand dollars.
TED: Wow!
EFU: I have really nice hair.
TED: I know, but wow. Come on.
EFU: Where are we going?
TED: Downstairs. I want b&c to see this.
EFU: Whatever.
[We walk downstairs.]
EFU: Dad wants you to see my hair.
B&c: You look like a lesbian.
TED: You kinda do.

At this point, EFU sighed and informed me that a) she knew she looked like a lesbian, b) although-she-has-many-lesbian-friends-who-are-fine-people, she didn't like looking like a lesbian, and c) I needed to take her to have her ears pierced. She had decided that dangling ear rings (after the piercings heal) and a change of wardrobe was the best way to look less like a lesbian.

It was a Wednesday evening, but no time like the present, right? So I googled and found a Piercing Pagoda in a nearby mall, called them, and determined that we had time to a) have dinner, b) get EFU's ears pierced, c) shop for a hat1, and d) get to a movie theater across town so that we could catch the 9:30 showing of Star Trek2.

EFU has never before gone in for body modification or even makeup of any sort (though she sometimes likes wearing dresses, and she has a weakness for dangerously high heels), and she spent much of the evening saying, "I'm getting holes in my ears" and "I have holes in my ears" in a pinch-me-I'm-having-a-bad-dream tone of voice.

I appreciate body modification on other people, but when we were standing around at the Piercing Pagoda, waiting for the person ahead of us to get what appeared to be her fourth piercings in each ear, I thought of what it would be like if I had an earring, and I shuddered. Partly because of the whole needle thing, but mostly because I would look ridiculous.

Similarly, I very much appreciate tattoos on other people, especially when I discover them in unexpected places, but I have a two-fold fear of ink on me. First, I really am a coward around needles, but mostly, I just can't imagine that level of commitment. Especially when you identified as straight at 35 and gay at 38, it's difficult to be sure that you'll feel the same way about anything (except your children, of course, but a tattoo of your kids' names just isn't very sexy) for the rest of your life. By way of example, for nearly forty years, I have been sufficiently in love with this woman

to consider bearing her image on my bicep, but tomorrow may see the release of some cold war-era KGB or Stasi files that document, for example, a hitherto unknown addiction to white chocolate. Better not to take the chance, no? At least if EFU decides that, after the hair has grown back, she can't stand the piercings, she can let them grow closed. With the tattoo, you need surgery, and even then, there's no guarantee that you can be entirely free of that white-chocolate-loving, Bolshevik hussy's image. (Sorry, Natasha. It's just an example. I still love you.)

Still, I'm glad that I live in a time where body modification is routinely accepted at all levels of society, (Midwestern preacher's wives probably excepted, but give it a few years, and there may be a big run on "Slut 4 Jesus" tattoos.) even if I'll never choose to indulge. Future generations, naturally, will be even less conflicted. In particular, after the technological singularity, I reckon that our exteriors will be something like one large, full-color version of a Kindle, so that if we wake up (or whatever we do after the singularity) one morning and we feel differently, it'll be no effort at all to say goodbye Natasha, hello Sarah Palin3. I'm not entirely sure I'd take advantage of that particular opportunity, but I am excited to think that in the future, everyone will have abs of steel.

1EFU related that she had initially been cold after having sold all her hair without having procured an appropriate hat, but that she now mostly wanted camouflage and sun protection, her hair being just slightly too long to make the application of sunscreen practical. I reminded her that she still had at least one of her grandfather's old fedoras. This elicited an "Oh my God. Do you WANT women to hit on me?" response that may have been appropriate. We ended up in Macy's where she tried on any number of large hats with large, floppy brims, all of which I loved on her. She decided on a simple white number, which I bought for her. By the end of the evening, the child had been home less than six hours, and I'd already dropped nearly a thousand dollars on her. To be fair, though, three-quarters of that was tuition for a summer course which will help her to graduate a year early, so it could really be seen as an investment with a very high rate of return.

2Especially after having seen so many glowing reviews, I found Star Trek disappointing. I am not a fan of the original series (I much prefer TNG and Voyager, but I didn't watch any of them religiously.), but I liked all of the younger versions of the original Enterprise crew. But the movie strained credulity too much, and I thought it bogged down when Leonard Nimoy showed up. Two-and-a-half stars, I think.

3I am getting a mental picture of that, and it is NOT pretty. On the other hand, I think that, on several levels, Governor Palin would make an excellent replacement for Bullwinkle.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wade in the Water

If this were a church service, instead of a blog entry, we'd have a hymn or two, some announcements, the selling of plenary indulgences, and -- at some point before the tedious sermon -- there'd be a reading. Our text this morning would come from Mrs. Dalloway1:
But he wanted to come in holding something. Flowers? Yes, flowers, since he did not trust his taste in gold; any number of flowers, roses, orchids, to celebrate what was, reckoning things as you will, an event; this feeling about her when they spoke of Peter Walsh at luncheon; and they never spoke of it; not for years had they spoken of it; which, he thought, grasping his red and white roses together (a vast bunch in tissue paper), is the greatest mistake in the world. the time comes when it can’t be said; one’s too shy to say it, he thought, pocketing his sixpence or two of change, setting off with his great bunch held against his body to Westminster to say straight out in so many words (whatever she might think of him), holding out his flowers, “I love you.” Why not? Really it was a miracle thinking of the war, and thousands of poor chaps, with all their lives before them, shovelled together, already half forgotten; it was a miracle. Here he was walking across London to say to Clarissa in so many words that he loved her. Which one never does say, he thought. Partly one’s lazy; partly one’s shy. And Clarissa—it was difficult to think of her; except in starts, as at luncheon, when he saw her quite distinctly; their whole life. He stopped at the crossing; and repeated—being simple by nature, and undebauched, because he had tramped, and shot; being pertinacious and dogged, having championed the down-trodden and followed his instincts in the House of Commons; being preserved in his simplicity yet at the same time grown rather speechless, rather stiff—he repeated that it was a miracle that he should have married Clarissa; a miracle—his life had been a miracle, he thought; hesitating to cross. But it did make his blood boil to see little creatures of five or six crossing Piccadilly alone. the police ought to have stopped the traffic at once. He had no illusions about the London police. Indeed, he was collecting evidence of their malpractices; and those costermongers, not allowed to stand their barrows in the streets; and prostitutes, good Lord, the fault wasn’t in them, nor in young men either, but in our detestable social system and so forth; all of which he considered, could be seen considering, grey, dogged, dapper, clean, as he walked across the Park to tell his wife that he loved her.

For he would say it in so many words, when he came into the room. Because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels, he thought, crossing the Green Park and observing with pleasure how in the shade of the trees whole families, poor families, were sprawling; children kicking up their legs; sucking milk; paper bags thrown about, which could easily be picked up (if people objected) by one of those fat gentlemen in livery; for he was of opinion that every park, and every square, during the summer months should be open to children (the grass of the park flushed and faded, lighting up the poor mothers of Westminster and their crawling babies, as if a yellow lamp were moved beneath). But what could be done for female vagrants like that poor creature, stretched on her elbow (as if she had flung herself on the earth, rid of all ties, to observe curiously, to speculate boldly, to consider the whys and the wherefores, impudent, loose-lipped, humorous), he did not know. Bearing his flowers like a weapon, Richard Dalloway approached her; intent he passed her; still there was time for a spark between them—she laughed at the sight of him, he smiled good-humouredly, considering the problem of the female vagrant; not that they would ever speak. But he would tell Clarissa that he loved her, in so many words. He had, once upon a time, been jealous of Peter Walsh; jealous of him and Clarissa. But she had often said to him that she had been right not to marry Peter Walsh; which, knowing Clarissa, was obviously true; she wanted support. Not that she was weak; but she wanted support.

As for Buckingham Palace (like an old prima donna facing the audience all in white) you can’t deny it a certain dignity, he considered, nor despise what does, after all, stand to millions of people (a little crowd was waiting at the gate to see the King drive out) for a symbol, absurd though it is; a child with a box of bricks could have done better, he thought; looking at the memorial to Queen Victoria (whom he could remember in her horn spectacles driving through Kensington), its white mound, its billowing motherliness; but he liked being ruled by the descendant of Horsa; he liked continuity; and the sense of handing on the traditions of the past. It was a great age in which to have lived. Indeed, his own life was a miracle; let him make no mistake about it; here he was, in the prime of life, walking to his house in Westminster to tell Clarissa that he loved her. Happiness is this he thought.

It is this, he said, as he entered Dean’s Yard. Big Ben was beginning to strike, first the warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. Lunch parties waste the entire afternoon, he thought, approaching his door.

the sound of Big Ben flooded Clarissa’s drawing-room, where she sat, ever so annoyed, at her writing-table; worried; annoyed. It was perfectly true that she had not asked Ellie Henderson to her party; but she had done it on purpose. Now Mrs. Marsham wrote “she had told Ellie Henderson she would ask Clarissa—Ellie so much wanted to come.”

But why should she invite all the dull women in London to her parties? Why should Mrs. Marsham interfere? And there was Elizabeth closeted all this time with Doris Kilman. Anything more nauseating she could not conceive. Prayer at this hour with that woman. And the sound of the bell flooded the room with its melancholy wave; which receded, and gathered itself together to fall once more, when she heard, distractingly, something fumbling, something scratching at the door. Who at this hour? Three, good Heavens! Three already! For with overpowering directness and dignity the clock struck three; and she heard nothing else; but the door handle slipped round and in came Richard! What a surprise! In came Richard, holding out flowers. She had failed him, once at Constantinople; and Lady Bruton, whose lunch parties were said to be extraordinarily amusing, had not asked her. He was holding out flowers—roses, red and white roses. (But he could not bring himself to say he loved her; not in so many words.)

But how lovely, she said, taking his flowers. She understood; she understood without his speaking; his Clarissa. She put them in vases on the mantelpiece. How lovely they looked! she said. And was it amusing, she asked? Had Lady Bruton asked after her? Peter Walsh was back. Mrs. Marsham had written. Must she ask Ellie Henderson? That woman Kilman was upstairs.

“But let us sit down for five minutes,” said Richard.

It all looked so empty. All the chairs were against the wall. What had they been doing? Oh, it was for the party; no, he had not forgotten, the party. Peter Walsh was back. Oh yes; she had had him. And he was going to get a divorce; and he was in love with some woman out there. And he hadn’t changed in the slightest. There she was, mending her dress. . . .

“Thinking of Bourton,” she said.

“Hugh was at lunch,” said Richard. She had met him too! Well, he was getting absolutely intolerable. Buying Evelyn necklaces; fatter than ever; an intolerable ass.

“And it came over me ‘I might have married you,’” she said, thinking of Peter sitting there in his little bow-tie; with that knife, opening it, shutting it. “Just as he always was, you know.”

They were talking about him at lunch, said Richard. (But he could not tell her he loved her. He held her hand. Happiness is this, he thought.) They had been writing a letter to the Times for Millicent Bruton. That was about all Hugh was fit for.

“And our dear Miss Kilman?” he asked. Clarissa thought the roses absolutely lovely; first bunched together; now of their own accord starting apart.

“Kilman arrives just as we’ve done lunch,” she said. “Elizabeth turns pink. They shut themselves up. I suppose they’re praying.”

Lord! He didn’t like it; but these things pass over if you let them.

“In a mackintosh with an umbrella,” said Clarissa.

He had not said “I love you”; but he held her hand. Happiness is this, is this, he thought.

I hold my near-constant mental references to music and literature an unfortunate frailty. There can be little doubt that if I had had an appropriately profligate youth, I would have lived things rather than read about them. By way of example, one or more of my absinthe-induced wrong turns would have landed me in the middle of a civil war, and the resulting syphilitic lovers, comrades-in-arms, and delirious-strangers-mistaking-me-for-someone-qualified-to-administer-last-rites -- all too numerous to count -- would have expired in my arms2. Thus, I would now have plenty of personal experience to draw upon when speaking to the dying.

Alternatively, if I were a member of the Bloomsbury set, I -- like Clarissa and, presumably, her author -- would likely hold the notion that some things are so obvious that they don't need to be said. Consequently, if I were to be faced with -- to choose an entirely haphazard3 and unlikely example -- the death of a close family member, all I would have to do is show up with a brave smile and some flowers.

I agree with the contention that 80% of success is showing up, but 80% is only a B-, and there are some areas where you really want to pass with distinction, or even honors. My father was so pleased by my mere presence this past weekend, that, without saying anything, I was probably already at an 85, and I hadn't even brought flowers4, though I did bring along YFU, which is always better. I was glad to be of some practical use when my parents met with the admissions nurse from the hospice program and during a subsequent meeting with one of the primary care nurses, but it was clear that we were there mainly for moral support.

Moral support, apparently, is a lot more effective than I'd realized. When we arrived, my father had just been released from the hospital, perhaps twelve hours after getting the less-than-six-months prognosis from his primary care physician, and he was demoralized and unable to get out of bed. By the time we left, he was getting around with a walker and downright cheerful. I'm sure the hospice program's excellent palliative care had a lot to do with that, but I'm also certain that our visit had a lot to do with it.

I'd been worried about bringing YFU along because I'd thought that my father would still be in the hospital, and, even if he wasn't, that there'd be nothing for her to do. But I'd told her to bring along something to read, and she interpreted "something to read" as the season 4 and 5 DVDs from Buffy. As a side effect, my father may now be hooked, but I reckon that he has more than enough time left to watch the entire series, plus Angel.

My mother had insisted that I have YFU bring along her swimsuit so that the two of them could "sneak off" to the beach on Saturday afternoon. It does seem that no trip to Bradenton is complete without a trip to the excellent beach there5, and while I had not originally planned to accompany them, my father's younger brother had flown in to see my father, and he arrived mid-Saturday morning. I figured that he should have some time alone with my father, so I drove my mother and daughter to the beach. The Gulf waters cannot help but be restorative, even if you only walk beside them, especially on such a gorgeous day. My mother sat on a towel and soaked in the sunlight, and I'm sure it was a much needed respite. YFU danced in the edge of the water, and I walked down the shore a little ways. There were many young fathers playing in the waves with their young sons. It brought back memories of many long-ago trips to the sea.

When we were driving back to my parents' house, my mother told me that after I had gone to bed the previous night, my father had told her "I didn't realize he loved me so much," because I had sat with him on the bed and held his hand for a half-hour or so. I was glad that my doing so had made him so happy, but I couldn't help feeling guilty that he hadn't already realized the depth of my affection. He told me later that he and his father had always gotten along, but that his father had never really told him that he loved him. My grandfather, long since dead, certainly never struck me as a cold person, so I assume that he was a creature of his time and upbringing and assumed, like the Dalloways, that actions speak louder than words.

But they don't, at least not always, and not when the words are consistent with the actions. I couldn't help feeling sad that my father never shared with his father some of what he and I shared this weekend. It's unlikely that my father's and my love for each other is any more profound than my father's and grandfather's love for each other was, but my father doesn't seem sure of that, despite my grandfather's actions, because of what was not said.

Given that, you would think it would have been easy, on my last evening there to tell my father that he had always been the best father that anyone could want. Especially since it's true. And I did say it, but it really wasn't easy, perhaps because, when you're not in the habit of saying that sort of thing, it's something that you would only say to the dying. It was a kind of acknowledgment that we both had accepted the inevitability and (relative) imminence of his death, and while that acceptance is a blessing, it's a blessing that's paid for with a great deal of pain.

But the pain passes, or at least it receded for us, and my visit there left both of us with a great deal of peace and gratitude. The acceptance, the peace, and the gratitude are things that my father and I arrive at in very different ways: he sees them as gifts from God, and I see them as our gifts to each other. But we both got to the same place, and we both got there fairly quickly. It was a reminder of how similar we are, and I can't imagine anyone I'd rather be like.

1You know that you can just skip the readings if you feel like it, right? I always try to pay attention to the readings in church, but I almost invariably end up staring out the window. It's really a lovely idea to build a sanctuary with big floor-to-ceiling windows and surrounded by a forest and gardens, but it does make it easy for the mind to wander.

2"Syphilitic" is meant to modify my notional dying lovers rather than my notional dying lovers and my notional comrades-in-arms and the delirious strangers, but if you want to think of the latter two classes of people as also being syphilitic, well, damn this war.

3It is a perhaps unfortunate result of my forced-but-unused scientific training that I do not say "random" unless I would feel comfortable that my usage of the word would pass peer review. Not that my peers would know any better.

4I did, of course, send some flowers to my mother for Mother's Day. They were still in a box, lying inside the entryway when we arrived on Friday, my mother having been too concerned with getting my father home from the hospital to notice that anything had been delivered. Fortunately, I arrived before the heat had done any serious damage to them.

5The other thing, apparently, that no trip to Bradenton is complete without, is a trip to WalMart to buy something we forgot to pack. The beach has an atavistic and healthful call; WalMart is more of a siren, causing me to lose my moral compass and my rectitude to falter on its rocky shore. YFU kept telling me that we should move to Florida, and when I told her that the reason why we couldn't is that if we did, we would become frequent WalMart shoppers, she realized I had a powerful argument.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Snacks on a Plane

Boy howdy, has this been a lousy week! After the initial shock of hearing that Dad was likely terminally ill, I suggested to my mother that it might be a good idea for me to call Dad's doctor, if only because Mom couldn't seem to process all the details. I had planned to wait a couple of days, but yesterday afternoon, the doctor called me, and, well, you know how they tell you that when you learn for sure just how bad the situation is, there's a sense of relief that comes with the certainty? Not so much. Anyway, YFU and I will be heading down to Florida tomorrow morning. And I should probably not say much more about it now. There was a slight sense of relief that came with venting here in my last entry, but I'm reminded of one of my favorite spirituals, "Soon I Will Be Done." It includes a particularly satisfying bass part for the line "No more wailin'." So, no more wailing. I'm not guaranteeing the "no more weepin'" part, but I'll keep it to myself.

So we'll be flying down tomorrow, and I'll be taking Southwest for the first time (I got my boarding pass the very minute they began taking online check-in for the flight), and I understand that means I'll be getting peanuts and a soda for my in-flight meal. And that's fine: I got a pretty good fare, especially for a last-minute purchase. But it reminds me of all the times, over the last three or so years, when I've flown on other airlines, and I've been offered a snack box. For the low, low price of six bucks, you have the opportunity to acquire 1.5 bites of four to six different items. Given the cost of, say, a draught beer in a airline bar, six bucks is really not all that much, but you get such a tiny amount for your money. I'm not sure that I've ever actually bought a snack box, but I know I haven't bought more than one. And I always, always, think, "I could do so much better with six bucks," but I never seem to have the chance to try.

This evening, however, I had a bit of time before choir practice, and I wanted to go to the supermarket to acquire my weekly ration of Diet Coke, so I figured I might as well. There are two of us flying, so I allowed myself twelve dollars to get a snack for two. Here's the relevant portion of the receipt:

As you can see, I came in under budget, at $11.06 ($10.94 + $0.12 tax on the Andes mints). But I'm only using half of the cranberry walnut stuff, so it's really $2.50 less than that. And it's a lot of food (maybe three times as much, per person, as you get in one of the United snack boxes) for a snack. Even with using only half of the snack mix, if I'd added another apple, I'd have plenty of snack for three. And that would have lowered my per-snacker cost to just over three dollars. Which, in turn, would have allowed me the opportunity to add another item. Say an eighth of a pound of kalamatas from the olive bar, and perhaps some pita bread.

I could likely have done even better at Trader Joe's, but I had to run another errand that took me out of my way, so I didn't drive by there. Also, I could have done better if I'd been a little bit less distracted, but that's life, I reckon. Anyway, I'll have another chance for the return flight. There's always something to look forward to. Like the day that they lift the restrictions on liquids, and we start having BYOB flights.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Age of Responsibility

This past weekend, we had some friends over for brunch to celebrate b&c's birthday. Under normal circumstances, I love to cook for friends, and I was having a great time planning the meal and doing some of the initial prep work right up until late Friday afternoon, when I was driving home from the office, and my mother told me that my father had been hospitalized with severe kidney failure.

It is not all that unusual for my father to be hospitalized. One of my earliest memories of him is visiting him in the hospital when he had his gall bladder removed: he was probably forty at the time. He was in his late fifties, I think, when he was climbing down from a roof where he'd been working on a commercial air conditioning unit, and the ladder slipped, trapping his leg between two of the rungs and giving him a severe compound fracture that he never fully recovered from, despite several surgeries and the application of bizarre and alarming appliances. It wasn't long after that when he had his first run-in with prostate cancer.

None of these, or many various other, ailments kept him from doing most of what he wanted or needed to do, or at least they didn't until he was well into his seventies. Over the last few years, though, the maladies have been more frequent, and he has been looking decidedly frail, at least physically. His spirit has never flagged, but that only makes the physical frailty all the more noticeable. After coming back from visiting my parents last December, just after Christmas, EFU figured that she didn't expect my father to make it to Christmas of 2009. She mentioned that in passing later, and I got very upset, though not with her. She was only seeing what I was unwilling to.

Anyway, despite the continual accumulation of bad news, I was still fairly optimistic after the initial call from my mother Friday. She was convinced that the situation was dire, but she always thinks that the situation is dire. My father, by contrast, always says that things are just fine, even when they obviously aren't. It's impossible for me to figure out which of them is right at any given time. Neither of them is purposefully misleading me or my siblings, but they inhabit entirely different universes. My mother very much resents my father's optimism and his ill health. During the initial bout with prostate cancer, I heard her tell another relative that the men on her side of the family dropped dead: they didn't have the bad form to linger or waste away. She seems to still feel that way, while simultaneously insisting that everything possible be done to make my father better. My mother has never been burdened by the hobgoblin of little minds.

Anyway, on Saturday morning, I called Dad in his hospital room, and he sounded better than usual, so I told myself that things were going to be just fine. But then I was on my way to Costco to do some shopping for the party, and I turned on This American Life just in time to hear Dan Savage read a story about the death of his mother and its affect on his faith. It was beautiful, funny, and touching, and it busted me up. That was when I realized that I wasn't convinced that things were going to be just fine. Worse, it was clear that I was due for a spell of fragility. I hate feeling fragile. Costco didn't help. There were many delays and hassles of an unimportant and uncharacteristic nature, so that a trip that should have taken no more than ninety minutes ended up taking just over three hours. Also: fragile.

But things still had to be accomplished. I had a birthday cake to make, I had cleaning to do, I had miles to go -- and a concert to attend -- before I could sleep. And the best palliative for fragility is keeping busy, so I got busy. Messes were made, cleaned, re-made, and re-cleaned. Ingredients were transformed into cake. Serving implements and flatware were inventoried. Shit happened. But then shit really happened. My mother called me to say that the exploratory surgery had revealed kidney blockage because the cancer had spread. The details were murky, but the upshot was that my father needed immediate surgery to drain the kidneys or death would be imminent. The procedure would buy him enough time for the cancer to kill him.

I was not prepared for the ferocity of anticipatory grief.

But no one is, right? Unless you're a character in a soap opera, you only live through the death of your father once, at most. I'd seen my father live through the death of his father, but I was in college at the time, so it was mostly from a distance. And, like me, Dad is usually not very public with his despair, so I reckon he probably just cried in the shower, or when driving alone, the way I have.

This is really not the appropriate setting to eulogize my father (who, after all, is not dead yet), but I will say that most people who've met him think that he's one of the kindest and best people they've ever met. He's also the poster child for Christianity. None of this news seems to bother him in the least. He went so far as to tell my sister that he had in mind a particular day in June when he would be "going home." And when I talk to him these days, he's always so grateful that he's not in pain and that his children are so concerned about him. The only two things that he really cares about are God and family, and by his own measures, he's had a wildly successful life.

My grandmothers were the same way. They died within a year of each other, both at the age of 89, and they both seemed downright eager to go. And I'm sure that level of acceptance made it somewhat easier for my parents and their siblings, but then again, maybe not. Knowing that someone's at peace when he or she dies is an intellectual band-aid on an emotional chest wound.

There wasn't a lot of time to process the news about my father. We had an 8:00 curtain to make, and we had to get dinner first, so there was only so much time I could spend sobbing in the shower before I had to dress and go. I was feeling a little bit better on the ride to the restaurant, but then my sister called me, and, well, conversations between two people who are trying desperately but mostly failing to keep it together are just not much fun. Besides, we had to discuss what was to be done.

The only silver lining of abject misery is that it keeps other problems out of mind. But it doesn't stay sufficiently intense (fortunately) for long, and then other matters start to crowd back in. There are many current and future problems to be dealt with. There are travel plans to be made. There is so much responsibility.

By my reckoning, Saturday evening was when my area of responsibility grew from one generation to two. I had to make arrangements to go down and visit my parents. There's an off chance that I've been getting bad information about the seriousness of my father's condition, so I need to find out for myself exactly how bad things are. And my sister wants me to let her know whether she needs to show up immediately or can wait a couple of weeks until her kids are out of school. But mostly, the trip is insurance that I get to see him again while he's still around and coherent. There is not really anything that remains unsaid between the two of us, but there are things that bear repeating, and there is comfort to be given and, perhaps, received.

The concert Saturday evening was Haydn's Creation, and it was magnificent. The soloists and the chorus were all splendid, and the orchestra never overshadowed them. There was a libretto, with an English translation next to the German text, included in the program, so I was able to keep my mind fully occupied by the performance, which was a much-needed relief. When we got home, I started working on the lime curd. I had used non-stick layer pans in making the cake, and I had forgotten to adjust the baking temperature downward to compensate for their darkness, so the cake was somewhat overcooked on the outside, but I knew I could compensate by splitting the layers (which I would have done in any case) and filling them with lime curd. I had in mind a dulce de leche buttercream to go between the middle two (of four, post-split) layers and to frost the cake.

I was really, really, really not in the mood to entertain the next day, but it was a responsibility that I'd agreed to, so I got up, went to the supermarket for a few last-minute items (I needed a shitload of birthday candles: I could not miss an opportunity to emphasize that b&c is considerably older than I), and then went into full-on cooking mode. Normally, fully engaged cooking is something that I love as much as I love singing, but in this case, it was just a good way to be too busy to worry about other things. The spread was very modest by my standards, but I still had to make the buttercream (I made up the recipe on the spot, and it was soooooo good.), fill and frost the cake, reheat the chick peas, make the garlic sauce for the chick peas, cut up the watermelon and strawberries for the red mimosas, cook the sausages, slice up the pineapple and more watermelon, slice the bread, set the table, adjust the seasoning, assemble and plate all the food, and fry the eggs.

I was still working when people arrived. The first four guests all gathered in the kitchen, right in my way. After saying "excuse me" for the eleventh time, I finally kicked them out (politely, I think) and made them take their mimosas to the living room. Nominally, I shooed them off so that I could finish the food, but I mostly just didn't want to deal with people. I was almost finished (the eggs had to be fried at the last minute so that the yolks would still be runny to provide a sauce for the chickpeas with spinach) cooking when the last group of guests arrived. They, also, took up residence in the kitchen, even though there were guests and plenty of room in the living room, so I kicked them out, too.

I managed to keep myself pretty busy for about the first forty-five minutes, but then I actually had to sit and talk to people. And this is something that I normally love to do, and these were all people that I like very much, but it was just awful. Fortunately, with ten people around, I didn't have to say very much, especially since many of those people really like to talk.

I was able to occupy myself for another ten minutes putting the candles on the cake and then lighting them, but then everyone gathered around the dining room table to eat the cake and talk more, and I just did my best not to be miserable. I considered excusing myself to do something in the kitchen and then sneaking upstairs to be alone, but I concluded that would be irresponsible. And rude. Still, when the brunch got into the fourth hour, it was all I could do not to stand up and say, "Will you people just leave, already?" But I didn't, and everyone left after about 3.5 hours, and I think everyone else had a good time. At least b&c had a good time, and that was the point.

And then it was time to pick YFU up. I had promised to take her to Florida to visit her grandparents, and I had hoped that it would be a happier occasion, but I still meant to take her with me, so I had to make arrangements with the ex. Then we came home, and we had her new computer to assemble. That took a while, and then I started to look into airfares, and that took a while. I talked to my father again, and he assured me that he was feeling better than he had in a long time. I reckon it was the painkillers and the fact that he's vaulted right to the acceptance part of dying. My mother made him retract the statement to my sister about having a date in June in mind, but I'm pretty sure he still thinks that. I suppose that all of our days are numbered, but most of us probably wouldn't be so chipper about figuring out that the number has only double digits.

Intellectually, I know that I should not be surprised at how overwhelming all of this has been for me, but visceral reactions cannot be fully anticipated or appreciated until they happen. I know, also intellectually, that grief abates over time, but this is the sort of grief that's certain to get worse before it gets better, and it already feels like my plate is full. But there is, of course, no option but to handle what must be handled. It's the way things are, it's the way things always have been, and it's the way things always will be. And it sucks.