Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day, Dad!

I was just uploading some old home movies of my mom for Mother's Day, and went to look at my post about getting the news that she had died back in 2007, and another I wrote after her funeral. Reading over a section talking about my dad, I thought I'd add a link to a piece I wrote about him many years ago. When I searched over this blog, I discovered I've never posted it here. Since the site I originally posted it on is long-gone, here it is. I suppose I might have waited until Father's Day rolls around, but who the hell knows if I'll remember by then. (Btw, this was written as a "sketch story," a conceit I had about quickly jotting down memories as fast as they come, editing it later but not bothering with capitalization or much in the way of punctuation. It was meant to evoke the fuzziness of our memories. It's very possible I was just lazy.)


dad was forty-six or so when i was born.

i was the youngest of seven, twenty years behind the eldest.
dad was a good catholic.
a long-time usher at our church.

mom, and most people i guess, called him charlie.
he called her margie.
i haven't lived as many years as they were married.

a terrific bowler, awards, notices in the newspaper.
we went bowling a few times when i was twelve or thereabouts.
i was frustrated at my lack of skill. then he showed me how and when to let go of the ball, and it was like magic.

the basement was his workshop, tools and models of ships and planes everywhere.
i liked to spend time down there, sometimes alongside him as he worked, sometimes alone in its sanctity.
it drew me in despite my fear of the darkness and depth.
the smell, a mixture of sawdust, paint thinner, oil, was as mysterious as the adult world.
sometimes my dad smelled like that.
that and lectric shave.

sometimes he laid on the floor, flat on his wide back, lifted little me into the air, horizontal, my tummy on the soles of his feet, my hands in his until i let go, then i put my arms straight out, like superman.

he called me mugsy, though i'm not sure why. he also called me mister magoo, and baby pics of me and my big round noggin fully demonstrate the reasoning there.

he wore giant corduroy slippers, which happened to fit perfectly on the feet of a big inflatable bunny i got one easter.
with the slippers on, i could flip the bunny in the air and it would land standing.
dad always laid on the floor to watch tv, on his side, arm crooked and head against palm, and one time i threw the bunny from the couch and it hit him in the back of the head.
he turned to me and my brother, crabbed us out, which we found hilarious.
i did a wicked impression of it for years afterward.

he smoked a lot, raleighs.
there were always tons of redeemable coupons around, rubber-banded into tiny bales, and catalogs showing all the neat stuff my dad's habit could buy.

one christmas eve night, when i was very little,
i was kept upstairs while the living room was prepared.
i was asked, hear that?
hear that? on the roof?
you heard that, right?
i strained to see anything through the frost on the windowpanes.
then i was brought downstairs and there was santa, waving a green-mittened hand from behind the front door.
i stood several feet away in my orange footie pajamas, and to this day i cannot accurately describe what i was feeling as i gaped and waved and distractedly put a finger in my nose.
santa left, and dad came in minutes later---
i was taking out the garbage, what happened?
there's a picture of santa, as he peered from behind the door.
(i suppose dad didn't have the red pants.)
i studied santa's cotton-buried face in that photo for years.

he was an aerospace engineer.
he worked on one of the skylabs.
recently a friend asked me what my dad did for a living. when i told her, she said, so he was a rocket scientist?
like, as in when people say, well i'm no rocket scientist, but...?
I had never thought of it that way. but yeah, i guess he was.

one of our beagles, brandy, had puppies, six of them.
she had them under the couch while a brady bunch rerun was on, the one where alice skis down the ramp made of hay.
we called them the brandy bunch.
one pup, the sixth, was a runt.
i kept a close eye on that one.
i came downstairs one morning before school--kindergarten?--and they were gone.
dad gave them away to people at work.
i didn't understand.

he took me to see star wars, a couple of times. he loved the opening shot, underneath the imperial cruiser.

he'd take me to the hobby shop whenever he went to buy new models, and he would buy me something every time.
one time at toys r us, he was already buying me a toy, and i whined until i got an empire strikes back book too.
he was angry with me, and later i was ashamed of myself.

he had diabetes, and later cut down his heavy smoking and changed his diet.
he lost weight and grew a beard, and looked better than he had.

he had a great laugh, a kind of giggle.
sometimes it was plenty phlegmy.

we read stephen king books and talked about them. we didn't really talk about all that much else.

dad and i took brandy to a place to be put to sleep when she was too old and sick to live.
she had big, hard tumors in her belly and looked sad all the time.
we put her in a cardboard box with a blanket and a favorite tennis ball, and put her in the car.
she had hardly ever been out of our yard, besides the once or twice she'd run away and even then she'd never left the block.
the place we went to smelled awful and the bedlam of yelping was unbearable.
i thought they would put her down right then, but they said it would be the next day.
we left her there, and i was nearly ill all night thinking of our dog in that horrible, noisy place, wondering where we had gone, why we had left her at what she must have known was the end.
dad didn't cry, but driving home his face was grim in a way i'd never seen.

we got a puppy a few months later.
when dad and i brought him back to the north shore animal league for his six-weeks shots, rocky trembled in my arms.
i thought it was cute, and i comforted him as he laid his head on my shoulder.
it was less cute when he then threw up the whole chunks of hot dog my mom had fed him, directly down my neck and back.
dad found this funny, and later i did too.

sometimes, these days, i notice that i fart just like my dad.
it made me laugh then, and it makes me laugh now.

dad's last birthday was his 63rd.
i forgot to get him anything, even a card.
my brother dave and his girlfriend gave him their gifts as i sat at the kitchen table with them.
i was so embarrassed at my thoughtlessness that i didn't say anything to him, that day or the next.
not one word.

that next night i came down from my room shortly before midnight to find a commotion in my parent's bedroom.
my mother was standing over the bed, yelling for my father to wake up.
he appeared to be asleep, sucking in occasional snore-like breaths.
i called 911 for an ambulance. it came, and my family left for the hospital, the one i was born in, less than three blocks away.
i stayed behind, i guess in case someone needed to be home.

i read the medical encyclopedia as i sat on the floor in the bathroom. its facts about first heart attacks tried to be encouraging.
rocky came into the bathroom and laid in my lap, pressing his head into my chest and whimpering. i sort of laughed, thinking of that night in the back seat with frank chunks down my back. i held that dog hard.

an hour later i sat in the kitchen, not reading the newspaper laid out on the table.
i didn't look up from it as my family came in the front door, silently.
they came into the kitchen and living room, silently.
everything in the world became different.
every word i didn't say in the past two days choked me.
my sister jackie stood behind me, put her hands on my shoulders, but i couldn't lift my head from the paper.
tears loudly smacked the page, darkened, spread.

i was sixteen or so when my dad died.

i read, months after that night, in some book about grief i found in the school library, that people are often upset to realize they are gradually forgetting little things about their dead loved ones, like the way they laughed or whatever.
i didn't like reading that.
i didn't want to forget dad's laugh.

i have forgotten many things about my father, there's no question. but i haven't forgotten that giggle. in fact, i hear it a lot.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Almost Walked.

I was just listening to Adam Carolla interview Marc Maron, and Aceman opined that "Almost Famous" (which Maron apparently appears in, though I have no recollection of this) is one of those movies that is universally beloved. I disagree, so I was compelled to dig up an old piece I wrote for a long-dead blog...

I used to think it was pretty cool that Cameron Crowe was a writer for Rolling Stone as a teenager. Now, after seeing "Almost Famous," his film documenting this period, I'm not so sure I believe it anymore. Seems to me any random writer, even one who was not even alive in the seventies, could have written this turbid mess. Is there any actual proof Crowe achieved this? Who can corroborate his story, or better yet, refute it? Has anyone looked into Crowe's whereabouts on the night Lester Bangs died?

First of all, there's his self-aggrandizement. All through the film, people are enthusing what a great and special kid Crowe's alter-ego Will is, despite the fact that he says little of interest and never changes the dopey expression on his dull face. He displays the charisma of a fire hydrant (if a fire hydrant could have a 70's kitchen table haircut).

Is it his talent as a writer that distinguishes him? Well, we never actually hear anything that he's written, so I guess it can't be that. There are a scant few moments when the camera pans by small scraps of yellow legal paper which contain sentence fragments. Having looked carefully, I can assure you that nothing scribbled there was remarkable.

He spends days on tour with a third-rate Grand Funk, and somehow still can't come up with an angle for his story. So he contacts Bangs, who rattles off a lame, ridiculously vague one-sentence summary. Will passes it along to Ben Fong-Torres at RS, who is unconvincingly stoked by what he hears. I'm quite certain any self-respecting editor would have rolled his eyes in exasperation and asked "Alright, what else you got?"

By the time Will finally gets his interview with the lead singer, we've been led to believe this enigmatic figure (who's kind of like a Lizard King you can bring home to mom) will have an insight into why music touches us that will have the audience swooning. Instead, the ultimate scene has him settle into a chair and assert, in a way that's somehow both ponderous and terse, that what he loves about music is (are you ready?): "Everything." Wow. Really? Everything? How do you spell that?

Then you have puffy-faced, adenoidal Kate Hudson as Penny, the world's most boring groupie. She doesn't even take her top off! When she and her equally boring groupie friends decide to deflower stone-faced Will, they dance around the room like pre-teen girls re-enacting a Wiccan fertility ritual one of them saw in a movie once.

Aside from a glimpse of "David Bowie," we never get to see anyone who's supposed to be or even resemble rock stars of the day. Instead we get, "Hey, Bob Dylan was just here a minute ago" and "There goes Led Zeppelin, through the hotel lobby!" No shit? Can we get a camera on them for a while? At least they're up in their suite having fun, banging actual hardcore groupies with halibut and whiskey bottles. Can I see that before I fall asleep please?

Add the super-douchey "Tiny Dancer" singalong that nearly caused me to walk, and the stupid plane crash scene (the drummer blurts out that he's GAY! Get it? They're not gonna crash at all! And now they know he's a FAG!), it all left me annoyed, bored, and wanting to investigate the authenticity of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." I'm starting to believe that "The Wild Life" was Crowe's true defining opus. Besides, it's been six years since "Jerry Maguire" came out, and there are STILL retards out there bleating "Show me the money!" That's enough reason to despise Cameron Crowe, this piss-poor memoir notwithstanding.

[2016 add: Check out Crowe's output since this was written. I rest my case.]

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Taking the Stand.

I was searching this blog for something I had written ages ago, and was surprised to discover it wasn't here--it had only been on my old site, which has been cold in the digital grave for at least eight years. I offer it again now. You're welcome. Oh, and I've sprinkled this story with a few links to other writings of mine, so you can waste even more time before you die. Again, it's my pleasure.

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I had an epiphany of sorts, although I can't say for certain that I was aware of it at the time. We all have one at some time or another: the recognition of a truth, of something immense and your role in it, the flea unimaginably imagining the dog, and consequently a gradual dawning. I'm glad I had my first early.

It began with music. Sure, I liked some songs, but they tended toward the novelty side, Father Christmas by the Kinks, some Jonathan Richman tracks my brother Charlie played for me. The albums I enjoyed were usually inherited comedy records of the sixties---Cosby, Newhart, a single of Soupy Sales doing Pie in the Face (b/w Soupy Sez). I hadn't yet discovered new wave, if there was such a label at the time. The kids at school were toting boomboxes and listening to AC/DC, while I knew by heart every song on Allan Sherman's "My Son, the Nut."

Everything changed when I got a cheap, compact AM/FM headphone set from some kind of mail-in offer---actually, it was my mom who sent away for it, with cigarette coupons or something, and she then gave it to me. I remember the Styrofoam halves it came in, and the cardboard sleeve holding them together. There was something exciting about the package, as if I knew I was holding in my hand a portal to a new world.

If mom had foreseen the many hours that I would spend listening to that radio, hours customarily intended for sleeping, she may have ordered an ashtray from the Raleigh catalog in its place. It wouldn't be long before I'd be listening to Elvis Costello and the Clash, but I cut my new teeth on WPIX's soft rock, drifting off to John Denver and Barry Manilow songs.

In no time I became a true night-owl, although I had always enjoyed climbing out of bed to see what the grown-ups were up to, sometimes as late as the wee, wee hours. Often I'd find the folks watching television, and there were things on the TV at those mysterious hours that did not look like the programs I was used to. There were newscasters that seemed as important as the impenetrable stories they gravely told. I remember one team I liked because they reminded me of Washington and Lincoln (if Roger Grimsby had a powdered wig and Bill Beutel grew a fringe of beard around his chin). In the even-later hours, bleary-eyed under the dreamlike fluorescent lights of our blue plywood-paneled TV den, I'd hang with my older brothers and their friends while they sat on the sofa, probably stoned, watching pre-cable television's meager late-night offerings. They seemed to find my eager performances intermittently amusing, but I wasn't there to entertain them, not really. I was there to see the shows they watched, to gather clues to their adult world.

The new radio offered more clues, especially when I began tuning around to other stations. I found WBAB's Joel Martin, an interviewer who had guests of every stripe, and often did shows on the paranormal. Soon I was also regularly partaking of Larry King's hours-long program.

The introduction of the radio into my pre-teen world meant not only late-night listening, but often reading as well. At first I re-discovered my collection of Mad magazines, reading them under the covers with a flashlight night after night. I marvelled at how they were still amusing to even a sophisticated twelve-year-old such as myself. Once I'd tired of those, I began reading the books I took out of the Plainview Library, generally books on UFO's, the Loch Ness monster, Mothman, and every other aspect of unexplained phenomena. Throw in the odd assortment of books about old comic strips, Guinness records, card tricks or horror movies, and you had one cranky kid at the bus stop in the morning.

Through a radio contest (WGBB, naturally), my mom won a paperback copy of "The Stand" by Stephen King. It sat in the dining area for a while, uncracked, until one day I picked it up for examination. I had seen it laying around, the orange eyes peering out from the blue-black cover, but had never really looked. I saw then that the eyes were of two different faces---one of a shadowed male face, the other a raven in profile. I found it creepy and intriguing. I held the book in my hand, pondering its heft. Could I possibly attempt to read such a book? Eight-hundred seventeen pages. In a row. Daunting, to say the least.
I embarked upon this journey of a tome, unwisely, at the middle of the school year. It took a tremendous amount of time away from my studies. It wasn't even as if I could use this for a book report---my teachers would not have allowed it. But after the first few, hard-going chapters, it was too late. I was hooked.

I read through the Long Island winter (back when Long Island had real winters, but I suppose many of us recall harder hardships than we actually endured), on the bus, in the classroom, under the covers, and the book consumed me as I consumed it. I remember taking walks through deserted streets after reading sessions, imagining that I was in the world of the book, where the majority of the population had been decimated by disease. I'd step over piles of wet leaves, pretending they were bloated corpses. If I happened across someone, they'd become a character from the book, usually a villain, and I'd hide from them. Every time I heard some genuinely flu-infected person sniffle or cough, I 'd think to myself he's got it, he's got it and it won't be long before his tongue swells out of his mouth and pus flows from every orifice...

Perhaps thinking I would make a good character in the book, I took to wearing a pair of heavy, oversized brown work gloves instead of regular insulated ones. I wore them day in and day out, even as the weather warmed, and not just outdoors. I remember sitting out recess activities at St. Pius one afternoon. The class was in the gymnasium, probably due to inclement weather, but as the others played pigpile or kickball, I sat on the stage where our pageants were performed, reading The Stand and wearing my "murderer gloves." I can't recall if I had dubbed them that, or if my friends had. (Two years later, during the graduation yearbook tallies, not only would I inexplicably score "most likely to succeed," but I was also elected by a buddy as "most likely to kill people.") The principal, Mrs. Kawecki, strolled by me as I sat at the edge of the stage and made some idle conversation, during which I actually told her what I called my gloves. If I remember correctly, she just laughed. (Imagine some dopey kid saying that today---he'd most likely be forced to take weekly trips to a psychiatrist, if not immediately suspended.)

I had found that it was possible to surrender yourself to a book, to be utterly drawn into it and become part of it (and vice-versa). I finished the final chapter with a mixture of sadness and elation, wishing it would go on. I tried to re-read the book immediately, only to find that the moment could not be recaptured. The book had had its time in my life, and the time was over. Thankfully, there would be many other books to come and briefly claim my imagination, but few that would do it so completely as "The Stand."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Some More Viskupic!

Not only is this blog regularly found through searches for his work, but I've been getting a bit of feedback on Facebook lately about Gary Viskupic, whose work I've written about here on more than one occasion. The FB page for "Gilbert Gottfried's Colossal Podcast" had been posting about the 70's summer series "A Year at the Top" because that pod has recently hosted its stars, Paul Shaffer and Greg Evigan. I then commented with a pic from an August 1977 Newsday TV Book that Viskupic had drawn, and then they reposted it, as seen here:

As weird as everything was that was associated with the Faustian 1977 Greg Evigan-Paul Shaffer sit-bomb A YEAR AT THE...
Posted by Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast on Thursday, July 16, 2015
This made me go back into my pictures folders to see if I had any other Viskupic artwork that I'd never posted. Turns out I have plenty, and here it is, beginning with a few from 1972 (remember, you can click on each pic to enlarge it to terrifying proportions)...

Now a bunch from '73...

Okay, I just looked at how many more pics I have to go, and this is a bigger project than I realized. More to come!