Saturday, September 25, 2021

"To those who left us....and who brought us together"

I think the worst part of getting older is the parade of departures from this mortal coil moves ever faster. And now I have to write about yet another one.

I'm writing today to talk about Karl. I'm not going to mention his last name out of respect for his family's privacy. 

Two weeks after Mr. Brilliant died in 2013, I joined a social group for widows and widowers. I didn't want to join a grief group. I felt they were all too churchy and I truly did not want to sit in a room full of crying people. Some would say I should have, that I pushed grief away and that is why it's been squeezing out in manageable doses over eight years. 

I also didn't want to join "singles" groups. I already knew that dating wasn't in the cards for me. It had been horrible in my 20s, and I knew that it was going to be even worse for an overweight woman pushing 60  So when I found a group on Meetup whose mission was to build friendships with people who "get it" in a safe space, but by sharing enjoyable times, it was exactly what I needed. 

We've all known people who are like the mayor of whatever the group is. "The mayor" is always someone whose very presence signals that you are welcome. He's the first one with the smile, the extended hand, the "tell me your story" when someone new comes into the room. Karl was that person.  He wasn't hitting on people, he was all about welcoming. I've realized how important this is, after joining a group here after I moved where the men don't talk with any women they're not interested in fucking, and the women seem to see all new women as interlopers. The group in NJ was nothing like that.

Every Wednesday for two years I had dinner with these people, and Karl was always right there, showing genuine delight at being with everyone, and extending that smile, that hug, that warmth, to the new and the tentative. He had an unfailing instinct for where people's boundaries were and respecting them, while providing just the right amount of comfort. And last year during that long, cold winter, I was able to host Zoom calls for the group and see them all virtually. I am now particularly glad that I had that opportunity. I had no idea that the last Zoom I hosted would be the last time I'd see Karl.

I was at one of these dinners when I got the call that my father had passed away. I'm glad I was.

Karl and I shared an enjoyment of jam bands, especially the New Jersey-based Railroad Earth. I went with him and our friend Stacey to see Hot Tuna in Stroudsburg, PA in 2014, retracing the steps and the restaurant Mr. Brilliant and I had traced  a few years earlier for a different show. Karl and I weren't on the same page politically, and to be honest, I'm glad I never had to have political discussions with him during the Trump years. But upon reflection, he really did test my "You can't support Trump and still be a good person" doctrine.

Karl always closed every "widder dinner" with this toast:  "To those who left us...and who brought us together." Our friend Stacey, who has endured far more than her own share of tragedy already, noted today that he has now joined them. Perhaps he will now bring THEM together in an alternate universe version of the camaraderie those they had left behind shared.

My heart hurts today for Karl's loved ones, for Stacey who was such a close friend, for Carolyn and Carol and Bette and Kurt and Susan and Dan and Lynne and Gordon and Elsa and all the others I haven't met in person and who are new, and who I just can't remember right now, for they are the ones who have to face the empty space at the table every Wednesday. His loss makes grieving just that much more difficult for those who will no longer have his smile to welcome them and show that even in the face of indescribable grief, there is warmth and friendship and hope.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Right Wing Anti Vaccine Death Scorecard Episode 4, or COVID Is Nowhere Near Done With These People Yet

 Today's entry into the death pool is Bob Enyart, Colorado wingnut talk show host and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, who died this week from COVID-19. 

According to the Denver Post, Enyart had refused to be vaccinated because of his concern about abortion, believing the lie that COVID vaccines are made of aborted babies.

The term "Good riddance" certainly applies to Bob Enyart, a man who once read the names of people who died of AIDS while playing Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

So let's give this paragon of right-wing hate the proper send-off, shall we?

Honorable mention: Victoria Wolski, known for posting QAnon banners from bridges and demanding that she be treated with Ivermectin while in the hospital.

Honorable mention 2:  Josh.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Phil Schaap (1951-2021)

 When I lived in New Jersey, especially after Mr. Brilliant died, there were two evening radio shows I listened to frequently. One of them was Rich Conaty's Big Broadcast on WFUV on Sunday evenings, and the other was Phil Schaap's Traditions in Swing on Saturdays on WKCR, the Columbia University station. Conaty's show was about ALL popular music from the 1920s and 30s, while Schaap was all about jazz. And on Saturday nights, he'd go into the roots of the music that characterized the Big Band era. It used to make Mr. Brilliant crazy when I'd listen to either one of them, because he had that particular disease that so many in my generation had of hating the music our parents listened to, and his father was one of those WWII vets who thought Glenn Miller was the ne plus ultra of musicians for all time.  (Fun anecdote:  Years later, when Mr. B. would talk about the Grateful Dead in similar terms, I would occasionally remind him of this.)

I've loved 1920s jazz for a long time. I could go into my whole thing about how I believe that the feeling of "coming home" that I have when I listen to the Hot Fives, the Hot Sevens, Bix Beiderbecke, and others, is a past-life memory, but I'll spare you all that. Suffice it to say that everything I know about early jazz and swing, I learned from listening to Phil Schaap on Saturday evenings. I learned about Bix and Tram (Frankie Trumbauer) and everything about Louis Armstrong's early music, and people I wouldn't have heard otherwise, like Ben Webster and Sidney Bechet and Stuff Smith and Bunny Berrigan. The man was a walking, living encyclopedia of jazz music and jazz musicians and had more anecdotes about them than could be stored in a million books or tapes.

Rich Conaty died in 2016.  Phil Schaap died yesterday after a four-year battle with cancer.

When it comes to the complete, comprehensive history of jazz, it was all stored in Phil Schaap's brain. His death is the 20th century music equivalent of the Library of Alexandria burning to the ground.


And yet another one: Remembering Peter Hochstein (The New York Crank)

 This blog reboot doesn't get much traffic, but when I look at my stats, I always see referrals from The New York Crank. It occurred to me this morning that I hadn't checked out the Crank in a while, so when I clicked over there and found that nothing had been posted since March, I kind of already knew why.

The New York Crank was the nom-de-blog of one Peter Hochstein, a prolific and peripatetic author of books and (his words) "corporate histories, personal and corporate biographies, book-length premiums, brochures of substance, and other long copy projects that others find too daunting." He was also a book author with a penchant for catchy titles, such as Up From Seltzer: A Handy Guide to 4 Jewish Generations, Heiress Strangled in Molten Chocolate At Nazi Sex Orgy: A Memoir and No Biz Like It: from gofer to producer in just 57 years.

Peter first contacted me in 2010 to thank me for linking to a post on his blog. Every time I linked to his blog, he emailed me to thank me. In November 2013, after Mr. Brilliant's death, we began an intermittent correspondence, because it seemed we had something in common other than political leanings: Both of us had lost our partners in the same neuro ICU in the same hospital.  I was far more confident about Mr. B's care than he was of the care his love, Roberta, had received three years earlier, but we shared the same doubts, wondering, and having had to make The Decision No One Should Have To Make.

Peter would check in about once a year and occasionally he'd comment on something I posted on Facebook, under his Facebook-specific nom-de-Facebook, Etoain Shrdlu. In 2018, he checked in after I started this new blog, revealing that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma  (yet something else we had in common, since a) my father had died from NHL just three years earlier; and b) I had been working on NHL studies before retiring earlier that year). He said then that he didn't expect, nor did he want to be, around for much longer, though at that time he didn't yet know if his was an aggressive or indolent form.  About the latter, he said "I love that word," indolent," as if the medical community is chiding it for not taking its victims out a bit more industriously." 

How I wish he'd done a chronicle of his journey through his illness. There is something about Jewish fatalism that makes us get funny at times of crisis, and in his last months, the Crank went pretty gonzo. 

Last Thanksgiving I held a "family and friends" Zoom to which I invited him. He emailed me the next day that he'd been unable to connect to the link. I wish I knew why, and I wish he'd been able to attend.

Peter is one of the few bloggers who have left us whom I actually knew as a person, however peripherally. I feel badly that I didn't know about his death until now, but given that his last blog entry was March 17 of this year and he died on April 9, I take some comfort in knowing that however bad his last days may have been, there weren't many of them. And I hope that as he wished, he exited the way his father did -- by simply going to sleep and never waking up.

Peter was a terrific writer, an entertaining blogger, and for me, a good online friend at a time when I needed people who truly understood what I was going through was like. I'm saddened by his death out of all proportion to his role in my life, and I feel badly that it took me this long to check in and find this news. We may not have been close, but it was nice to know he was there.

I'll leave you with Peter's own words, from his Amazon page:

I became a writer because that was the only thing I ever learned how to do. In retrospect, it's amazing I could even do that, given the focused-on-failure mindset of my immediate family. They were nuts. On the outside they seemed, well, merely a bit uptight. But trust me, my parents, and especially my mother, were batshit crazy.

Evidently it ran in the family. I learned only recently, years after my mother's death, that my mother had a sister who had been sent away to a state insane asylum before my birth. The poor woman was never mentioned in front of me. After a lot of prying I learned recently that her name was Gussie, short for Augusta. She was the real life equivalent of the fictional crazy aunt locked up in the attic.

You want an example of crazy? My mother was terrified that I would do something, or say something, or live someplace that would reflect badly on her. And her standards of what reflects badly were indecipherable. That may explain why, wherever I lived, she wept bitterly. She wept bitterly at my first apartment, a small townhouse studio in Greenwich Village, looking out on a charming flagstone courtyard. Later, she wept about an apartment on a high floor with sweeping city views. Still later, she wept when I bought and moved with my now ex-wife and child into a large two-bedroom apartment with a chichi Park Avenue address.

Nor was the problem that she hated city living. I spent nine years as a suburbanite, in a big house with a large back yard and beach rights - and that, too, brought her to paroxysms of tear-gushing grief.

But I was talking about writing. I became a newspaper reporter when I was 18. I sold my first book - thank God under a pseudonym! - when I was 22. I got out of the journalism business for a very long stretch and went into advertising, at the age of 23, because it paid better than journalism.

These days I do almost anything that involves putting my fingers on a keyboard and wiggling them. I still write TV spots, and brochures, and junk mail. I report and write occasionally for business publications. And I turn out books. I ghostwrite autobiographies. I write biographies on commission. Of course, I also write my own stuff. Why?

Because it's fun. And I've always figured that if I'm having fun writing, people will have fun reading my stuff. So please do order my books and have a few laughs before it's too late. Remember, nobody's getting out of here alive.

Monday, September 6, 2021

And now it's 20 years. Same shit, different angry men

It seems that every year, the annual ratings grab of 9/11 coverage starts earlier. Before we can turn around, it'll be a whole season. Maybe it'll start at the Summer Solstice, but more likely, as with this year, it'll start around Labor Day, which is the unofficial start of fall. Maybe eventually it'll be a shopping season. Who knows? 

A year is really just an arbitrary designation of time passing, though it seems that the "fives" and "zeroes" have special meaning. As I sit here on the sixth of September, 2021, which this year doubles as Labor Day, I've already noted that CNN has rebroadcast the excellent Naudet brothers documentary that was supposed to be about a probationary fireman in New York, but turned out to be a gripping and horrifying documentation of that terrible day. It's also run a discussion with the now-adult school children to whom George W. Bush was reading "My Pet Goat."  One of the premium channels is running Paul Greenglass' film United 93, a movie I could never bring myself to watch. Spike Lee's HBO docuseries NYC Epicenters 9/11 —> 2021½ is in heavy rotation.

Lee is no stranger to controversy, and much has been made of his excision of most, but not all, of the "9/11 Truther" content n the series. My own relationship with 9/11 Trutherism is complicated, especially in the context of the direct line from that particular movement down into the QAnon/deep state/2020 election was rigged/etc. lunacy that has received far too much oxygen and still thrives. 

Let me explain:  I have freely admitted to my belief in what was then known as LIHOP ("let it happen on purpose"). My belief was constructed from the following facts:  1) that a Newsweek article had just hit newsstands and mailboxes detailing the events leading up to the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president; 2) Bush's already-dropping poll numbers; and 3) his aides' clearly known desire for a war with Iraq.