Holidays in Hell, Part 2

Isn’t every Friday Black Friday?

I’d like to say that once Thanksgiving was over we’d be free of that awful meal. But, that was never to be. My mother, being a child of the Depression, would wring every last ounce of leftovers she could out what she cooked. This is an admirable idea, and to this day I cannot abide to waste food – a trait I will attribute to her. In fact, half of a rotisserie chicken is in a seal-a-meal bag in my freezer, awaiting its transition to a rich stock. The problem (again) is that she was just such a god-awful cook. Older, staler food that was poorly cooked the first time doesn’t get more appealing as it’s reheated.

My mother would spend what we now know as Black Friday making a couple gallons of watery, greasy, salty turkey soup out of the carcasses of the poor unfortunate birds that she tried to make jerky from the day before.

For days we were expected to have steaming bowls of turkey soup with our leftover turkey sandwiches, with a side of hardening (yet, oddly melting) Pacific Slime Mold. To this day I cannot eat turkey noodle soup. I just can’t. In fact, one of my brothers got sick off of the stuff one year. In a symphony of cognitive dissonance, my mother convinced herself that he liked it so much that he made himself sick eating too much of it. (she was partially right)

While my mother was distilling her evil brew of turkey bones and rubbery carrots, minus anything remotely flavorful, my brothers and I were expected to clean. It wasn’t an order, but it was understood. Keep busy and maybe she won’t notice you. Look like you’re doing what you think she wants you to do and maybe the eagle’s eye will pass to the next trembling rabbit.

There was always a sense of knowing foreboding for the six of us on a day that would later become known as Black Friday. Hell, it felt like we invented the term.

My father would be at work in the days before I was on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and in the days after I was hired he would disappear to wash, wax and Simonize by hand the Camaro I paid for.

My mother would be in an ill temper about her perceived failure of the day before that would have been for most people a solid win (really), and almost anything could and would set her off. She would be looking for nonexistent trouble, and she would inevitably find it.

“What the fuck?” it would start, decades before the phrase was even cool, let alone everyday nomenclature. “What the fuck are you doing?!” her voice would get shrill with the trick question.

“Goddammit how many times do I have to tell you how to fucking do this? Are you stupid? God gave you two fucking ears so you could listen!”

Blah, blah, blah it went. Then, her verbal fusillade would turn physically destructive. She would beat us, and then break the things we liked the most. Sometimes she would beat us with the things we liked most. Every year. Yup. It hurts to read. It hurt even more to have happen. Yet – here we all are.

On it would go through the afternoon – the insults, the threats, the treasured items that were broken. She would burn herself out, and then catch a second wind. She was a force of destruction who would hurt anyone or anything within her sight.

She was a tortured soul – with pain enough to go around for 8. I cannot imagine what demons kept her company, but I am thankful with every ounce of my being that they never stopped by for a visit in my skull. No-one should feel that – no-one. Her pain was so profound that half-a-century later I can still feel it, and for her.

It chokes me up to know she had – and sought – no relief her entire life from the cyclical racing thoughts that tortured her, and nothing tortured her quite like The Holidays. They were Hell.

Mom would wind down about 10 minutes before my father would get home and we, like accessories to a crime, would keep quiet about what went on.

My father, who had to have seen our tear stained faces and had to have felt the crackling current of distress, never batted an eyelash. He didn’t want to be involved. To be involved meant the focus of my mother’s rage would fall on him. So, he pretended all was well in the world. And for him all was well with the world. He didn’t feel the lash, he wasn’t in the line of fire.

I can’t forgive my father for offering us up instead of himself. He was supposed to fall on the grenade of her evil, toxic rage. Instead, he watched us burn. He let us do what he hadn’t the courage himself to face.

I’m sure my father was trying to put off the inevitable crescendo of her annual Holiday Mania Meltdown, but it never helped. He knew better than any of us that every year, like the Grinch’s Christmas, it came just the same.

 

My Dear Uncle Tom

 

Dad and Uncle Tom

 

 

Dad was among the last of a generation of white men who could sweet talk and claw their way to a bottom to lower-mid-level white collar job without anything but a high school education, and pretend to wonder why POC and women wanted their place at the table.

He HATED Archie Bunker so much I almost threw the interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. My dad was the epitome of the guy who has a black friend and never slapped a woman on the ass, and then pretends people didn’t say nigger, that women weren’t harassed constantly, and institutional racism and sexism don’t exist.

If you want to know where Herbert Lamb came from look at the picture above again. It’s  the only picture I have with my Grandfather Lamb, my Dad and Uncle Tom. The body language couldn’t be any clearer: “That fucking nigger. I’m at a nigger’s house. My son is a nigger lover.”

Lovely family, huh? Oh – and *I* put that suede hat on the ball of hate that passed for my grandfather. It was a hippy hat that one of my brother’s Kevin’s friend’s left in Dad’s Nova that I paid for. Even then I was a TOTAL shit stirrer, and put it on his head to piss him off.

Look at the body language of that sad sack of hate: This is what unvarnished hate looks like.

“I have a black friend” could have been coined by Herbert W. Lamb. The man in the cream colored shirt in the picture above was my father’s dearest friend. I called him Uncle Tom for my whole life – and for the brief few minutes I didn’t call him Uncle Tom he quickly disabused me of the notion I was being disrespectful by calling him Uncle.

I remember him saying, “I knew it. I knew this day would come. I am and will always be your Uncle Tom.” I wish I could hug him this very moment.

Tom Swan was a wonderful and loving man who will always be my family. He will always be in my heart.

It doesn’t change all of the many things Herb Lamb took a pass on recognizing. Including my mother’s mania, especially at the Holidays.

 

Mom Thanksgiving 1976

 

Betty Crocker has nothing on me, Asshole

My mother would spend the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in a self-imposed frenzy of baking and preparing for our annual Open House, as well as baking holiday ‘Thank You’ cookies for my father’s employees.

When the dust settled we would have a 15 loaves of sweet bread, a half a dozen fruitcakes, 100 assorted bars, and at least 1,000 cookies. (Really)

Half of the baking would be done in the roughly 2 weeks between what we now call Black Friday and my birthday, and the other half after her first Meltdown.

All of which we were NOT allowed to eat. It was all packed into tins and boxes and duct taped closed awaiting the open house. THAT was fun. At least we had that to look forward to. THAT was a straight up party.

The only way we could get to the baked goods was to get through Black Friday BEFORE it was called Black Friday.

Once we were drowning in turkey soup my mom could focus on the baking and kick her compulsive mania into high gear. She would come back from the store with several 5 lb. bags of flour and sugar, both white and brown. She would buy at least 15 lbs. of butter, and 6 pounds of chocolate chips and 5 dozen eggs. There would be boxes of baking soda, a large tin of baking powder, and new bottle of vanilla and a large jar of ground cinnamon. She would buy 5 pounds of walnuts that we would crack and shell. There would be dates and raisins, candied cherries and candied pineapples. She would buy 5 pounds of oatmeal, a 3 pound jar of peanut butter, 2 lbs. of powdered sugar and a small bucket of marshmallow cream.

Once she’d marshaled her resources she was ready for the assault on Mt. Baking. And step fucking back if you got in her way.

She would start with the cookies, baking them every day while we were at school.  She would bake chocolate chip cookies, butter cookies, cinnamon cookies, Russian tea balls and Snickerdoodles. There were refrigerator cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, spice cookies, peanut butter cookies and chocolate crinkles. She would make 8 or 10 dozen of each, and a double batch of the chocolate chip.

Next up was the shortbread. Then the peanut butter-chocolate bars, the raspberry bars and the date bars. She would make brownies and fudge, and sometimes divinity.

The breads were in a class by themselves because there was so much prep work. She would bake banana walnut bread, cranberry nut bread, date nut bread, and apple spice chocolate bread.

Finally – the ceremonial baking of the fruitcakes.

If Thanksgiving was a tribute to gluttony, this was an absolute ritualistic bacchanal.

She would go 8 to ten hours at a stretch, taking up every available inch of counter space. There would be cooling cookies along the long counter, and baking sheets filled with waiting dough lined up near the sink. You would come home from school to find her presiding, sweating and frantic, over a sea of cookies, predicting this batch would be a failure. (Not such a Nostradamus moment, there, considering she could bake only slightly better than she cooked.) And don’t you even THINK of grabbing one!

By the time Christmas rolled around there was no longer any room in the freezer or refrigerator for the things a family of 8 might need on a daily basis. Rather, the fridge was packed to the gills with things we would be killed for laying a finger on.

The never ending wonder that were my mother’s culinary skills meant she could burn anything. I believe she could have burned water in a cold pan. But, that didn’t stop her from trying to bake a diabetic’s delight or more items than you would find in the average bakery. This was her time to shine.

My mother’s baking failures never dissuaded her in the belief she was one cookie sheet away from perfection. But, there was one thing I learned about her lack of baking skill: When she inevitably burned the baking she would burn her hand, and then burn down the whole world with her.

“Ooh! Ooh! Ohh! I burned it!! Goddamit I burned it! Fu—aaaahhh!!” She would then begin to spout a geyser of profanities that would make a platoon of sailors and a whorehouse full of their friends blush. Then, the weeping would begin. The horrible, teeth gnashing weeping that was meant to manipulate us.

“Why? Why?! I try so hard. I try so hard every year!”

She would begin to weep and wail.

“I just want to make it the Christmas that I never had! I try so ha-a-a-a-rd!”

Next would come the ceremonial reassuring. No, mom, it’s great. No, it’s really great. You do try so hard. Would it make you feel better to smash one of the last things I have that I care about?

And so it goes, her crying, us consoling her. Finally, my father gets home and pretends he sees nothing.

The inexorable march towards her meltdown continued.

Next Up: Mom, you forgot my Birthday?!

 

 

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Holidays In Hell, Part 1

Thanksgiving Table (2)

Old Fashioned Christmas Meltdown

 

Serves 8 generous helpings

 

Add to bowl and mix at high speed:

1 Manic Depressive Narcissist

1 Month of frenzied baking and decorating

 

Next, add generous portion of holiday shopping and gift wrapping for 8

 

Mix well with stress, envy and narcissism

 

Simmer slowly with resentment

 

It will come to a raging boil after several days

 

You’ll know your Christmas Meltdown is done when you smell burning insulation and hear, “MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS!!”

 

Garnish with liberal amounts of physical abuse.

 

Serve scorching hot.

 

Pro Tip: Clean-up is much easier if you resign yourself to it in advance.

 

Bon Appetite and Merry Fucking Christmas!!

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

The noble season begins with the day of giving thanks for the plenty we have and the luxury of breaking bread with family and loved ones.  The day my mother would – without irony – complain that she had too much food to cook and too many people coming.

My mother cooked a simply gluttonous amount of food. She would have to start at 5 in the morning to get it all done for dinner at 4 pm. That was her gig: Make up some fantastically overdone menu, refuse to accept help (except me), and then freak out when it wasn’t perfect. We often had two twenty pound turkeys, ten pounds of mashed potatoes, 4 double packages of dressing, 2 quarts of giblet gravy, 5 pounds of hand-carved or stuffed vegetables for the relish trays, 5 pounds of Pacific Lime Mold, 3 pounds of candied yams, 4 dozen rolls, 2 dozen deviled eggs, and half a dozen pies. Most of it was made from scratch. She was in her glory: Overdoing it, complaining about the thankless people around her not appreciating the sacrifice her of labor, all the while resenting not getting the help she refused.

It started with the pies. 4 pumpkin and 2 pecan, begun at the ass crack of dawn after a sleepless night of obsessing. Because why do them the night before? Or, *gasp!* let someone else do it? Despite her best efforts, she always burnt them. Without fail she scorched the crust. The rare few that didn’t get overdone had a dry pastry that was often too salty. The pecan often wouldn’t set, and the pumpkin would get an odd condensation on the filling. This first crisis would set the mood for the day and the panic level at 4.

I would wake up early to the smell of burning pies, boiling eggs, and her bad temper. I’d get to watch a bit of the Macy’s parade before being hustled off to the kitchen. I would spend the day being scolded, sighed at in exasperation, and gossiped to. But worst – there was no way to avoid the melt down she would ultimately have.

I’d scrub vegetables and potatoes in ice cold water while my mother prepared the turkeys.  Right about the time she got the neck and the giblet bag out is when she would discover that at least one of the turkeys hadn’t properly defrosted. Panic level 5.

The vegetables would have to be hustled out of the sink so that the turkey could get a cold water bath. Or, there was the epic year that both of them were frozen harder than her heart and they both went into the bathtub in a screaming frenzy of panic. Eventually the turkeys would be thawed and my mother would begin to wrestle with them to get the legs and wings in place. After they were stuffed she would try to remember how to sew them shut. Every year she would forget how to do it, and then rip the skin trying to remember. Once victory was declared over the too quickly thawed and inadequately spiced birds, one would go into the oven and the other into a roaster whose sole purpose was to cook an unnecessary turkey once a year. Those poor birds never stood a chance going in so late. Panic level 6.

While my mother carved radishes into roses and green onions into confetti and her thumbs into ribbons, I scrubbed and peeled and halved a ten pound bag of potatoes. I would stuff cream cheese into celery, and she would began the Pacific Lime Mold, a vile concoction of green lime Jell-O, crushed canned pineapple, cottage cheese and mayonnaise. My brothers and I nicknamed it Pacific Slime Mold. Sure, it may look like vomit, but it tastes like it, too. My mother made this disgusting concoction for every family gathering and special occasion. Vats of it. She imagined it was quite a sophisticated dish. (Yet, she though green bean casserole was tacky!)

Right about the time we finished the deviled eggs my mom would go to baste the turkey and realize she should have done it sooner. This would begin the vicious cycle of over basting, where the basting let the heat out of the oven, which would cause her to turn the heat up, which would dry the meat out, which would cause her to over baste… Wash, rinse, repeat. Do I even need to say my mothers’ panic and mania spiked straight to 8? She would be frantically buzzing around the kitchen, direly pronouncing that things were behind schedule.

Right about here my brothers would exit stage left to go play the Turkey Bowl. It was a pick up football game at the high school field that goes on to this day. Even my brothers who didn’t like football went to play, just so they could get out of the house and away from my increasingly agitated mother. All the while my Dad would be watching the Detroit Lions getting the snot beaten out of them

Round about noon, when my mother had been up for 8 hours and probably had 3 pots of coffee, she would ratchet it up to 9 when she realized that guests would be arriving within the hour. She would tear off to the bathroom like her hair was on fire, try to shower and dress before the guests arrived.

I would take the quiet time and set the table. I would start with the dishes and the water goblets purchased a piece at a time from the local grocery store. The flatware would be next, then the serving pieces. I loved that part.

In the other room I would hear my mother screeching about how the hair she never had cut looked terrible. Or about how her outfit was too small.  OR, goddammit, SOMEthing. Always something.

My mother would come into the kitchen in a cloud of perfume, wearing some outlandish outfit, sporting too much makeup. She would be brittle with anxiety. Whatever I’ve done while she’s gone isn’t enough, or it’s too much. The giblets are overdone. The Pacific Slime Mold isn’t gelling. Why didn’t you scrub and peel the yams?! And, oh fuck!! The turkey needs to be basted!!

“Goddamitt, I burned my hand!!!”

THAR SHE BLOWS! CRISIS LEVEL 10! AHOOGAH!!! AHOOGAH!!

“Son of a fucking bitch! This isn’t worth it! Every fucking year it’s the same goddam thing! I wake up in the middle of the night to make a nice meal for you people and nobody lifts a finger to help!

Is it too much to ask to have one nice day a year? This is a joke. It’s just take, take, take. I work my fingers to the bone around here. I don’t ask for much. But, goddamit! Is it too much to ask for one nice day? What the fuck is WRONG with you people?”

I’d be frozen in fear, quietly crying and clutching a carefully peeled carrot meant for the relish tray. About this time Dad makes his grand contribution to the proceedings by filling a few bowls with nuts and cheap candy and putting them around the living room.

She would be full steam ahead in a rant about things over which I had no control, screaming at people who weren’t there, and the guests would arrive. She would see their car pull up and do a complete 180, and you’d be expected to do it, too.

“That’s another thing you cocksuckers need to learn to do!! You ne—Oh. They’re here. Now sweeten up. Because, if you want I can give you something to cry about.

Well, hello!”

Suddenly she became the hostess with the mostess, all charm and welcome. She played the doting mother, the loving wife and the concerned friend. No one could lift a finger but her and her maid Sarah (what she would call me when company was over).

As the turkey turned to leather her inward anxiety level peaked at 11, but outwardly she was jovial. But, it was just an act, and inside she was seething.

These days I feel so sorry for her. She was just such an awful cook and expected so much out herself. With her level of narcissism anything less than grand was unforgivable, ergo someone else’s fault. She made life hell for herself.

The 45 minutes before we sat down to eat was frenetic. The bird would go on a platter, with an entirely foreseeable crisis that happened every year. My mother would stain her outfit with turkey drippings as she transferred the bird to the platter. All the juices she leeched out of the turkey seemed to end up on her clothes. Every year she would refuse to wear an apron, and every year it would happen.

The roasting pan with what was left of the drippings and all the giblets would go on top of the stove to make gravy, which I would stir until my arm felt like it would fall off. Into the oven went the extra stuffing and yams and rolls. The turkey would be carved. The cranberry sauce lovingly removed from its can. My mother was a whirling dervish in all her glory, playing up the part of beleaguered chef. “No. no… I have it down to a science. You’d only get in the way.”

There would be piles and piles of food, and all of it bad. Platters of bone dry turkey. Bowls overloaded with sticky potatoes and over baked stuffing. Buckets of salty gravy. Scorched rolls. Bland yams and Jell-O salad coming to room temperature.

The meal itself would take 15 minutes to eat. Then it would be over. All her effort expended and never enough praise for her liking. She expected lavish compliments, and kept track of who she thought had slighted her.  Every year she was disappointed.

Then the cleaning would begin. At this point she had been at it for more than 12 hours straight. “No, I’m fine! Go sit down! This will just take a minute.” The guests would sit uncomfortably, not being allowed to clean up after a meal they weren’t allowed to contribute to while we helped her clean up the feast. No matter how much we would do after the meal my mother would complain to us later that we were lazy bastards that didn’t lift a finger to help her.

Eventually the guests would leave and my mother would resume her blow up right where she left off. “-ver think about anyone but yourselves. I’m your fucking slave. All I wanted was one nice day. One fucking nice day. I guess that was just too much to ask.”

Thanksgiving was my favorite part of that time of year. It was always so peaceful.

 

 

 

Butterfly Buffets and the Wayback Machine

It’s a stunning autumn evening, and the last few days have been bluebird skies and butterflies, as the largest Painted Lady migration in decades is underway in Colorado. There are so many millions of insects it showed up on weather satellites. I am one of the lucky ones who happens to be in the path of a 70-mile-wide kaleidoscope.

Over the last ten days I have spent at least a dozen hours standing in front of my house watching these beautiful, delicate insects fly over my roof from the north, down in a stream to land on the sunflowers I planted almost-too-late in the season to bloom. But bloom they did, and it has been a Butterfly Buffet in my sunflowers.

 

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In late June, after coming home from a week of especially brutal treatments that left burns on my skin which required treatment, I threw some seeds from 2 different packets of sunflowers into 3 larger-sized pots. Planting those flowers was an act of faith that I would live to see them bloom. Back then it seemed inconceivable to me that no doctor would be able to put a name to the disease that had been systematically attacking my lungs, teeth, stomach, bones, muscles, joints and skin for the last 5 years.

 

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More of the sunflowers sprouted and took hold than I expected. The pots became overcrowded – I watered them twice a day through the heat of the summer and bought some miracle grow to make up for the lack of soil for the roots. They became top-heavy, and I tied them to the rain gutters and the porch. Watering their roots to appease the drooping leaves and buds, and making sure the nascent stalks were supported and protected from grass hoppers gave me something to take care of. It was therapeutic and got me out of my own head about my illness.

When we returned from (literally) howling at the total eclipse of the sun for two-and-a-half minutes in a fallow field in the middle of Wyoming in late August, I was delighted to find one single sunflower had bloomed – dark and full of beauty I was unprepared for, like the amazing solar event we had just witnessed with our son.

 

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It was a week before another flower unfurled its petals – a Mammoth Sunflower that was bright yellow, with a head larger across than a dinner plate. I was certain it was too late in the season for the rest to bloom, but kept diligently watering in my own act of faith for them. Flowers bloomed intermittently, but the majority of buds refused to open.

In the middle of September my sunflowers blazed to life, as if someone had thrown a switch.

I was reluctantly walking to my car one morning, on the way to my first treatment of the week, when a riot of color met my eyes: 3 kinds of yellow, orange, peach, burnt umber, and red. The sight of those flowers felt like a triumph: I was still able to nurture something, to be useful.

A few days later Richard called excitedly from the front yard and I walked out into the glorious sunshine of a late summer day to find a flurry of butterflies in my flowers. I stood transfixed, delighted at their delicate flitting and bold coloring. It was a tonic to my soul, and for a little while I forgot the long hallway of pain the last few months had been. All my work had been worth it.

 

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Eleven days later I found myself sitting in my car in my driveway, hands on the wheel and utterly lacking the energy I needed to walk into the house. I had just finished my third ultraviolet radiation treatment for the week – number 40-something since May – and I stared at the garage until it seemed the right thing to do to shuffle inside.

 

Wayback Machine

 

Three times a week I step into what I call The Wayback Machine. (Google Mr. Peabody and Sherman, those of you under 40)

The Wayback Machine administers a prescribed dose of UVB radiation via a contraption that is god’s own tanning booth. The light box stands about 7 feet high and is circular with 25 or so vertical lights lining the inside. The machine swings open on hinges, and you go in naked – but for goggles to protect your eyes from blindness – and step up onto a box. You close the door as the nurse dons protective gear, and grab a bar above your head to keep steady, and prevent you from falling into the lights and getring burned.

You take a breath, steel yourself and give the okay.

Lights that look like giant florescent tubes come to life with a literal *POP!* that makes you flinch, and you see a flash of white light through eyes pressed closed and hiding under the red goggles I prefer over the yellow. A giant fan kicks to life a quarter of a second later to make the heat bearable, and the machine grinds and whirs.

Instead of weak, annoying florescent lighting, these bulbs bake you with the literal heat of the sun: Cancer-causing UVB rays scorch deep into your skin, burning off the top layer. You smell yourself burning – the actual smell of your skin burning off begins to nauseate you, but the fan wafts the stench away. You feel hours worth of direct sunlight beamed onto your unprotected skin in a matter of seconds. Deeper down below where the skin’s cellular DNA is being damaged and cancer might develop, the radiation suppresses your immune system, further reducing your ability to fight off your invisible enemy.

You begin to feel the tightness in your face as the burn starts anew – and the machine stops. But you’re not done. You’re only halfway through. Put your hands down, hang on to the grab bar by your index finger and thumb and try to expose as much of your hands to the UVB as possible.

You give the okay. *POP!!* Flash, grind, hum, whir, burn.

Wash, rinse repeat.

Each week my exposure time has to be turned up to keep my skin free of the mystery rash and disease that has stumped 35 doctors and nearly took my eyesight in June. My exposure time is 7 times greater than my first treatment. I am quickly approaching my threshold of pain and exhaustion, and the sensibility to keep exposing myself to a cancer causing agent.

Imagine getting sunburned 3 times a week every week into forever – until you develop melanoma.

THAT is my reality and my treatment plan.

I literally have NO DOCTOR supervising my UVB treatments – I’m the one calling the shots on The Wayback Machine. I have a nurse who administers the treatments, but I am the one setting the schedule of treatments, and telling them when I need more. If anyone reviews my orders and realizes the doctor who gave them ‘fired’ me in June when he decided he had no clue what was wrong with me and didn’t want a goose-egg case on his load, I would no longer be able to go into the Wayback Machine. He had the office manager call me on a day I was trying to get an appointment, and tell me I was no longer a patient because he couldn’t help me. She told me I should go to the Emergency Room if I needed care, but my best bet was to try the University of Colorado Medical Center’s Dermatology Department – a facility that had a 6 week waiting list and refused to take me as a patient, too. Right now I have a compassionate dermatologist who is monitoring my skin for the inevitable melanoma, hoping to excise it quickly. That’s hardly a treatment plan and leaves me feeling hopeless some days.

That’s where I was a week ago… Burned and burned out from fighting a nameless disease that is the thief of joy.

Just walking into the house seemed too much of an effort, and I was feeling sorry for myself in a powerful fashion. Using my cane I hoisted myself from the car and began to shuffle into the house like a caricature of myself.

As I brushed against the sun flowers along the front walk they seemed to explode in front of my eyes – a swirl of color around my head that startled me – I flinched and let out a surprised, ‘Hunh!’

It was butterflies: Dozens of butterflies.

 

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I looked around and there was a stream of butterflies flying over the top of my roof, and toward me, dropping to land on the sun flowers that reached toward the autumn sky. Turning southwest I could see the Painted Ladies who had finished at the buffet flitting off down the cul-de-sac and out of sight.  Turning back I realized there were even more butterflies than I thought – they were camouflaged beautifully by my sunflowers!

The sky was alive with color and beauty and somehow I’d nearly missed it by staring down.

The rest of that day I came out to stand amongst the Painted Ladies for as long as I had the strength. I would stand for 10 or 15 minutes, and then go rest, and come back out. The fall sunlight didn’t seem nearly so nefarious as The Wayback Machine, and I even enjoyed the feel of it on my too-burned face.

 

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I took pictures – dozens and dozens of pictures. It was a feast of images. If I stood still near the flowers the butterflies would land around me, allowing me close up shots of their brilliant patterns and feather-like scales.

 

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I had never seen anything like it, and posted a 90 second video of the migration on Youtube and Facebook. Many local friends said they’d seen them, too, and we worried it was too late in the season for such delicate creatures to be migrating.

The next day the rain moved in, cold and windy. The nasty weather held for several days, and during last afternoon I made the first pot of bean soup for the season. I resigned myself to the fact the migration was over. I wished them well on their journey and was  grateful for the unexpected beauty of the Butterfly Buffet.

Two days ago the sun came back in full force, and with it a mighty cloud of travelers 70- miles wide. The migration was so large it initially stumped the folks at the Weather Service.

Butterfly Buffet Satellite

 

Coming home from my second treatment of the week I could hardly believe my eyes at the sight before me: Butterflies hanging from every bloom, gorging themselves on nectar before they heading on down to Mexico.

Moving slowly I pulled out my phone and snapped a close-up of 3 Painted Ladies gossiping at the salad bar. I thought to take a video, but instead put my phone in my back pocket. It’s not like I could capture what I was seeing, as hundreds of butterflies flew past and into me, swirling around my flowers, and on to their next destination. I was damned if I was going to watch this spectacle through a smart-phone screen.

 

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I stayed as long as I could, soaking up this ephemeral beauty, laughing like a child as a butterfly briefly landed on my head.

 

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I dipped back into the transitory show as I could, taking a snap now and again, sometimes sitting on my front step until the weariness won out. As the country mourned and asked itself questions about Las Vegas that it already knew the answer to, I soothed my ragged soul with a sight I’m not sure I will ever see again.

Who knows? Maybe next year will bring another spectacular migration – a smorgasbord of color that transports me to a childlike place where beauty is enough. I’m not sure if I’ll be here to see it. I’ll be ready, though, if we all happen to be in the same place next year.

I have carefully clipped and saved the Eclipse flower and it’s immediate friends – you can see the clean cut in the picture above on the stalk at the far left of the frame. I have saved the Mammoth sunflower head that has at least 200 seeds. I rescued the plant that had both orange AND yellow flowers when the stalk broke the same morning the cold spell did.

I am carefully drying them, and will do the same with all of the rest I can that are still in the front yard.

I am harvesting the seeds of my garden in an act of faith that I will plant again next year and live to see them bloom. The Butterfly Buffet *will* be open, no matter how many patrons show up.

The only way I can stay sane in the face of living with this hateful, nameless disease and stepping into the grueling Wayback Machine again and again and again with no end in sight is to plan ahead and live my life as if there is more to come.

The only choice I have is to move forward like I still have time with my beloved husband and son. Not an unlimited amount of time, mind you, but a hopeful amount of time to see more of this astounding world with those I love, and to try to make a difference through meaningful resistance to purposeful ignorance and hate.

Really, what good are any of our lives – sick or no – if we don’t make time to howl at eclipses, laugh deeply with our friends, and plant Butterfly Buffets?

 

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.   — D. Elton Trueblood

 

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Cautionary Tale

Yesterday’s post was NOT a narrative for sympathy – it was a warning about abusers and their bottomless ability to create chaos with a smile on their face. That said – I’m truly touched by the good and kind people in my life.

My point remains – and must be repeated: 45 utterly lacks remorse. He. Has. None. He never will. He operates out of insatiable greed, hubris and revenge.

If he EVER does the right thing it will be by accident – an Unintended Consequence of Sociopathy and Narcissism.

Sadly, 45’s followers cannot be reasoned with either. Don’t bother. Your time would be better spent trying to teach a dog a card trick.

Facts don’t matter because this is a Cult of Personality. (Keep repeating this until it sinks in)

Trumpers LOVE-LOVE that 45 pisses off ‘The Libs’. We all remember the ‘Love to piss people off’ jackasses from high school: They hated intellect, broke things for fun & never understood consequences.

Understand that for Trumpers it’s Payback time for making them follow the rules and behave with manners these last few decades. You know – what they call ‘Being PC’.

Treat them like the Zombies they are: They are infected with his sickness and cannot be saved –Move on if you want to save yourself.

We can only hope to wake the silent middle. I fear the longer the middle sleeps through this the more they will agree with 45. People like to be on the winning team’s side – so remind them that 45 is, in fact, not winning.

Speak Truth to the High Crimes and Misdemeanors that are our daily bread with 45, whether it’s to the sleeping Silent Middle or GOP politicians whose spines’ have the resolve of cotton candy on a humid day.

Speak Truth to create momentum for resistance.

Speak Truth so we can remind each other that our eyes are not deceiving us, and that THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

 

 

 

Orange Is The New Black

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I wrote the following a year ago, when I was assured again and again that Trump would never get elected because the American public was not that stupid. Besides – they nodded knowingly – he doesn’t really want the job.

Well – guess what? We elected a Fascist as President.

 

I am scared of Trump’s cult of personality.

I have at least 3 friends who support this asshole, and nothing he says seems to deter them. One is a staunch abortion supporter who is now willing to negotiate on it because she thinks he tells it like it is. Another is married to a Mexican national – and doesn’t have a problem with what he says about Mexicans. The last has always been conservative, but has outright endorsed our registering and forcing Muslims to wear ID badges in public. He doesn’t have a problem with it, and says that not one Muslim anywhere can be trusted. Although Trump has declared bankruptcy 5 times he is convinced he’s a terrific businessman.

Trump is a pathological liar who released bogus crime stats from a fictitious company on Friday. He defended his supporters beating a protester at his rally on Saturday. On Sunday he fabricated a video clip of ‘thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the WTC falling’. In the past any one of these things would have sunk his candidacy, and he would have skulked away in shame. But nothing this man says seems to affect him negatively. The loonier he gets the more his base laps it up. He’s proposing fascism, suspending the Constitution and state sponsored torture – and he’s more popular than ever!

But, I’ll tell you what really scares me: The people who are silent about this. I’ve accepted that his supporters will agree with anything that falls out of his pie hole – but, the ones who are just ‘meh’ about the whole thing are pissing me off. When that dentist killed Cecil the lion the internet exploded. Trump says register a religious minority? It gets a collective yawn. No screaming about the Constitution, or how it’s just morally wrong. Just roaring silence.

That’s what simultaneously scares and pisses me off. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.

KGO and the Death of Radio

 

 

Radio died for me today.

The Great Lady – KGO Radio in San Francisco – was killed off this morning, ending a long downward spiral for a once-great station. Many good people I had the honor of working with were laid off today.

KGO was the #1 radio station in San Francisco for 3 decades; it was a 50,000 watt powerhouse whose signal went from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains – from Mexico to Canada and on up to Alaska. It was the West Coast Flagship station for ABC News. It was where you went to stay informed, and on any given afternoon at least half-a-million people were listening.

KGO was responsible for the News Talk format, and it employed the absolute greats in the field. I could not even begin to estimate how many journalism awards KGO Radio won – it would be in the hundreds. The News won those awards – but, Bret Burkhart was a force unto himself and won more awards than I know. And Ravi Peruman won awards for his work, especially the piece he did on the Harvey Milk assassination.

Over the decades it raised $20+ million for Leukemia research during its annual Cure-A-Thon. It was the voice of information during a night of chaos after the Loma Prieta quake. For nearly 20 years it was the home of 49ers Football. It was the voice of San Francisco.

We were based in the ABC broadcast center along the Embarcadero, the newsroom looked out on the Ferry Building, and I watched many sunrises over the Bay Bridge from my desk. There was a deck that ran the length of the building, it had a barbeque and patio furniture so you could sit out and enjoy the sun before the fog rolled in.

Our GM installed a fancy machine that made honest-to-gosh fresh ground espresso and lattes – there were employee appreciation luncheons, and bottles of good champagne for the milestones. There were beers at Gumpy’s (the Cheers-type bar across the street), and wild celebrations after awards ceremonies. There was a camaraderie, a shared goal of excellence and we were all proud to work at what the business itself had dubbed ‘the best News Talk station in the country’.

That all changed when Citadel bought the ABC-owned radio stations for an obscenely high price in 2007. That’s when everything changed. The Vulture Capitalists that bought KGO weren’t interested in radio – they were interested in nothing but money. They weren’t interested in making money off of radio – they were simply interested in what the next quarter would mean for their profit statement.

Citadel, along with Cumulus, Entercom and Clear Channel (a.k.a. iHeart Radio) destroyed radio as we knew it. If you can’t stand to listen to radio anymore you can thank these companies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed them to consolidate thousands of Mom-and-Pop radio stations into just a handful of owners. What was once a thriving marketplace of ideas and new music became a moribund feedback loop of homogeneity and satellite programs.

In a feeding frenzy of buying these few companies overpaid for stations, borrowing 4 and 5 times more than what they were worth – starting out hopelessly in debt. They would buy 10 stations in a market, shove them all into one building that was owned by a subsidy, to whom they would pay rent, and then sell all of the physical assets of those stations (buildings, radio equipment and everything inside down to the last paperclip). The Grinch left more at Cindy Lou Who’s house than these vultures did. Next, they cleared out 80% of the staff – such a savings on labor! – and forced the remaining 20% to pick up the slack.

They took all that gooey, gooey money they got from the sale of EVERYTHING and instead of paying off their obscene loans, the Vultures gave themselves 8 figure bonuses annually on top of their obscene pay. My favorite was the $27 million bonus (on top of $3 million annual pay) Farid Suliman, the CEO at Citadel, took the week the company declared bankruptcy, which was the year they cleared out half the newsroom, which had been cut in half the year before.

The Vultures relied more and more on satellite programming, and laid off scores of professionals. This drained the product of any local flavor – and had real consequences in many marketplaces when a local emergency happened and there were no live people to cover it and tell people to evacuate or shelter-in-place.

Sure the product SUCKED and ratings dropped but, hey – the Vultures were making bank.

KGO – like Wile E. Coyote – continued to run on air for nearly three years after Citadel bought us. We finally looked down after they cut three-fourths of the news room, the helicopter, airplane, most traffic reporters, and virtually all admins. Then we fell to the bottom of that long canyon. Poof.

The Crash of 2008 accelerated the demise of radio, but it was on a path to destruction no matter what. The Vultures had created a cycle of cutting people and services to keep their bonuses intact. The cuts meant a shabbier and more worthless product, which drove down listenership, and thus ad revenue. I likened their cuts to a Doctor telling her patient, “Look, your toe is bleeding – we need to take off the foot to stop it. Oh. Now your foot is bleeding – let’s take off the leg to stop it.”

Every one of these Radio behemoths is teetering on the edge of complete disintegration. iHeart Radio, formerly known as Clear Channel (the name of the beast that started this whole buggery), has a few weeks to come up with $6 billion of the $21 billion they owe creditors. Cumulus – the company that bought Citadel a few years ago and finished off KGO today – owes nearly $3 billion and their stock has gone from $4 to 46 cents in the last year. Entercom seems healthy with only $500 million in debt, and $9 million in cash on hand. They are all out of assets to sell, and they owe billions more than their stations are worth. They are not underwater on their loans – they are drowning in debt they have no way to pay.

I will never forgive the Dickey brothers, the Mays brothers, Farid Suliman, and David Field for what they did to Radio. Like vampires they sucked the life force out of radio, and killed it. What they did should have been illegal. But, there were no regulations to stop it, and there still aren’t.

KGO was making a $5 million a year profit on top of paying its full staff *very well* (and that was in the Bay Area) when Citadel bought it and killed it in 10 quarters. When I left the station at the end of 2011 I was doing 4 jobs – our newsroom having been cut from 32 top-notch professionals to 13 overworked souls. The rest of the station had it just as bad – the cuts were capricious and in one afternoon I watched 412 years of corporate memory walk out the door. It was the first of many cullings.

When I gave my notice I didn’t have anything left to give to the station. I simply couldn’t continue to do 4 people’s jobs, and I knew that what I was putting out was 60% garbage and 40% news. I fought the good fight to try to keep information on the air. But, the lack of personnel, and the *terrible* management were demoralizing.

The day I had a knock down drag ‘em out fight over whether we should run the story on the ‘Singing Dog’ in New York City or go with the rapidly unfolding events of the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, I knew I had lost. There was no point in trying to push that rock up the hill anymore.

Leaving KGO was the toughest professional decision I have ever made. Radio had been my life for 25 years – and I grieved. We radio people are an odd lot – but we’re indulgent with each other’s idiosyncrasies, have each other’s backs, and we play fantastic practical jokes. I never felt more at home in a job than when we were all working on breaking news. We worked as a team – a well-tuned machine that came together to relentlessly find the facts our listeners counted on.

We weren’t producers and reporters and anchors and engineers – we were a unit that leaned in and skipped dinner or going home and worked hour after hour because our job was News. We were dedicated professionals who all had go-bags in our car just in case, and followed the story where it took us. We were the most dedicated people you will ever find in a news room anywhere, and it reflected in the superior news we produced for decades.

To all my friends who were laid off today: I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you the best of luck in finding a place to use your talents. Never forget that News is a noble profession and can make a difference in the world, and you worked in a place that set the standard for it in Radio. It was an honor to have worked with you, and to have called KGO my home.

 

This was originally a Facebook post I wrote on March 31, 2016, after mass layoffs at KGO and KFO , and posted for my friends to see. One of them, Dennis Willis, posted it to his website Soundwavestv.com later that night, and it went viral, getting more than 100,000 views and 20,000 shares in under 4 days.