Twelve weeks ago Jude flew to the Bay Area to see her two sons, Jin and Nathan. Jin, aged 25, had been in crisis since June. Jude hoped to help him sort out his options. The visit went well at first, but Jin’s anxiety escalated again. On Friday the 13th, he drove to the Golden Gate Bridge, walked to mid-span and jumped.
Jude stayed a few days to be with Nathan, then headed home. To reach the San Francisco airport, she had to ride a bus over the bridge. She kept her eyes closed well before and well after that stretch. She then had to fly back over it, but sat on the side of the plane where she couldn’t see it.
I met her at a small airport near Comox, B.C. I grabbed her just as soon as I could without making the security guards nervous. We hugged and wept, effectively blocking the entrance to the men’s washroom.
Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a human. Period. When my sister died unexpectedly at age 47, it devastated my parents. My mother was half-crazy at the funeral, repeatedly saying “it’s not supposed to be this way”. I had never seen my father shed a tear. It was unsettling to see him sob.
I dearly loved my sister. The loss of her was like having my soul ripped open, then sandpapered.
It was the same with Jin’s death. I wasn’t nearly as close to him, but Jude’s incalculable grief engulfed me. It was like searing heat at first, as we struggled with questions that couldn’t be answered. Nothing made sense. Our days were “left foot, right foot, repeat if you can”.
Getting the word out was crucial but painful. I sat stunned for several hours after Jude told me, then called my kids. Then I realized that I needed to let a neighbour know right away because he was going to come over the next day to watch the Seahawks – 49ers game. He wasn’t home, so I told his wife, a very classy lady. She said, succinctly, “well, shit!”
He did come over for the game, during which another neighbour called and said “what’s up?” “Do you really want to know?”, I said. She did. Shortly after we talked, a friend called with a question for Jude. I told her, too. I hoped that the neighbour and friend would tell others. I was running out of energy. I’d be goddamned if I was going to share it on Facebook.
I did e-mail three old friends in the states who are like brothers to me, but asked them not to call for awhile. There’s much to be said to repeating your story — the talking cure, Freud said — but I had to pace myself.
Jude took time off from work. The next few weeks were incredibly intimate. We connected in new ways and strengthened our old ways. We hugged more than usual. We didn’t sweat the small or medium-sized stuff. We found solace in a Breaking Bad marathon, of all things.
We held a memorial service for Jin on our back deck, the setting for so much joy over the years. Jude made a poster of photos of him, centered around the last shot we took of him. He visited us in August of last year and we had a wonderful time. It was the happiest we had ever seen him. He really seemed to be figuring out adulthood.
Our community, as usual, was supremely supportive. They listened attentively to our stories, cried with us, then stayed around to do what we do best together: laugh. That’s incredibly healing.
Jude and I are still struggling. You already know this, but grief is one disruptive scoundrel. It makes us clumsy. It makes us dense. It hits us head-on, then hides away to sideswipe us when we least suspect it: the sound of a baby crying, the thought of baking Christmas cookies, Friday the 13th.
But we’re going to outlast it. We’ve got lots of life experiences to draw strength and understanding from. We have plenty of folks to talk to or just be with. And best, we’ve got love.
Fifty years ago today I was waiting for my first afternoon class to start at Fair Park High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. A classmate hurried in, laughing and saying “they got that sonofabitch in Dallas”. Fair Park was all-white then, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was widely hated there for advocating civil rights for black people. That’s how the first Day of Days in my life started.
The historical significance of this tragedy soon sank into my 17-year-old brain. I sought out my girlfriend and told her that I was going to the Shreveport Times, the city’s morning daily. I worked there as a copy boy. I knew that’s where all the action would be. I’ll never forget walking into the newsroom, a hive of humans buzzing as they bustled around. The room with the teletype machines was full of reporters and editors tearing off stories as soon as they ended transmitting. I was standing near one of the machines when it simply spat out “President Kennedy has died.”
I knew to stay out of the way, observing the journalists I aspired to be like. One of them, upon reading that Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested, exclaimed “I bet he has his John Birch Society card on him!”
I left the newsroom about 5 p.m. My girlfriend and I had a date to see McClintock!, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I don’t remember a single scene of it. I was too distracted. As we left the downtown theater, we saw several newsboys. They were actually yelling “Extra! Extra! Read All About It!” That’s the only time I’ve ever seen that, other than in the movies.
It happened on a Friday. I watched TV all weekend and, like the rest of the nation, was stunned when Jack Ruby killed Oswald. I also vividly recall JFK’s three-year-old son saluting his father’s coffin as it rolled through the streets of D.C.
About five months later my friend Dennis and I drove to Dallas during Easter break. Armed only with a Super-8 camera, we wanted to film a documentary about the assassination. We had no budget, so we spent one night in the concourse of Love Field, the airport Kennedy had flown into. When we went to the boarding house where Oswald had lived, the landlady said we’d have to pay $20 to film his room. We ended production at that point and spent our last night in a Fort Worth bar called The Cellar. Whenever the house band played “One Mint Julep”, one of the waitresses would strip.
The next day, fighting off a head-cleaving hangover, I could only stare at my breakfast as my fried eggs stared back at me. I was way too naïve to realize that I was starting to collect my stories, tales that would endure for half a century.
Jude and I have needed a hearty laugh of late, and we’re getting it in abundance by following the Rob Ford fiasco. If you’ve just been born or awakened from a coma, let’s review: Ford is the mayor of Toronto. For months he’d been dogged by rumours of a video of him smoking crack. He kept asking that it be produced, all the while denying he’d used. When it finally surfaced, he danced around his denials by claiming that he was only asked if he was currently smoking it. There are ample sound bites to the contrary.
His defense for the one time he’ll cop to is that he must have done it in a drunken stupor. When he was recently asked if he’d bought illegal drugs in the past two years, it took him eight seconds to answer “yes”, his eyes darting around like he was desperately trying to find a way to weasel out of the query. In refuting a female staffer’s claim that he offered her oral sex, he explained that he was married and had “plenty to eat at home”.
The man is an extended Monty Python sketch. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live and late night comics are feasting on Ford. And they have plenty to chew on. He’s the size of three stereotypical crack users, looking at times like he’s about to detonate like the Pythons’ Mister Creosote.
I’m generally loathe to criticize another person’s physical appearance, but nearly all of Ford’s misery is self-inflicted because of his refusal or inability to take any responsibility. He is the Anthony Weiner of the North: clueless, totally self-absorbed, completely a victim in his own eyes.
Plus he’s a bull in the china shop. A day or so ago, rushing to address some off-camera brouhaha at a Toronto City Council meeting, he plowed into a woman and nearly knocked her down. The council has stripped him of most of his powers because he refuses to quit. Ford’s supporters point out that he still has a 44% approval rating, ignoring the 56% who don’t approve.
I’m keen to see a fresher poll. Maybe a big dip would help Ford in his shoddy decision-making. I’ll be watching either way. This is the most fascinating implosion of a public figure I’ve ever seen.
I haven’t been posting because we had an unexpected death in the immediate family September 13th. I don’t want to share any details about it at this time, other than it shook Jude and me to our very souls. She just went back to work last week. Nearly all of our energy has gone into grieving and healing, and it’s been exhausting at times.
So basically I’m just checking in with you to let you know I’ll be back on my writing feet again soon. In the meantime, I’d like to share two stray thoughts I’ve had recently: (1) Green Eggs and Ham is a delightful book, but Ted Cruz had no right to use it to shut down Congress; and (2) watching Miley Cyrus twerk her bony body at the VMA, I realized that I have a curvier ass than hers.
Miley, I beg you, eat some protein. You can afford it.
A cool breeze woke me up this morning, reminding me of autumn’s imminence. We’ve already had several hints that it would be coming soon to our neighbourhood; after a very dry July and early August, last month ended with 3+ inches of rain in four days. The leaves on our maple trees have been falling for two weeks.
September has long felt like the start of the new year to me. There’s real change in the air, especially if you have kids in school. January 1st just seems like another winter day, but with more college football than usual.
I deeply fear that there will be even more than usual in the air this fall. Obama’s escalation of “red-line” rhetoric since Labour Day reminds me of Dubya Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling the New York Times that “you don’t introduce new products in August”, in reference to selling the Iraq War.
Tales of aluminum tubes, yellowcake and WMD’s promptly ensued.
I won’t question the sincerity of Obama’s apparent good intentions. There’s no way to measure that. But I do offer some context for all this.
In 1961 President Kennedy, reeling from some huge political setbacks like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, wanted to “draw a line in the sand” to stop communism. He told the Times that “we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place”.
Within two years, JFK had sent 16,000 U.S. troops to South Vietnam. Eisenhower had dispatched 900 military “advisors”, starting in early 1955, but was wary of further involvement. He likely would have increased commitment if England had agreed, but the U.K. wasn’t keen on it. Both nations thus avoided the disastrous Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the abrupt end of French colonialism in Indochina.
The line this time is an ethereal little sucker. The U.S. is ostensibly opposed to chemical weapons, yet it used approximately 500 MK-77 bombs in both Iraqi wars. These devices contain 110 gallons of kerosene, benzene and white phosphorous. They succeed the napalm bombs used in Vietnam, which were quite similar; but the Pentagon — ever mindful of the feelings of others — insists that the newer version is gentler on the environment.
The MK-77 was banned by a 1980 U.N. treaty. The U.S. is a signatory of this accord, but it reserved the right to use incendiary devices against military targets in civilian areas if it’s determined that their use would cause fewer casualties and/or less collateral damage than conventional weapons.
I once watched corpsmen dig napalm out of a Vietnamese child with a spoon. I can assure you that big bombs dropped from way up do not check I.D.’s.
Obama is swimming against the tide on this one. None of the polls I’ve read show majority support in the U.S., and it’s much less among other Western nations, including France. Although there is substantial evidence of the attack, it’s nowhere near settled that it was the Assad regime’s doing. The casualty count that John Kerry often cites — 1429 dead, including 426 children — is contradicted by several groups. Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have much lower initial estimates. The photos commonly shown of the dead and wounded, horrific as they are, show only a few dozen.
The President was smart to take note of Prime Minister Cameron’s rebuff by the British Parliament. By going to the House and Senate for guidance, he buys time for further validation or time to walk it back. This may be the one time that this Congress serves us all well by doing what it does best: nothing.
Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina polling firm with an impressive record of accuracy, is known to ask the occasional odd question. In July of 2011 it discovered that God had a 52% approval rating. That same month it found that only 19% of GOP primary voters polled thought Obama would ascend to heaven in the Rapture; 51% thought Sarah Palin would.
And it was PPP that revealed this May that 27% of Americans think that hipsters should be taxed for being so annoying. So it wasn’t completely out of left field when the company informed us this week that 29% of Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for the federal government’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina.
Let’s review: in late August 2005, as Katrina swirled toward the Gulf Coast, Obama was eight months into his freshman year as a senator from Illinois. George Bush sat in the Oval Office, and that’s about all he did during the storm. He did venture out to pose for a photo op flying over the damage, and to laud FEMA director Michael Brown for a heckuva job.
Only 28% in the poll found Bush responsible; 44% weren’t sure, but they’ve only had eight years to decide.
I came of age in Louisiana, married and started a family there. It wasn’t a stretch for me to believe that jaw-dropping stat, which was the one that got the headlines. But when I started reading other questions in the poll, my jaw sagged a bit.
It didn’t surprise me that 65% of those polled had a favorable opinion of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and 81% liked quarterback Drew Brees. It didn’t surprise me that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Peyton for the entire 2012 season because of the Saints “bounty program”, only pulled a 19% approval.
Nor did the approval ratings of Mother Theresa (81%), Abraham Lincoln (78%) and Duck Dynasty (47%). Jesus Christ was the big winner with 97%. Only 2% were undecided. That was the least surprise of all. If you’ll accept Arkansas as the buckle of the Bible Belt and Texas and Florida as the legs of the Bible Pants, that makes Louisiana the zipper.
Once in high school, in pursuit of a classmate, I agreed to go with her to her church. I don’t remember the denomination, but it involved speaking in tongues and writhing on floor. I suppose it was meant to scare the hell out of me, but it only succeeded in scaring the shit out. That was my last intentional contact with fundamentalism.
But I digress. What really caught my eye in the PPP poll were hints that the bayou state isn’t as politically red as I thought. Sure, 63% oppose gay marriage, but in a separate question, 23% support it and 33% support legal unions. And a whopping 75% support background checks for all gun sales.
Hilary Clinton is much more popular in the Pelican State that I would have guessed. In hypothetical match-ups for President in 2016, she edges out Chris Christie 42 – 41% , ties Jeb Bush at 44%, and is barely edged out by Rand Paul (45 – 44%) and Paul Ryan (46 – 44%).
She, in fact, would beat Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal 47 – 40%. Jindal was once a rising star in the GOP. He was chosen to respond to Obama’s 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress, where Obama discussed his stimulus plan. Jindal seemed unprepared and amateurish, almost as if he’d been selected at random at the last second.
Now he’s fighting for his political life because of a controversial plan he had to back away from this April that would have abolished the state income tax and expanded sales taxes. His approval rating is 28%, well behind Obama’s of 41% in the state. Nearly three in four respondents didn’t want Jindal to run for President.
August 3rd we had our annual garden party, a progressive affair that started noonish at our place and ended at sunset at another neighbour’s. As we heartily partied through the day, I found out that a lightning strike from a spectacular electrical storm July 31st had started a small forest fire not far from our community. It was quickly extinguished by a helicopter with a water bucket.
None of us knew at the time that another fire was burning near us. Early in the evening the next day, a plane spotted it and called it in. Thanks to a rapid response from professional firefighters and five community members, it was contained; but not before some scary moments.
Good neighbours Chris and Nina drove to the wharf and saw flames shooting into the sky a mile or so away. Chris said aircraft dropped water and fire suppressant expertly. We’ve had a lot of wind from the north this summer, but fortunately not that night.
Jude and I went to the wharf the next day around noon. Here’s what was left of the blaze.
This chopper popped by . . .
. . . to scoop up some water in this bucket . . .
. . . and flew off to another fire. There are hundreds in the province right now.
We went back about 6 p.m. and it was all clear. On the way home, we spotted this sign from some grateful neighbours.
This end of Quadra Island was devastated by fires in 1926 and ’27. Huge burned out tree stumps are still around to help us remember. Due to this newest reminder, the community is getting together this Sunday to check our fire equipment and tighten up our communication. That’ll help us breathe easier.