Category Archives: Uncategorized

Facebook Status, August 19

Out with
The future second wife
At my now favorite
Local Late Boomers/Generation Jones
downtown watering hole
The Townsend
Tonight featuring
The age-appropriate and exemplary musicians
Kathryn Valentine and Peter Livingston Holsapple
(the former, an investor in this joint)
An ex-Go-Go and an ex-dB
Proving there is life beyond both
As indeed there is for me
Not forgetting what went before
(And indeed, playing some of it)
But alert to what may yet come
And what’s going on right now
They’re biting and alive, with joy in their eyes
New bands, new relationships, new pages
Doesn’t matter how old you are
Always reconfiguring and recombining
New chords and time signatures
Working that thing one more time
Because that’s what we do
I include myself, out there in the audience
With phrases, ideas popping into my head as usual
Maybe useful in the end, maybe not
But I’ve got a cocktail in my hand and a smile creasing my face
I’m just grateful to be here
And I’d say everyone else in the room is too.

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Alive

Writer Square b&w

Strangers in a strange land

[Nearly six months later]

Transitions, transitions…

I am on my first plane ride in nearly eight years, a direct flight to Denver, a city I’ve never been to. I am traveling with my younger son, K. (not his real initial)*, the nonverbal special-needs kid with the autism diagnosis. It is his first plane ride ever, and I have no idea how he will react. My other kid, M. (also not his real initial), the budding animator and stand-up comic, is visiting the grandparents in Florida.

It is my birthday, and I’m in no mood to reflect on my age. If I’d entered incipient oldcrockitude, by cracky, I was going to fight it with every fiber of my damn being, mainly by ignoring how old I am.

For various reasons I will be going back and forth to the airport a great deal this month, both on my behalf and my sons’. No, I’m not on tour; and if I were, exactly what kind of show would I be putting on for the good people (that’s “people” to rhyme with “monopoly”) of the Colorado metropolis anyway? Would it involve snappy patter, jazz hands, dry ice, broken glass strewn across the stage, strategically placed yams, a drum machine, and a big showstopping finale featuring the flags of the Baltic states? Yeah, let’s go with that.

My last flight was in 2009, when I traveled to Germany for a ceremony related to my family’s experiences in the Holocaust. After a hellish year, which I’ve chronicled on this blog, following the death of my wife in January of 2016, I felt lighter and more optimistic than I had in ages. At least on a personal level, I had the definite sense of an upward arc trending. (In the wider world, let’s just say “very interesting times.”)

The Denver trip was a short city break courtesy of the fiancee, who had some extra miles on good ol’ non-reclining-seat, everything-extra budget airbus Frontier to dump in a hurry and couldn’t take time off from work herself. Yes, I am engaged to be, eventually, married again. Life is odd. Unlike my encounter with Mrs. Pogoer, this one began as prosaically as you can get, with a casual coffee date. Unlike my fellow widower celebrity doppelganger Patton Oswalt, I received absolutely no negative feedback for this. At least to my face, everyone, including Donna’s relatives, has been nothing but supportive: Congratulations, I’m very happy for you. As it should be. Love, as they say, is infinitely expandable.

I look around at my fellow passengers and am struck by a sense of common humanity. I like and sympathize with them all. We’re on the same journey.

My fears about K.’s reactions to flight are, no pun intended, groundless. The kid just likes to be in motion, whether he’s walking, on a train, in a car, or on a nonstop flight to the Mile High City. He sits like an angel for the duration, looking out the window.

While M. bonds with the grandparents, I do my best to bond further with this inscrutable 12-year-old, the boy who likes to listen to the same parts of the same video over and over again throughout the day, who likes to put things together and take them apart, a born engineer, smarter and more capable than almost everyone knows. His family, and a few blessed teachers, know.

K. is game to go with me almost everywhere. I check into a cozy basement Airbnb flat on the northern edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood downtown, and we explore, walking, Ubering and Lyfting, for two very full days. We go to the Molly Brown House, a well-touristed home restored to its 1910-ish glory, where we’re immediately told that her name was Margaret and that movie with Debbie Reynolds was only about 3 percent true. I love the place, K. doesn’t. Onward.

K. Is game enough for almost all our other urban explorations. We visit the State Capitol and eat at the Delectable Egg (a breakfast joint where I get the inevitable Denver omelette in situ) and a pizzeria called Brik on York and a hipster joint on South Broadway called Sputnik. I went to Sputnik immediately after spending six hours with K. walking the 80-acre Denver Zoo, a fine but exhausting place where we got our fill of giraffes, elephants, a gorilla family group, polar and brown bears, Komodo dragons, lions, red pandas, black rhinos, zebras, hippos, and overpriced mediocre zoo pizza.

Sputnik is next door to the Hi-Dive rock club and across the street from a fantastic place called the Mutiny Information Cafe, which gave me the impression of stepping across the threshold into 1987 Allston, Mass., with its vast collections of used books, LPs, cassettes, comics, rude punkish buttons, and actual paper zines for sale. Oh, and coffee, and a snarky savant of a barista/clerk/know-it-all who clearly wasn’t taking anything from anyone except money. K. and I were both exhausted at that point, but I was on a second wind from the discovery of such a place and the kid really didn’t care, so that was that.

We fly home. For me at least, the magic dust is gone. It’s not eight years now since I last flew, just three days. My fellow passengers are just people again, some annoying as hell, especially the overweight, middle-aged guy who spends at least 20 minutes at the boarding gate barking into an earpiece to a staffer at his tech company that his team doesn’t know what it’s doing, and he’s going to escalate.

Still, he doesn’t come close to ruining the trip. Even pessimists have to agree: Sometimes things go right.

And K. doesn’t mind it a bit. He sits peacefully throughout the flight, contemplating the clouds.

Beyond the sundown mural

One of eight 1940 murals in the first-floor rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol, this one contemplating the future. “Beyond the sundown is Tomorrow’s Wisdom/today is going to be long ago”

 

*in-joke tribute to a late former editor of mine in the Boston days
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Here’s what not to say to grieving people over the holidays

You can find tons of articles online with titles like “Why It’s Great To Be Single For The Holidays.”

Widowed for the holidays? Not so much. Especially the first go-round.

“The holidays must be hell for you,” one friend messaged me on Facebook.

“I know the holidays must be difficult. Thinking of you,” said another.

Actually, I want to reply, I was doing rather well until you messaged me and told me how crappy I must be feeling. I know you meant well, but seriously: Next time, just say “Happy Thanksgiving” and leave it at that. Or just leave me alone.

Because you are just making things much, much worse by telling me I’m supposed to be depressed.

 

I know my wife died. I am trying to make things as normal as possible for myself and my two sons.

Stop rubbing salt in the fucking wound, OK?

Kirk out.

Why a Pet Is Not Like a Spouse

Why am I publishing (or “publishing”) this? Because I’ve had it. Stay silent any longer, I cannot. Also, as regular readers of this blog may have intuited, I am completely out of fucks to give.

This is for those people out there who really, really love their pets. You know who you are. After a certain age, they become that person — the one who’s basically given up any hope of attracting a lover of the same species, and thus transfers his or her affection to a “fur baby” (ugh, ugh, ugh), the relationship equivalent of wearing a pair of velour sweat pants everywhere, even to the office.

Look, I have a dog I’m very fond of. During my married life, I took care of cats as well, not to mention a couple of hamsters (RIP, all). I don’t believe in hunting animals for sport. I approve of the doctrine of Reverence for Life (look up good old Dr. Schweitzer if you’re unfamiliar with the term). But, you know what? People are people and pets are pets, and being a person, I admit to bias and no, I won’t apologize for it.

Here are some reasons pets aren’t the same as people:

  1. If your wife dies, you can’t replace it by going to the Abandoned Spouse Shelter and getting a new rescue wife, no matter how much hipper it might be than buying one from one of those spouse-mill outlets in the mall.
  2. When you decide to move, you don’t have to get your pet’s permission or even talk it over with them. And no matter how much you love your pet, it’s not going to make you move hundreds of miles away against your will or buy it all kinds of expensive shit. (If you think otherwise, you have bigger problems.)
  3. You don’t have sex with your pet. (Seriously. You shouldn’t ever. If you do, I don’t want to know you.)
  4. Fetishizing your pet (calling it your “fur baby,” having it be the object of your closest personal relationship, etc.) is kind of pathetic. Fetishizing your spouse just shows how much you’re in love with them.
  5. Buying something for your pet on Valentine’s Day: see #4.
  6. Trolling for sympathy on Facebook when your cat or dog dies is just going to make the widows and widowers in your feed, not to mention parents who have lost a child, really, really angry at you.
  7. Being single and having a pet is to being married without kids as being married without kids is to being married with kids.
  8. One of the great satisfactions of being married/having been married is being able to use, with great relish and no apology, the phrase “false equivalency” to your single, pet-owning, pet-fetishizing friends.
man_kisses_dog

Doesn’t quite work for me

man_marries_dog_one

Remarks on the Dedication of a Bench in a Park

This is the (slightly edited) speech I delivered at Robinson Playground Park, Austin, on the occasion of the dedication of a memorial bench in honor of my wife, Donna Young Eichenwald, on June 15, 2016.

Thank you all for coming.

As I wrote to Donna early in our relationship, “Remembering someone while sitting on a park bench, with the breezes on your face and life going on around you, is just infinitely better than having to travel to a cemetery.” At the time, I didn’t have this in mind. But I think Donna would like the idea of having her memorial next to a children’s playground. She was so involved with life herself, in all its complexity and capacity for joy.

 

Although I knew Donna had at one time held the status of a minor celebrity in certain parts of Manhattan, it wasn’t until her final illness that I realized how beloved she was to so many, and indeed might have been the human equivalent of an indispensable public institution.

Even now, nearly five months later, with summer upon us, it’s still hard to believe she’s gone. And I don’t really think she is. Someone who was always such a forceful presence in the room, such a key observer, commentator, and participant in the daily comedy, drama and occasional farce that defines life on Earth, can’t just vanish without a trace. I still have the need to speak with her, to check in, to help me find my center, my core humanity and decency.

Donna will be remembered not because of this bench, and certainly not because of me, but because of all the things she did during her lifetime.

Donna Young – an extraordinary person hiding behind a common name – started life in Newark, New Jersey, taking up the double bass at the age of eight, learning recorder and clarinet and several other instruments along the way. She always said she never needed to learn how to read music; she just knew. She played for years in symphony orchestras and chamber groups. Later, when she tired of the politics of the classical world, she became the go-to bassist of choice in the smaller but very happening universe of cabaret rooms and piano bars in Manhattan, playing in shows and helping to put some of them together. She was good at what she did, and she loved the shows and the company of her friends. Even in the last year of her life, missing the camaraderie, she got together a small group of lovers of the Great American Songbook, calling it the Northwest Austin Cabaret-Piano Bar Casuals. And so we had evenings where people came and played and sang in our living room, with Donna, of course, on bass. It was fun while it lasted, if all too short-lived. I’m so glad she got to do that.

Within the context of an orchestra, the bass is aptly named, as it’s the foundation of everything. As one of Donna’s musician friends put it to me, the bassline supports every instrumental part above it. As, too, within our family Donna was our base and foundation.

Donna always liked the classics, whether it was music, literature, fashion, jewelry, architecture, even vintage cars. She was quite comfortable having so many tastes in common with her parents’ and even grandparents’ generation, from the ’30s and ‘40s and ‘50s, Astaire and Rogers, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Mel Tormé, and the composers and lyricists of the great Broadway musicals, which of course meshed so well with her partners in crime in the cabaret rooms.

Donna’s story in Austin, in the 21st century, is connected with becoming a mother relatively late in life, dealing with having a child with special needs and advocating for him and others like him, and becoming a role model and inspiration for other mothers with whom she networked locally and nationally. Alongside me, she was also the co-moderator for the Austin Freecycle Network, which I founded but couldn’t have run nearly as effectively without Donna. Together, we encouraged people to recycle thousands of items that would have otherwise been thrown out.

Donna was steadfast in her beliefs and her actions. She wouldn’t accept anything less from herself than her best, and she constantly encouraged me and our boys and gave us her love. Whatever she did, she put her heart and soul into and excelled at, whether it was music, photography, writing, cooking, or parenting. Donna was as human as anyone else, but she was always herself. She lived at the intersection of logic and compassion, of activism and empathy, with a ton of wit and fun and laughter. She did things her way. You were just happy to come along for the ride.

When I think about what it is that I owe Donna, I end up thinking that it’s pretty much everything important.

When I think of the most meaningful moments of my life, the greatest moments, the most profound moments, they are inevitably, and inextricably, connected with her. I know that she has made me a far better person.

Before I met Donna, I’d never met anyone else like her.

And I’m certain I’ll never meet anyone like her again.

I know that we are here on earth, for all too short a journey, to love each other, and care for each other, and if we’re lucky, to create something beautiful that will survive us.

And Donna did all of that.

Even though she was so sadly taken from her boys before they had even gotten to celebrate their eleventh birthdays, I know that however long they live, Luka and Leo will be forever blessed by their mother’s influence, her caring, her warrior’s spirit and her precious love, and that’s something nobody can ever take away. Nor can anyone take away the years Donna and I had together.

Thomas Wolfe was one of Donna’s favorite authors. This is her copy of his first novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.” These lines from the beginning of the book were significant to her:

A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. Naked and alone we came into exile…Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone? Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Back in mid-August of 2001, shortly before Donna and I would have our first face-to-face meeting in New York, we were emailing each other on the subject of free will vs. predestination, because why not, and we both agreed that we hated the phrase “It was God’s will.”

Donna wrote this to me, and I’d like you to hear it in her own words:

“The whole ‘God’s will’ thing is beyond me. I understand why people say it; they’re at a loss for something comforting to say. Not to wrap this up in religion, but this is why I could never buy into any sort of concrete notion of God, because it makes no sense that someone’s just pulling our strings as though we’re helpless marionettes. I didn’t buy that as a kid, and I don’t buy it now. I’m all for free will, but I also believe there are other forces at work.

“And that brings us to coincidence — that’s a different thing. I confess to having several friends who make their living at being psychics, whatever that might mean. I mention that because they maintain that certain unique opportunities inevitably come our way, and it’s up to us to decide whether we’re going to cast fear and expectations aside and take advantage of them.

“For the past four or five months I’ve had quite a few people telling me that there are no coincidences, too — and given the events of this year, I’d have to agree.”

And then Donna quotes from another Wolfe novel, “Of Time and the River”:

Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth. Whereon the pillars of the earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending — a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.

“Again,” Donna wrote to me, “I hate to keep going back to death, but if there’s any blessing to it, it’s that it forces us to take a closer look at our lives. When I was sick, it was surprisingly easy for me to arrive at a certain peace with the prospect of death, and though I was committed to fighting it all the way, I was okay because I’d come to accept the presence of a certain energy, if you will, the wind and the rivers, something that propels us, something more than just a will to live.”

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that one day, we’ll be together again. Until then, this is true for me:

Whenever I hear my boys laughing, or any children laughing, Donna’s there; whenever I hear music that moves me, Donna’s there; whenever our family gets together to share a meal, or whenever someone decorates a Christmas tree, Donna’s there.

Whenever someone helps a friend out of a pure and unselfish desire to give of themselves, Donna’s there. And whenever two people hug and say they love each other, Donna’s there.

In the going out and in the coming in, in the rising of the wind and in the flowing of the rivers; and in all our hopes and dreams for a better world.

Thank you for everything, Donna. We love you, forever.

Donna_boat_photo_Gofundme

What would the opposite of the ‘Cheers’ theme sound like?

Apropos of nothing special, I was amusing my brain recently with reverse-engineering the Cheers TV theme song to express the exact opposite of the original’s sentiments — the Bizarro World Cheers theme, if you like. I stuck to the version heard over the opening credits, although there’s a complete version that was only heard on an anniversary show. Probably best to stick with the short version.

Making your way in the world today

It’s really not that hard.

Taking a break from all your worries

Is a thought you should discard.

So, you don’t need to get away.

Sometimes you want to go

Where nobody knows your name,

Where they don’t care that you came;

You want to be where you can’t see

All troubles are not the same.

You want to go where nobody knows your name.

Thanks a lot, you guys have been great. I’ll be here all week.

Well, how DO you know?

Every once in a while I like to touch base with the ’80s-era Boston rock scene, which generally means playing a few tracks on my iPod, popping in a CD or playing a few videos on YouTube. (My accompanying memories load automatically.) Lately I’ve been driving around to the Lyres. I’m not going to go into a big rock-historian jag here, but for the uninitiated, they were and for all I know, still are known as “the kings of the Boston garage-rock scene” which sparked the daydreams and shaped the nights of a sizable cohort of fevered strivers and party hounds beginning more than three decades ago. I’ve written previously in this blog about the Boston scene, so I won’t repeat myself here; I’ll just talk about the Lyres a bit and call it a day, since it’s only Tuesday night and both of us (I’ll just assume) have other things to attend to.

I’ve long considered “How Do You Know,” which the Lyres first recorded in 1979, the unofficial regional anthem of the old Boston rock scene. (Here’s a link to the reverb-happy recorded version, which, despite the statement of the YouTube video-posting guy that it’s the original single, at least one commenter pegs as the album version from 1986’s Lyres Lyres.)

For all the pessimism, grit and hard times experienced in life and expressed in song — Boston was a hard town in a lot of ways — hope had a funny way of springing eternal on the streets and in the clubs. This could be the year for the Sox, for our love, for our band. This could be the year it all pays off.

Thus, head Lyre Jeff “Monoman” Conolly sings, as much as I can understand him, of doing various things in Boston “for 14 years” — living, drinking, being stuck in the same room, dreaming of making it big, being dug by the girls — and still not giving up, because, after all, how do you know? (One of the great lost opportunities for an ’80s video was a duet between Monoman and James Brown, with subtitles for both, of course. Crossover appeal!) In the end, he decides to stick it out for yet another year, because, well, you know.

Conolly apparently got his nickname because of his major obsession with collecting recordings in mono sound, but it’s just as apt to ascribe it to a monomaniacal vision of garage-rock purity. In the live video, the unrelenting, all-conquering organ echoes that vision to a  T — just check out Conolly’s almost disturbingly determined delivery of the anthem above, opening a live concert at New York’s Coney Island High back in 1998. I never got to know Monoman personally, which is probably just as well; for a considerably more one-on-one view of the guy, I’d refer you to this blog post by my friend Julie.

Me, I remember, years ago, the Lyres coming back to the Rat after a long hiatus in California, and opening with, what else, “How Do You Know.” It had the desired effect on everyone in that dark, dank room, the HQ of the Boston underground.

You never know.

This could be the year.