It’s My Birthday, So Worship Me For The Day, Part 2


Mrs. Pogoer and me with birthday cake, around the time of the fateful dinner.

So to continue with the birthday theme from where I left off over five years ago, this tale begins a couple of years prior to that. It’s a prequel, as it were. As has been previously established, my late wife Mrs. Pogoer, a/k/a Donna, and I shared a birthdate — same day, same year, me being all of eight minutes older, yadda yadda yadda. And this year was one of those joint birthdays that ended in a zero, so I felt considerable self-administered pressure to Do It Up Right.

We — or, rather, I — decided to spend our birthday dinner at a celebrated restaurant outside of town. This eatery — let’s call it Thames on the Creek — specialized in gourmet preparations of wild game, and although this wasn’t Mrs. Pogoer’s favorite cuisine by a long shot, she very graciously decided to humor me and accompany me there for “my” portion of the birthday festivities. In my defense, it was a place I’d wanted to visit for a very long time.

Not too long before these events, I had contracted with a major travel publisher to review hotels and restaurants in Austin and environs. When we arrived at Thames on the Creek, Mrs. Pogoer mentioned to the server that I was a restaurant reviewer, perhaps hoping to score an extra complimentary dessert in addition to the double-birthday cake that most half-decent restaurants provide for the occasion (writers know how to work the angles).

While the wife ordered wine and a salad, I busily set about ordering the likes of venison tartare, salamander mousse, bison bites with Béarnaise sauce, and rattlesnake cakes with chipotle remoulade (not the exact things I actually ordered, but you get the idea). I tackled the offerings greedily. After all, hey, it’s my birthday! Our birthday! One that ends in a zero!

And so we celebrated the amazing accomplishment of not dying for 12 months. And at some point, Donna noticed that I was turning green around the gills. My gorge was rising as a result of scarfing down one or four unfamiliar foodstuffs, and I bolted towards the restroom, where I threw back a toilet stall door and vomited up assorted wild game and wine into the bowl.

Donna was sufficiently alarmed to phone 911 and call for the EMTs, and within ten minutes or so an ambulance pulled up and, once in the entranceway, I groggily submitted to various checks for life signs.

Management informed Donna that the meal was comped for both of us. I don’t know whether this was because of the upchucking or the fact that I was an off-the-clock “restaurant critic,” but I’ve never been so embarrassed to get a free meal.

And the moral of the story is…All things considered, we should’ve just gone to the Melting Pot. She always liked that place.

We didn’t stay for desserts; I’d already received mine, and it was just.



The Effect of Gamma Rays on Widower Sitcoms, Celebrity Grief-O-Rama, Standing Rock, and Similar Diversions For the Discerning Media Consumer

Until his wife died last April, I had only the slightest bit more knowledge of the comedian and actor Patton Oswalt’s existence than he has of mine, which is to say nil.

Let’s be clear: I am truly sorry for Oswalt’s devastating and untimely loss, and that he now has to raise their seven-year-old daughter by himself.

Nevertheless, as a card-carrying member of Reluctant Widower Nation, Parents of Minor Children Subdivision, I believe I’m entitled to say this: Compared to some of us, including me, he has it relatively easy.

Mr. Oswalt is responsible for raising one neurotypical, probably bright and delightful seven-year-old girl. I am raising two 11-year-old boys, one of whom is nonverbal, with developmental and learning delays (although they fall under the big autism umbrella, my late wife and I were and are highly dubious about applying the A-word to what’s going on with the boy).

On top of that, Oswalt has a huge fan base and presumably extended support system, including over three million Twitter followers and over half a million Facebook likes. I don’t begrudge him any of this — he earned it by dint of the original, amusing and sometimes poignant stuff that comes out of his brain. I know he didn’t ask for the role of Celebrity Widower, just as I didn’t ask for the role of Occasionally Humorous Grief Blogger, but here we both are.

I don’t know what kind of grief counseling Oswalt is getting, but for most widowers, it doesn’t include appearing on Conan O’Brien’s talk show, where he compared his new life to “every bad ’80s sitcom” in which “there’s no punchlines, there’s a lot of insomnia, there’s a lot of me eating Cheetos for dinner…”

Except for the part about Cheetos (I can manage to put together semi-decent meals for myself and the boys), this is familiar ground. There are nights when I stay up far too late watching Donna’s old cabaret videos on YouTube, or just mindlessly surfing through Internet detritus, or playing Clash of Clans on my son’s iPad, or just watching whatever’s recorded on TV. Anything to avoid facing the lack of being part of a duo.

So what would my sitcom resemble? Perhaps something like “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” if you’d give Eddie a nonverbal special-needs twin and lose the housekeeper. Or crossbreed “My Three Sons” with “Speechless,” “King of the Hill” and  “Married With Children” or throw in a spinoff to “Big Bang Theory” in which Sheldon and Amy are the parents of two very different fraternal twins, one nonverbal, one too smart for his own good.

More recently, Oswalt wrote this honest, engaging piece for GQ magazine. Among other things, he said, “It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen.” I can, also, relate to this; I feel much the same about my late wife as he does about his, an extraordinary person gone from the world for no discernible reason.

Add the awful political year we’ve just gone through and the sword of Damocles that’s hanging over our nation, and it’s no wonder I’m feeling burned out on pretty much everything on top of the first year of widowerhood. Lately, too, I’ve found reading my Facebook feed to be intolerable, due, I suppose, to the constant barrage of posts about Trump and Clinton and the Electoral College (the latter of which I’ve railed about in the wilderness for years; evidently, it takes the horse escaping to get anyone interested in closing the damn barn door). Then there’s the business with the pipeline and the Native Americans and the standoff at Standing Rock, ending in an apparent victory for the protesters, which I suppose is a good thing, but the truth is I can’t bring myself to care the least bit about it. In fact, the primary reason I’m relieved the standoff is over is that I won’t have to read about it every fucking day on Facebook.

I am giving myself permission to not feel guilty about this. People without immediate pressing personal problems have the luxury of caring about social justice issues. Right now, I don’t have that. This is an important thing to remember.

I won’t be signing petitions for anything any time soon, and I don’t feel bad about it. If anyone objects to this, that’s their problem, not mine. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel compassion; I just need it all for myself, and my immediate family, right now. We have lives to run.

Today I Am A Man

Many years ago, I remember seeing a cartoon depicting a pubescent bar mitzvah boy at the bimah (altar of a synagogue), addressing the crowd: “Today I am a man.” Down in the congregation, two middle-aged men snicker knowingly at each other: Yeah, sure, kid.

Since becoming widowed early in the year, I’ve wondered what the typical reaction is among my fellow widderfolk to this particular and very unwelcome life lesson. Of course, although certain general patterns can be observed, when you get down close enough, every reaction is unique.

And I wonder: Is this the final lesson that life has to teach us? For me, that lesson, at the moment, seems like this: You will be loved, if you’re lucky, but just know that all those who loved you will die and leave you bereaved — or else you will die and leave them bereaved. Drink a wedding toast to that.

Is the acceptance of death — your own death — the true marker of maturity? More than marriage, parenthood, self-sufficiency, all those positive things? Does the negative really end up overwhelming all the positive things in life?

Or is it not a negative at all? What dreams may come, as that guy once said?

for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

Or to put it another way, maybe we’re not supposed to know what happens after; it’s not part of the parameters of the game we’re inside of.

One thing’s for sure: Childhood ended a long time ago. And even my 11-year-old sons, who must soldier on without their loving mother, are living a real-life version of one of those cruel ol’ Disney cartoons, like Bambi or Dumbo. Except that their father is still around, and hopes that will be enough, hopes that it will be enough in the end to forestall catastrophe.

And he hopes he will not succumb to bitterness and anger for the rest of his days, having seen very clearly, with personal intent, what life has revealed itself to be.

“Today I am a man…”

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.

Saying You’re Grieving Because Your Candidate Lost is Insulting to Actual Bereaved People

i-began-2016-wonka-memeLast week the inescapable Lena Dunham posted the following quote on her Instagram account, now making the rounds as a quasi-meme in certain liberal corners of Facebook. Dunham attributes the quote to Rabbi Joel Simonds of University Synagogue, a Reform Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, “incorporating the words” of the renowned early 20th century Torah scholar Rav Abraham Isaac Kook:

Today marks the seventh day of grieving and sitting Shivah for the loss of our country and the woman who inspired us, reads the post.

As Judaism teaches us, after seven days of Shivah we stand up, we emerge from the dark, we do not have to accept, we do not have to move on, but we stand up! So today we emerge from the darkness. We are taught that the righteous do not complain of the darkness but rather create light. Today we begin to create light and we do so as the resistance and we fight and fight and fight for good, for love and for justice.

I’m all for the part about resistance and fighting, which is all well and good in the standard activist tradition. This is a high-class text-only meme with a liberal arts degree, with neither an accompanying photo of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka nor any sarcasm at all, but — leaving aside the questionable assumption that Hillary Clinton is the moral equivalent of Gandhi or the Dalai Lama— I’m deeply offended by the grieving and Shivah bits.

I don’t want to make this post about me or my particular problems, but I suppose it can’t be avoided because since my wife died 10 months ago I have become an unwilling member of a special interest group: call it Widower Americans, or Recently Bereaved Americans (RBA for short; let’s define “recent” as up to two years, at which point it’s generally deemed socially acceptable for your family and friends to start telling you to suck it up and start dating again, because it’s time to move on). How can I get non-members of this group to understand how I feel when others say they’re “grieving” or “in mourning” or, gag me with a spoon, “sitting Shivah” as a result of the 2016 election (which gets double bonus points for offending me both as a bereaved person AND a Jew)?

Please, people, let’s clarify our terms: saying you’re “in mourning” because your candidate lost an election is an insult to the genuinely grieving.

Even if approximately half of the US population now knows something of what it’s like to be a widower (because Hillary’s candidacy died, along with their vicarious hopes and dreams that went with it), that still doesn’t make it OK to say you’re grieving.

You go into mourning when your spouse dies, or your parent or sister or best friend. Not when your favored candidate blows an election. Period.

I’m not denying that people are lately feeling upset, devastated, horrified. So am I. I don’t lack empathy for what they’re feeling. I don’t deny that a lot of people are in shock. When they talk of sleeping an excessive amount (guilty of same since Donna died), or gaining weight (I’ve packed on some 20 pounds this year), I can relate.

Still, when liberals say they’re “grieving” it hits me like cultural appropriation. That’s what I’d call it whether it comes across as insensitive mocking or grief tourism, hanging with the cool kids— the way I imagine Native Americans feel when they see Cleveland Indians fans donning headdresses and war paint at the ballpark — or a more complicated case of a misguided but apparently sincere desire to “pass” as an oppressed minority (see Rachel Dolezal). You want identity politics? You’ve got it. If you’re not an RBA, don’t try to come off as one.

As this Boston Globe article makes clear, grief counseling for despairing liberals is a real thing — as is the predictable response from Trump supporters in the comments section, as they crow about the need for boot camps for the “snowflakes” and “wimps” who have been cosseted their entire lives with participation medals and talk of being “special” and are totally unprepared to deal with defeat of any kind, and need to, as many Star Trek fans have been told for years, “get a life.”

Although I don’t think people who say they’re “in mourning” should be mocked in this fashion (that’s Trumpstyle bullying, plain and simple), I do see them as seriously misguided. In general, I’d say to anyone: if you haven’t lost anyone close to you, STFU. If you have, you should know better than to equate personal loss with political defeat. Death is permanent: your person is gone from the world, forever. Politics is transient and temporary; today’s victor may be defeated in a couple of years, forced to resign, even sent to prison. If your candidate lost the election, you might want to organize, recruit, and work for a better candidate next time. That’s not to say I’m not deeply depressed about this election and the coming horror show that seems as inevitable as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami: at this point we can all see that the ocean has withdrawn, and we’re waiting for the deluge to flood the village. But to me, talk of “grieving” and “mourning” is still insulting.

When McCain lost in 2008 and when Romney lost in 2012, to my knowledge no Republicans went around saying they were “grieving” or “in mourning.” This is one reason why they ridicule liberals. Yes, I know: Donald Trump is different. He’s appalling, ignorant and dangerous, the people around him are appalling and dangerous in similar degree and a real threat to democracy as we’ve known it for our entire lives. I’m still offended by talk of “grief” over an election. Grief is when your spouse or parent or child dies. Politics is temporary stuff, it is. The pendulum swings back and forth.

People have picked fights with me on Facebook recently when I expressed these feelings. You’re not respecting or honoring my feelings, they say.

Since when are your feelings sacrosanct or beyond discussion, I’d reply. You seem not to respect mine at all.

As I wrote in a previous post, we need a new word or term for the feeling this election has engendered. Not mourning or grieving. Perhaps ‘electoral shrouding’ would be OK, or ‘election-loss hangover.’

And if we can all be a bit more sensitive toward each other’s perspective, that would be a good place to start to plan our next moves.

The Year of the Unthinkable: Reaping the Whirlwind and All That

Think of this as one of those Facebook posts that get out of hand and you start writing one thing after another, and your Facebook friends have to click “more” and then scroll down, and scroll some more, until turning back there is none. So indulge me.

Really, I blame the Chicago Cubs. Their World Series victory fractured the delicate equilibrium of the universe and let loose the genie from the bowinteriscomingttle, ushering in the apocalypse. Yeah, that makes as much sense to me as anything. Let’s go with that. Fuck the Cubs. This is on them.

What does 11/9 feel like (that’s the American 11/9, November 9, month first, for my European readers)? 11/9, the new 9/11 (“9/11 we’ll never forget, 11/9 we’ll always regret,” as some Twitterers have it). 1938: Kristallnacht in Germany. 1989: The Berlin Wall falls. 2016: Trump upsets Clinton. Four days of massive disruption, one of them good, three really, really bad.

What does this 11/9 feel like? The day after 9/11. Lennon’s murder. Maybe Princess Diana’s death. Or Jackie Kennedy marrying Ari Onassis. Or Kirsty MacColl killed by a millionaire’s speedboat. The dream is not only dead, it’s been stomped, shredded, and passed through the digestive system of a mule.

We have gone down the rabbit hole. There is no escape.

In the end, nothing could save us. Investigative journalism didn’t help. Sketches on SNL didn’t help. The Access Hollywood tape didn’t help. Bruce Springsteen, Gaga and Beyoncé didn’t help. Joe Biden didn’t help. Even Barack and Michelle, bless ’em and we’ll miss ’em, didn’t help.

For some of you, 2016 has been a year filled with death, loss, and major disruption, either long-distance (Bowie, Prince et al.) or too close for comfort. Some of you have spoken of waking up from a nightmare and then realizing it was real, of curling up in a fetal position, of finding solace in getting very drunk or stoned (silly me, the only remotely comforting thing I had on hand that night besides my kids was ice cream), and that last night was the worst night of your life.

Since my wife Donna died just last January, which still seems like only a few weeks ago, this isn’t even close to being the worst night, or day, of my life (or second, or third, or fourth, and way on down the line). One of the advantages of getting older is that you have reference points, things to compare bad experiences to when they happen, to be guideposts. Still, the election of 2016 is…something new. At one point late last night, I realized that about half of the country suddenly had some insight, if limited, in what it was like to be a widower. Hillary, rest in peace. Yes, she was a flawed candidate and not the most exciting politician in the world, but capable of reasonable governing and moving the country forward. First woman president dreams, rest in peace (at least for the time being). Snide memes about smashing the patriarchy, rest in peace. Lesson: Don’t count your chickens. Be humble. Lose the entitlement aura. Work for what you want. Don’t just care about yourself. Work for the common good, if such a thing still exists.

I might also add that saying you’re “in mourning” or “grieving” because your candidate lost an election is an insult to the genuinely grieving. This is something I unfortunately have firsthand knowledge of. You go into mourning when your spouse dies, or your parent or sister or best friend. Not when Hillary Clinton blows an election she should have by all rights have won (and by the way, it’s all right to be angry with her about that; I know I am. To appropriate a Massachusetts reference from a few years back, she’s become Hillary Rodham Coakley, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the best pre-2004 Red Sox fashion).

We need a new word for the feeling this election has engendered. Not mourning or grieving. Perhaps ‘electoral shrouding’ would be OK.

Donna would have been appalled at this seemingly endless election campaign, and certainly at its unbelievable actual end. She had strong opinions; she didn’t march in lockstep with anyone but was in general a progressive Democrat with a heart and an activist bent. She marched, wrote, posted online, stuck bumper stickers on her car and placards on our lawn, block-walked with local candidates and even hosted an event for one. She could argue with the best of them and hold her position against the most skilled enemy volleys. Yet she maintained friendships with women holding diametrically opposed political views and was able to separate the person from their politics, a vanishing skill. She saw commonalities, sympathized with struggles. I hope I can live up to her example.

Many of you have spent the last year warning ever more shrilly of the danger Trump poses to the republic, our shared values, or what’s left of them. Now, on November 9, we can’t just say “Forget it, it doesn’t matter.” Because it does.

Unlike some of you, I’m not looking for a silver lining or making jokes (at least not any more than I can help). I don’t see any silver lining, don’t think this is funny at all. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, even antisemitism have won the day. Don’t let fascism take over. Protest when you must, when you feel you can make a difference. Write. Sing. Paint. Code. Tend your garden. Donna wouldn’t think of expatting, if that’s even a verb.

And a special note for those friends of mine who live and die with politics and elections: I admire your fortitude, but if you tie your personal happiness to which candidate wins, which policies become law, and which pols do and don’t let you down, you will, without a doubt, condemn yourself to a life of misery which will only deepen with the years. If you don’t have one, find yourself a meaningful life outside of politics, or sports, or TV show.

Frankly, I’m way too exhausted at this point to even think of tackling a “to-do list” or “get back to work,” as some of you suggest, to further try to usher in the socialist workers’ utopia that never actually arrives. I’m getting older every day and though I’m fighting the urge to say “I’m done,” I’ll just say I’m done for now.

What did I tell my kids the next morning? I told them that I’m sorry Trump won, and that I didn’t vote for him. Then I sent them off to school.

Live from the rabbit hole, I’m T. Coraghessan Eichenwald. Back to you, Chet and Nat.

Suzanne Vega and me: not quite Lincoln and Kennedy, but weird enough

I’ve known for some time that I share a birthdate (born on the same day, July 11, and the same year [look it up if you want] with three professional musicians: my late wife Donna Young Eichenwald (double bassist and recorder soloist, performer in symphony orchestras and smaller ensembles along with Manhattan cabaret rooms and piano bars), the singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega (fine writer and singer, many hits and albums to her credit), and Richie Sambora (former lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for Bon Jovi). I’m not a professional musician, but music has played a central part in my life and I’ve written about music and the people who make it for various publications and still do. So make of that what you will; I don’t know what to make of it myself, but here we are.
A while ago I started following Suzanne Vega on Twitter, and from this have noted another very odd coincidence: she has two cats, named Cinnamon (who resembles our late cat Lightning) and Caramel. I know this from her posting photos of them. I have a dog named Cinnamon, and once had a hamster named Caramel.

And oh, yes, I have a son named Luka (not named after that Vega song, though; that would have been too weird). My Luka was, by the way, the one who named our pets.

Also, although Suzanne Vega was born in California, we both spent our early childhoods in New York City, her in Manhattan and me in Queens.
And so this year I decided to dress up like her for Halloween. Why? It was just time for it, I guess. I wouldn’t really call it a feat of dressing in drag (drag lite?) because Vega has kind of an androgynous, quirky look anyway. Don a top hat, auburn bangs, dark jacket and slacks, maybe slather on some red lipstick and tote around an acoustic guitar and a large green apple (this from the cover of her 1996 album “Nine Objects of Desire”), and you’re pretty much there. (So to recap, this year I cosplayed as Suzanne Vega, Suzanne Vega dressed up as Carrie Brownstein, Carrie Brownstein dressed up as Lena Dunham, and Lena Dunham dressed up as Amy Schumer. Just kidding…)
Trick-or-treating with Luka — who, on his own initiative, dressed as the character Dippy Fresh from the carton “Gravity Falls” — I got people guessing Tiny Tim and Slash, and many quizzical looks from candy-dispensing householders as I was the oldest trick-or-treater they’d seen that evening or perhaps ever. After I told one man on the street who I was, he responded, with some deliberation, in a Texas accent, “Suzanne Vega. I would not have guessed that.”
I posted photos to Facebook and also got William Tell, Arlo Guthrie, the subject of a Magritte painting, Fiona Apple, even Leonard Cohen. One person, another music hound, got it correct.
In my other life as an arts-and-features freelance writer, I occasionally interview singers and/or songwriters. I tried to interview Ms. Vega once, but her people never got back to me. It seems to be a lost opportunity. Maybe someday I’ll get that interview, or at least a selfie.
I don’t have everything in common with Ms. Vega, it must be said. I’m not a recording artist. I was never married to Mitchell Froom. Nor am I a Buddhist. And I think she can carry off a top hat much better than I can.
No offense, Suzanne. I’d rather be associated with you than Richie Sambora, in any case.