Cape Cod 2007

Click here for the Amiglia album Cape Cod 2007
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I drove from Philadelphia where I had a presentation with AOM. Paul and Milena and Eva flew from New York and drove from Boston. Dad and Liz had reserved a room for Paul and Milena and Eva. I stayed with them in their condo. The water was warm. The food was good, the company too. Lobster on the patio and deck, a warm breeze, swimming in the ocean before breakfast.

The drive was memorable, for me. You all said it was crazy. It sort of started with a three-hour delay in San Francisco the day before, which meant I got to the airport at 1 am so I wasn’t fussy about the red Chevrolet Impala V8 with a tailfin that Hertz had left for me. I had reserved a midsize, the smallest Neverlost available.

The next day, Friday August 3, started poorly. I had to take an ambien at 3 am to sleep, so I slept until 10, then called Hertz about the car. The nice lady on the phone said I should take it to the downtown office — just a few blocks away — and switch it. Fortunately I called first, and when I did they told me they didn’t have any midsize. Oh well. Big, red, tailfin … perfect I suppose for I95 up the East Coast from Philadelphia to Cape Cod.

My presentation was anti-climactic to say the least. Four people showed up. So it wasn’t hard, no tension, but not useful. It started at 2, finished at 5. The concierge sent me to a nice-looking Italian deli across the street for a sandwich and fruit, but it was closed, so I got some food at (gulp) a downtown 7-11. Gulp indeed.

Then it was me and the red impala and Suzie Neverlost, with “on the road again” as background music. I listened to the audible book version of “Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. I drove. I followed Suzy’s directions and she took me over a shortcut from one interstate to another, up New Jersey towards New York. I was okay with a crowded freeway heading out of Philadelphia towards New Jersey at 6 pm, but that traffic gradually faded, and I steamed up the freeway for a while happily.

As I approached New York, seeing the skyline and bridges and all, I assumed Suzy would take us to the left of the city, as indicated by Google maps. Nope. Before I had time to stop and reconsider, with me going 60 plus MPH the whole time, she took us right over the George Washington bridge into (gulp) Manhattan. It was upper Manhattan, ugly, squat, hot, threatening, and absolutely jammed with traffic. We crept slowly inch by inch through the Bronx, going about two or three miles in an hour. It was almost 8 pm before I was on the New England turnpike at freeway speeds again. Suzy said we still had almost 5 hours to go.

I just kept going. Night fell. The freeway was well lit but I slowed from 80-ish to 70-ish in the dark. The book kept going, stayed interesting. By about 9:30 I realized I’d made a significant failure to plan, I was still hurdling through Connecticut in the dark at 70 miles per hour but I was also still a full three hours from my destination, meaning that I’d get to my destination in the middle of the night with nowhere to sleep without waking up Dad and Liz, if that was even possible. I considered calling 1-800-hhonors but where was I, how could I ask for a hotel if I didn’t know where I was or where I would be? Then I decided I’d get Megan to get on Google maps and help me, but I called home and talked to Cristin, Megan wasn’t there. The prospect of sleeping in the car was not fun. I didn’t slow down though, because Suzy kept saying I still had a long way to go.

I lucked out. Around Mystic CT there was a cluster of highway motels. Howard Johnson’s had only a smoking room, Econolodge had nothing, but the Holiday Inn Express had one room left.

“It’s a handicapped room,” the guy said.

“Is that bad? Do I have to be handicapped?”

“No, it’s fine, it’s just the last room we have and it’s late enough now that we’re supposed to rent it.” It was 10:15 pm. So I got a nice clean normal hotel room and went to sleep. The car said we were 2:16 from the destination.

I was up at 7 and on the road at 8, but no luck on the 2:15 from the destination. Suzy Neverlost is totally naive about traffic, and there’s a bottleneck getting into Cape Cod around the Bourne Bridge and the Cape Cod canal that meant once again, as with New York the day before, it took me about an hour to advance three minutes on Suzy’s schedule.

So I was there about 11:15, and it was a great day in Cape Cod, alternatively cloudy and sunny, Paul and Milena and Eva were already there, the condo was comfortable, the water was warm, we had lobster sandwiches on the deck of the clubhouse for lunch and lobster on a patio restaurant overlooking a harbor for dinner. Dad and Liz raved about Eva, Paul, and Milena, all of whom were very nice, charming, good looking, hard working, and smart.

Paul Milena and Eva left after a breakfast on Sunday, but we met on the beach before breakfast to swim in the ocean. It was warm again, and Sunday was spectacularly beautiful, about 80 degrees high, low humidity, bright, blue, and, well, beautiful. We had a nice dinner at a nice restaurant, Ocean something, and dad and I sat up talking for a long time.

Monday morning was a special treat. Dad has a regular tennis game every day about 10 a.m. and he borrowed a racket for me to join. It was a bit surreal to feel like a youngster at 59, the whole group was in their 70s and 80s, they all played excellent tennis, they were also a very fun group, great spirits, joking, teasing, enjoying themselves. I was forgiven for my mediocre tennis because I was so young, or so it seemed — and I’m 59 years old as I write this. The whole thing made me happy on several levels, I’m really glad dad is doing so well, I’m glad he’s happy, I’m glad he’s healthy, and the group is a reminder to all of us that some people do well with age. These men all play better tennis than I do, they are all very much alert and aware and alive, and they are all in late 70s or 80s. For the record, dad is the oldest and the best tennis player of all.

— Tim

Click here for the google maps for this.

War of the Front Seat


From a letter from Jay from a few years ago

Martha and I didn’t really experience World War One or Two. We certainly both respect the horrors of both those wars, but we know in a visceral way, the “War of the Front Seat.”

The “War of the Front Seat” took place on long automobile vacations between about 1964 and 1969. Constant arguing between mom and dad. I know that mom always accused me of ruining the trip to Canada (this was the one where dad, following the dictates of his inner voice, drove away from a gas station in Canada leaving me standing at the gas station.. Mom would often tell this story later, and she got a big kick out of it.), but mom did her part on occasion in putting a hurt on these car trips. I never understood the big deal over the map. I mean how hard is it to find your way around these big interstates and highways! But still mom and dad would have these tremendous wrangles over directions and the map. It was very odd. If I recall, dad’s general strategy was to kind of take a look on the map and decide, okay, we’ll take 37 and then 120, and then we’ll swing over to 99. Problem was that you didn’t get all the way over to 99. Or, at least, according to Mom you didn’t. Dad would take a look at the map and you take 37 and then 120 and then you swing over to 99. But Mom actually has THE MAP! That was the rub! Mom has THE MAP and if you look at it very closely, 120 doesn’t go all the way to 99. This dialogue would go on for about 10 minutes. Martha and I would be in the back seat kind of like, Oh, well, it’s happening again, I guess. Mom has THE MAP!

This was just one of about nineteen battles in the War of the Front Seat. Martha and I never really kept track as to who was right. Did 120 end before it met up with 99. Was dad right, or was Mom reading the map wrong. I think it was half and half, but I’m not sure to this day.

Martha and I would sit in the back seat with a kind of Ivan Denisovich stare. We never really understood, if truth be told, the War of the Front Seat. I’m not sure Mom and Dad understood it.. In the fog of war both parties stubbornly held their ground.

— They had two radically different travel styles. Dad was kind of learn as you go, don’t worry about it. Map! Who needs a map! Well, okay, where’s the map? I’ll look at the map, fer Chrissakes! This was kind of the instinctive Irish approach. Mom came from the Klausewitz school of travel. You planned it out! You phoned ahead! You had to be prepared! You had to know the enemy and the enemy’s name was chaos, chaos in the universe, around the next corner, right around where 120 does or doesn’t meet route 99. Some of this, in retrospect, was genetic, probably Teutonic, but some of it came from her awful Pittsburgh youth.

Trouble was around the next bend! You did have to prepare for it!

The following is a very recycled story, but it bears continual repeating, because anything that makes me laugh bears repeating. This was the trip to El Cajon, a classic clash of traveling styles and civilizations.

— This was a trip with just Martha and I. Chip and Tim were in college and out in the world. They were now beyond beach trips. We had started out the trip in Newport Beach and I recall it was a nice trip. I was about 14 or 15. This was the last beach trip, by the way. Am I right about this, Martha?. I think it was. Anyway, after spending a week or so at Newport, the plan was to travel to San Diego and spend the night. Okay, no problem. Except in this case, Klausewitz had the upper hand. This was not a time for confidence and spontaneity. This was a Saturday night in San Diego and every motel room was no vacancy, no vacancy, no vacancy, NO VACANCY. Dad, was doing very well as an ophthalmologist/surgeon, and when the family went on one of these car vacations, we generally stayed in fairly civilized lodgings. It wasn’t Mauna Kea, but it was very pleasant and comfortable. There would be a pool, and maybe even a little dining room, where I could order a steak. But I couldn’t help but notice that as we wheeled through San Diego, all of the places that we would ordinarily stay in we’re filled up. One after another after another. Hundreds, literally, were filled up.

Like many cities, San Diego has a very nice part, a nice part, a not so nice part, and a very, very not so nice part. Martha and I couldn’t help but notice that we had gone from the very nice part to the nice part, and now were traveling in the not so nice part. Dad was becoming increasingly quiet as we drove through the not so nice part not only because he wasn’t real happy about having to stay in some dive, but also on account of the fact that his whole travel strategy, which oftentimes worked like a charm, was losing and losing badly to the Klausewitz/Werthenbach school of travel planning and engineering. The representative of the Klausewitz camp was very forthcoming in making clear the deficiencies of the instinctive travel school and calling for a paradigm shift, even if it be somewhat violently imposed. Needless to say, Martha and I could hear the mortars explode– we had put on our helmets. We were back in the War of the Front Seat!

Things only got worse. We all expressed our amazement at just how many motels there were in San Diego, and just how many were filled. I remember wondering as to why San Diego was so popular on a Saturday night. Just what went on in San Diego on a Saturday night? We were soon neck deep in the very, very, very, not so nice part of town. A feeling of chaos and heat and people making up for a bad week with one wild Saturday night.Wild people yelling out of cars, little roadside cantinas where four hours later Rodriguez and Martinez will shoot it out over Rodriguez’ sister. Lots of semi-desert. Much scarier than all desert. We actually were out of San Diego now. We were now in a place called El Cajon. Ever since that night, I have heard the name El Cajon associated with horribly savage crimes. Stories in the newspaper about how the suspect spent the night at a motel in el Cajon, the body later found in the surrounding desert…

We did finally find a place to stay. We wheeled up and parked the car in front of a woman who was kind of stumbling around by the second floor railing. The woman was a friendly but very strange looking sort with the wildest hairdoo I have even seen. She could have raised bees in that hairdoo for a second income. It looked like a Mesotopamian ziggurat after a big storm. She was also very deep in the bag, as they say. In fact, she was waving a very large bottle of tequila around and kind of slurring her speech: “Come on, in!” she slurred. Needless to say, Klausewitz was not terribly amused!

The rest of the night had its moments. Poor dad, from all the stress that goes with completely having your world view debunked by your wife, was suffering some major league chest pains.

And, as you’ve probably heard, there was a funeral home across the street from the motel with a blinking neon sign! About 1:00 a.m., we were all treated to the sound of what sounded like about 12 cowboys promoting a rodeo. I went to the window and saw about three long-legged kind of trashy looking women sitting on these porch- like abutments to the rooms kiddy corner to our wing. They were smoking cigarettes, wearing lingerie, and talking with okie accents to the cowboys who were driving up to the porch-like abutments. It was one of those places old as mankind itself. The cowboys had arrived with only pure thoughts about developing serious relationships with these young ladies. I must say I found myself quite intrigued by the whole scene. I even thought it would be nice to stay in these kinds of places more often!

All in all, it was quite an adventure, and, truth be told, kind of a fun place to stay. That night before we returned to the motel, we went to some extremely hot, non air-conditioned theater in El Cajon and watched a James Bond movie, Thunderball, while munching in the dark on fried chicken we brought into the theater from a Kentucky Fried.

When I think of it, actually, Klausewitz was wrong! If we had planned it all out, we wouldn’t have had the adventure that night in El Cajon.

— Now, it’s time to reflect on the Emily Post Table Manners Institute, which mom was the director of for about four or five years (I think she gave up after that!) Comedian Bobby Slayton has this little patter that goes like this: “Ya think of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, but ya can’t forget Moe of the Three Stooges” and then he goes off on Moe. Well, you could say Mom had the wisdom of Lao Tzu coupled with the beauty of Katherine Grayson (she told me people would often compare her to that particular actress when she was young), but she had a little Moe of the Three Stooges in her. During the most turbulent moments of the training sessions, mom was good for hitting me straight over the head with a fork or a spoon. Mind you, being a nurse and a loving mother, she would strike you over the hard-shelled front part of your cranium, so it would not cause you any academic harm in the future. But it hurt!

I think the whole manners problem was just very frustrating to her. Chip had briefly attended the institute and graduated with maybe a D minus at best. Tim had done a little better. He left with a straight D. Martha graded out at a C minus. A disappointment for a girl. But I think I clearly wore the Emily Post Institute’s paper hat! I was failing the institute’s curriculum with wild gusto, and it put mom in a frenzy. I’d say three or four times during those years, when the book would be hauled out ( OH, GOD, NO! NO! NO! HERE COMES THE MANNERS BOOK! OH, GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?) The spoon would come flying over head and

it really hurt! Mom would just take a complete dive into the deep end over this whole thing– she went koo koo over it. Still, when I’ve had to go back to my Emily Post roots, I can really bring it. I know all about putting down my fork until I’ve stopped chewing. So the institute worked to some degree. Whether it was the worth the excruciating pain to both mom and to us is another question.

— When I think of mom I think of a very complex person with all kinds of quirks and good points and, yes, some bad points, but she was mostly a very warm and passionately caring soul.

I remember one time in my life when I was in tremendous emotional pain. A lot of you know I had a very dim bulb relationship with an older woman during the fall of 1979 up to the spring of 1980. I took the relationship with operatic seriousness. I was really wearing the paper hat on this one. Predictably, the relationship started to go downhill, and wildly downhill, careeningly downhill like an elephant on roller skates. I was very emotionally out of control. I cried about half the day. My shirts were mildewed.

One leaden afternoon I drove/limped up to 23260 to eat dinner, completely out of my mind. I found myself at one point crying my stupid eyes out in the bathroom. The rational side, through the tears, could look at that stupid face in the mirror and think: God, they don’t make morons like you anymore. They threw away the mold! Still, pain is pain. I will always remember Mom kind of racing in and hugging me during that moment. It is a very tender memory. We all know she would come to help any of us in a nano second.

Before she died in 1988, during the spring, around March, I remember coming up to the house. These were tough visits. We all knew it was not long. Mom and I watched TV one night. It was pleasant, but it was not quite real. The bear was very much in the room. The thing at that point that obsessed her was the house. Would Dad be okay with dealing with all the details in the house. But not only that, she said several times to me: “I’m very worried about your dad. I’m very worried about your dad.” I will always be touched by that. Despite all the battles in the front seat, it was so clear to me how much she loved dad. And this was kind of the ultimate proof of that. She would be very happy that Dad found Liz and has had a nice life following all of this tragedy.

Well, that’s all for now. It’s been painful to think of all of this, but I’ve laughed a little bit, too.

I hope you enjoyed it, beloved family members. The cars are still whooshing by on Mirabel, and Riley is now in a dog’s deep dream.. What a beautiful dog he is!

And mom always, always, lives on in my mind.

But wait! Don’t think it’s over!. I do believe in the spirit world and I do believe that some day we will all be together once again. We will all be piled into the Oldsmobile 88 about 15 or so miles from the center of the world– King City.

It’ll be hot and the sun will filter through a mystic grove of eucalyptus fanning by on the right, and Chip’s shoes will take up about half of the back seat.

When we get to the mysterious center of our journey, we will drink an ice cold 10 cent coke from one of those thick little bottles. That Indian summer Pierce will bring it and Willy will send two of em flying out of there. The Dodgers will lose once again!

And that fall the great Miyahara will once again toss the pigskin around Lancer stadium.

Or, more accurately, he will scramble for his life in the pouring rain!

But dad, you’d better watch out, for it won’t be all a bed of roses, because in the front seat sitting next to you, Mom will have THE MAP!!!!

Remembering my Mother

From a letter from Jay from a few years ago.

Mom died on a Wednesday. I remember it being extremely hot, well over 90. I was subbing in San Francisco and I just blew off work. I felt very, very strongly that she would die that day. I drove home. The freeway was blazing hot and it was a very unpleasant trip. I remember being very scared in a way to enter the house, and I started up Eastbrook ave, got to where my old school was, and headed to Hal’s Echo for a beer. Weird thing to do, but I felt horrible about entering the house. After a surreal beer at Hal’s echo in the corner of the bar, I headed up to the house. The front door was unlocked and I just walked down the hall to see Mom. I knew when I saw Mom the Saturday before that she was very, very, close to death, so I was somewhat prepared for how she looked. That Saturday when I had walked into the room, she kind of perked up and her eyes dilated just a bit. She knew it was me, but she couldn’t talk.

This is the most difficult image I have ever seen. Excruciating.

Wednesday was in some way easier to see Mom than on Saturday when she had some consciousness left. Apparently on Saturday she had recognized and said something to Aunt Bruna. By the time I came, she was grasping to say something, but she was incapable of talking and getting the words out.

When I got to Mom’s room, dad barely noticed me. He was praying at the foot of her bed. It’s strange the things you notice, and I remember how big those rosary beads were. They were absolutely gigantic. You could use them as martial arts weapons.

I believe he was saying hail marys over mom’s unconscious body. It looked like there was very little time. For a while Dad and I sat like zombies in the TV room. There was a basketball game kind of dripping sound in the background. It was a Larry Bird game, but it was all just a big blob, a mishmash of stupid sound and squeaky shoes on the Celtics’ parquet floor.

I heard Mom die.

I was in the kitchen and I heard a loud sound, kind of a nasal sound. It was very short. I went to the TV room and told Dad that he ought to check on Mom, and that I had heard a strange sound. Dad went in and confirmed that she had passed away. Dad went into a strange state-of- shock kind of battle plan that he had already rehearsed in his mind, calling Dick Wheat and the funeral home to take her away. “The great” Dick Wheat did arrive. For a long time afterword, I always remember dad getting choked up referring to “that damn Dick Wheat.”

As many jerks as there are running around, you always have to remember the Dick Wheats running around. Finally, about a half hour after Mom’s death, these two strange characters came to the house and they loomed in the hallway, waiting to take Mom’s body away.

One guy was big and tall with a big lantern jaw. He was like that loony guy in the old Alfred Hitchcock show, a migant worker, who shows up on this lady’s door and says “I’ll pick your peaches” in this psychopath way. The other guy was short and kind of like George in Of Mice and Men. The short guy had an impatient look on his face as Dad and Dr. Wheat talked over the body of Mom lying on the bed. Finally these two strange characters were able to take Mom away in a big blanket. Hail Mary, full of grace…

These are images I seldom visit, except they still come to visit me.

I remember how mom would change from day to night. She was a classic gemini with a kind of dual personality that way. During the day with all of her chores and all, she could be very crabby. I remember her returning from the store in the afternoon and being unpleasant to be around. Mom and I did spend a lot of time in those days watching the Mike Douglas Show and the Merv Griffin show together and making comments about various things. She always had interesting takes. I remember Angie Dickenson came out one time, and mom making the comment: “She’s the kind of a woman who will go after anyone in pants.”

I must confess that to a Bellarmine sophomore this sounded like the kind of woman I wanted to find! Though I still think to this day there is something strangely sinister about Angie Dickenson. Mom was extremely intuitive. These were not opinions that were read or borrowed.

They came from her deepest intelligence. Mom could play bridge like a whiz, and was a technically very bright person, but her intuition was her greatest asset, and I don’t think I have ever met anyone with her kind of intuitive intelligence. Chris Thomas once commented to me that “your mother is really smart.” And what I think he meant (he was about 14 or so) was that mom was smart in the real sense, the intuitive, lasar-like, intelligence that operates beyond and before language and symbol. This is what I meant when I made the comment at her funeral that “mom knew what you were thinking sometimes before you thought it.” She knew people and she knew them in a deep way.

Mom was an intriguing, quirky person in many ways. I loved her very much as a person, a fellow traveler, as well as my dear mother.

— I remember her talking to the indoor plants while she watered them one afternoon. “Mom, ”I said, “do you always talk to those plants when you water them.” “Of course, I always talk to the plants,” she said, rather matter of factly.

— We all remember the famous Good Friday with Kitty Fischer. Oh, that was a strange, painful day. Mom was locked in the bathroom, crying, beside herself. I remember constantly knocking on the door: “Mom, are you all right?” It scared me to hear mom crying like that.

This was a very tough person who you could easily imagine working twenty four hour shifts in a mental ward during World War II, or having dental operations with no novacaine, causing the dentist afterwords to say to her: “You’re like a marine.” And still she was absolute jello that day.

— Why did that happen? It was the view, almost like the mountains had some kind of deep, Chekhovian sort of importance to mom. The mountains that turned the sunset colors in the summer evenings. The mountains that were in the window as she worked in the kitchen. The mountains that held huge mystical significance. I know that Mom and Dad at times had a feisty marriage, but I don’t think it was always issue related. I think in some ways the distant mountains, metaphorically speaking, were the truth to mom. The constant issues of the day were part of the world that was sometimes an annoyance beyond what she could take.

— A short pause here. I’m typing in the front room surrounded by our Indian Bottle Brush in full bloom and our epic German shepherd, Riley, is sleeping on the bed next me. Mom would have just loved Riley. This is the most beautiful German Shepherd I have ever seen. I once saw a picture of all the Rin Tin Tins all lined up, and Riley is more impressive than all of them. That’s objective! I’m not kidding. What a beautiful dog. About five minutes or so, when I was recounting the last moments of Mom’s life and all, I began to sob, and ol Riley looked over me with this extremely touching, sympathetic look. Is there anything on God’s moist blue/green planet more adorable than a beautiful German Shepherd. The nobility is endless! I am sure that Mom has met Lena up there wherever she is.

-Mom and I had a weird bond over psychic phenomena. We both were kind of fascinated with it.. Mom would read endless books on the stuff. Ruth Montgomery, Jean Dixon, the woman with Seth (I forget her name), and on and on. She would always say she didn’t believe in it, and she was a little bit embarrassed, but then you’d see her reading those same books. I’m the same way, I must confess. I am embarrassed by my interest in all of it, and for a time I subscribed to a magazine whose whole agenda is to debunk all that stuff, Skeptical Enquirer. Still… Mom had one weird dream that she always talked about. She dreamed about the place where Martha Raganese lived. She dreamed the road, the yard, the house, and she later visited Martha Raganese and the dream was spot on. She really did believe in the spirit world, and I remember one time after Granddad had died, mom said to me: “Maybe he’ll come and visit you tonight.” I was immediately seized with skin crawling horror:” YOW! Mom, that would be horrible. I don’t want to be visited by a ghost!”

Though I believe in some kind of spirit world sort of after life, I’m kind of chicken about contact with em right now.” “Oh, the spirits are usually good when they come to visit people,” Mom said, again, matter of factly. I think she was wrong about that. Bad ones definitely can come around, too.

— Mom loved music and especially melodious stuff. I think she liked a lot of the opera that Chip played, and the classical music. She sang a ton of melodic pop songs from the 30’s, and had an encyclopedic memory for all the lyrics. It was interesting for me to play records for her, because she would react to them in interesting ways.

One time she expressed a great liking for the Doors’ song, “People are Strange.”

One time I played Frank Zappa’s “Duke of Prunes,” a song with great musical qualities in it, and she remarked: “that’s like a Broadway song.” She was absolutely right, and few people glomm on to that aspect of Zappa’s music. She once was talking about the violin and she made the following comment:” violins together sound wonderful, but they don’t sound that good alone.” This is a very insightful comment, although Isaac Stern might disagree with it, or Stephane Grappeli/Jean Luc Ponty. I am grateful to Mom that she thought to have me take piano lessons. It’s been a big part of my life. Ms. Terry, the polio-stricken teacher who gave me gold and red stars when I nailed a piece down, was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and you can’t do much if you don’t know your scales.

I got to be a snot nose adolescent, and mom would say: “play some of that pretty music.”

Being a jerk, I would proceed to play atonal, obnoxious music oftentimes. What a jerk.

For the CD I thought of writing something for Mom called “some pretty music” or something like that in German. It just seemed like the title should be in German. But the piece I wrote for mom is called “Etwas Musik fur meine Mutter” (Some Music for my mother) and it’s a turbulent, yearning, 19th Century flavored piece that builds to a plateau and then becomes wistful and bittersweet. The two sides, I think, to mom. I don’t think Mom would have particularly liked that piece. I think she would much prefer the song “Rhettahunji.” That is what she meant by pretty music. “Etwas Musik fur meine Mutter” is about 8 minutes long and every note in that piece had to be memorized, since I do write down notes on occasion, but with great pain, especially given my terrible graphic skills (this is why the computer software for composition will be a Godsend when I can get that going!).

Mom, I hope you’ve heard that piece somehow. Do you like it? NO! You like the more melodic stuff! I knew it!

–Mom had room-stopping charisma like nobody I’ve ever seen. I remember those dinner parties where everybody would be in full yammer, and mom would say one little thing, just one little teasing introductory remark, and the whole room would be like the E.F. Hutton commercial.

It was strange! I saw it happen again and again. I’ve never seen anyone do that. The wait was usually worth it, too, I might add.

— Mom’s thing with talk shows was always kind of interesting. She loved Joe Dolan, she had mixed feelings for Jim Eason, mixed feelings for Ira Blue, and she disliked Hilly Rose. I remember how disappointed she was getting off the phone with Hilly Rose. It was a call against Vietnam and it didn’t snap and crackle like she was hoping for.

I think Mom would probably have hated Rush Limbaugh and the new right wing shows like Michael Savage would probably enrage her. I think she would have listened to Art Bell, and if she were alive today, we would discuss the Art Bell show, of that I’m sure.

Art Bell is neck deep in trash and doo doo, but he has an ingenious sense for radio drama and dynamics. This is one area where I know what I’m talking about. I’m the biggest radio freak of all time and know all the talk shows, and even call them. The local talk show host in the afternoon is a babble first, think later kind of Pavlovian reactor Sonoma County produces with a profusion correlative to its grape harvest. I have called her about 15 times, usually about 5:30 when I am doing the dishes. Pat likes me because I am polite and always start my raging attack with “Hi, Pat, nice show you have today.” She knows me as Bill from Forestville. I can’t use my real name, because I’m a teacher, and teachers generally don’t allow other teachers to hold opinions different from their own. I would probably be blackballed from the district. That sounds paranoid, but you’d be surprised at the close-mindedness of teachers. The repressed emotions build and build until teachers, above the neck, wind up just as gnarly as the wind-scultped trunks of cypress trees.

As per mom’s politics and Tim’s associating her with “question authority” bumper stickers:I don’t think mom today would subscribe to any one political agenda. I think she would be

swayed by arguments, for example, against self-defeating governmental bureaucracy, calculating and self-interested ethnic cheerleading a la Jessie Jackson, and questionable science in the name of hysteria and government jobs for bureaucrats. Tim is right to associate mom with the “question authority” bumper sticker, though I think she would be very suspicious of the automaticism with which certain positions are taken these days. In Sonoma County people drive around with that bumper sticker, and I think: “Do these people question the numerous agencies and authority that promote the global warming scam?” Most of these people don’t question at all the authorities they choose to believe absolutely. In the case of global warming, few of these people know the arguments against the global warming thesis, or that predicting global weather patterns is an epistemological twilight zone. Many of the people who drive around with the “question authority” bumper sticker might as well be fundamentalist Christians. Both fundo Christians and eco-fundos take absolute positions, and both operate within a mythological pantheon of demons and angels, good guys and bad guys, Both are found upon the same archetype of the righteous true believer. I think mom would look askance at all of this. I think she might even draw parallels between these people and conservatives in the 50’s. There are many many haunting similarities.

However, there’s no question, she would loathe George Bush. I have a strong feeling about that.

As far as her view on the Catholic Church molestation crisis, I think mom might surprise people in this regard. Whereas, I agree with Dad that she would come down very much against the hierarchy’s failure to take action, she would also feel compassion for the priests who will be roped into this whole media hysteria. How many priests will be falsely accused of molestation?.

Will the media focus on these people?. Will people who love to refer to McCarthy and the Salem Witchcraft trials make mention of the victims of this hysteria, and there will certainly be some.

– Remember the Yahtzee craze. I loved those kind of quirky aspects to mom.

– She was so wonderful after dinner when she was relaxed and the insights and the stories would just kind of roll out of her. Mom had a ton of family remembrances of her relatives, cousins, aunts. I remember there was one funny aunt, who had trouble with the part of her body which serves to repress potential flatulence, so she was, oftentimes, busting loose at odd times. Mom had a million of these type anecdotes.. There were a lot of trips to Safeway to get licorice and/or ice cream to assuage the family sweet tooth. I treasure those little journeys, because so often she would say little pearls of wisdom, simple but profound. I remember the exact spot where she told me, as we were wheeling into the Safeway parking lot: “It ultimately doesn’t matter what other people think.” How many mothers would say that to their kids. Not enough of em. It’s why people are as boring as they often are. Their conformist habits kill the fresh, wild, interesting side of themselves.

I know I’m being harsh here. I certainly consciously repress a lot of stuff these days.

–One time mom found a pack of prophylactics in my drawer. She sort of confronted me with it and said: “Think you’re a real big shot, don’t you! I’m sure you’re using a lot of these!” She was, as usual, right, I wasn’t using a lot of those. I did have some hopes, but there weren’t a lot of those Angie Dickenson types around in those days. I think this was around 1976.

— There were some times I think mom went a little overboard. She took Bridge way too seriously, and I do think that if she was going to play with dad, she should have accepted the fact that he wasn’t always going to bid by the book. How many thursdays during high school, right around 10 o’clock, did I hear that door crash open, with mom, hurricane-like, deconstructing one of dad’s bidding errors in gory detail. It got to be very annoying. She should have just let that go, I think.

–It was always dramatic when Mom was in one of her angry phases. Martha would come scampering back to my room like a little Indian. “Mom’s on the warpath,” Martha would whisper.

“Oh, God, No!” I would think. It was like hearing a tornado alert on the local newscast.

There would be a kind of uneasy feeling in the house. Bad ions in the air. I would hide in my room, but I knew that my time would come. It was like that oft quoted comment from Joe Louis preceding the Billy Conn fight: “he can run, but he can’t hide!” Mom was in the Joe Louis role and I was in the Billy Conn position, actually, make that fetal position. I would sit there in the back room, quivering with an anxiety far beyond the realm of anxiety as it’s commonly understood, knowing that at any time, my name would come hurtling through the hall like a tomahawk. It was tricky, too, because sometimes “Frank” sounded a lot like “Jay.” So sometimes I would think, that was “Frank”, it’s dad’s time, thank you, sweet Jesus, I’ve made it through the storm! But then I’d listen for that second yell: “Oh, no, Lord that sounds a lot like Jay. Oh, no! No question, that second one was Jay!” And all hell would break loose. Sorry to say, I would be mad to have my peace disturbed, and so mom and I often went a few rounds. Later she would refer to me as the “fuck you” kid. I had brought a new phrase into the home. There were some really horrible, yammering afternoons if I recall. A lot of Sundays about 3:30 or so. Seemed to be the time for the axe to fall, for some reason.

In 1996 I wrote a poem about that last day. The poem is kind of one person’s psychic journey through this experience. Some deep unconscious stuff kind of swung the poem into a militaristic, almost preacher mode. I think it was the psyche attempting to violently strong arm this experience into a universal plea for mercy, but only after addressing the pain in some way. I like the poem, but poems only work inside you for a while. I don’t really have answers to that day.

I find it a very painful part of the puzzle.

Mom was a kalaidescope, a multi-dimensional person if ever there was one. Although she was a terrific mother, and she was able to teach us moral values in a very effective and memorable manner, I sometimes found her momhood a little tiresome in the sense that she could be almost too morality bound. I’m not sure she enjoyed her momhood that much– it was kind of a chore, and I think in some very subtle ways, some of the anger in mom was founded upon her intense perfectionism as a mom. Still, she bags an easy A plus for her momhood in the long run.

1962 Was One Sweet Year

From a letter from Jay to the rest of us, written a few years ago.

1962 was one sweet year.

  • The Giants were in a torrid pennant race with the Los Angeles Anti-Christs. Some people knew them as the Dodgers, but I knew better the source of their evil!
  • The priests, Fr. O and Father S came over to the house. I didn’t quite understand all the issues, but I felt the electricity in the air. I loved to hear the tone of the conversation, there was an excitement to it. Was this just in my eight year old mind?
  • Father O would play a swingin’ piano and Father S would talk about teachingCatcher in the Rye at the seminary. Later, when I taught at Piner High in Santa Rosa, I encountered a man named Don Holden. Don, as it turns out, is a former Bellarmine grad, and we had that in common. Plus, Don spent a year at the Maryknoll seminary. He said Fr. Oliver was like a god. He directed a musical, and Don told me the kids were just in awe of him. He was an unbelievable perfectionist and did amazing things. He vaguely remembered Father S and said he was of a similar Olympian stature at the seminary, though Don still remembers Father O with the most extreme reverence! I remember the mysterious faded orange tower and the eucalyptus trees. The mysteries of Catholicism adumbrated around that image. Even today there is nothing more transporting for me than the smell of eucalyptus. Stanford games, maryknoll, 1962. (Watch it, Jay, nostalgia is a trick of the mind? Or is it a vision that fires the mind as it struggles through the Sisyphean days… Geez, I dunno, you tell me!)
  • The fruit hung ripe on the tree. In fact, we stole pomegranates from Mr. Brown’s tree. One day I wore a white T shirt and we ate about five pomegranates and smashed ‘em on the road. My T shirt had this bloody red look. Sort of OJ after a hard night’s work. Mom was not pleased to see the T shirt looking that way. One time later down the road, we were stealing the pomegranates, but Mr. Brown was out there on tiptoes and holding a shotgun. That weird looking bald headed Mr. Brown. He was expecting to nab the deer who were pilfering his pomegranates, but instead found Kelly and me, and I think, Ricky Gross. He explained to us, somewhat gruffly, and I don’t blame him at all, since we were freely scavenging the fruit from his tree with a kind of biblical energy, that Mrs. Brown made pomegranate pie from the pomegranates. Hmmm. Kind of weird, we thought, pomegranate pie. Would taste a bit tart, wouldn’t it?
  • Mom was more beautiful than the First Lady in those days. Radiant. Funny. Smart as a whip. I was convinced I had the best mom and dad in the world.
  • It was clear that Dad loved me very much. I always felt that. But I think he didn’t quite know what to think of me for a while. He knew I was very fond of one particular song: “I’m gonna leave ol Texas Now” (the song still makes me weep!), and that I was a hyperactive little thing, but it wasn’t ‘til he saw me field grounders that he thought: hey, this is interesting. This kid can do something very important: he can field a ground ball. Let’s face it—how many things are more important than that. What, you’re coming up with a list of 37 things more important than that. Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. This is my letter!! Hold on!
  • Needless to say I was discovering the cosmic joy of playing shortstop. I only learned to read so I could read every word of that green sheet. I do remember sitting by the heater during 1962 and memorizing every batting average for the day. It was important. Steve Schwartz might start discussing Chuck Hiller, and you needed to be able to bring the average up right then and there. You needed to know Chuck was hitting a miserable 223, but that he wasn’t a bad fielder at all. And remember the grand slam later in that season! Baseball was just intoxicating that year!
  • Dad brought home an Oldsmobile 88. Whoa, Nellie! I’m never excited by Porsches I see on the road, or fancy BMW’s. Hey, I saw the 88, man! Brown leather seats. Aerodynamic design that wouldn’t quit. You could fly that car to the moon. No problem. The Chevrolet, the paleo-packard, the big blue electra, the mercury which overheated just for the fun of it about every 25 minutes or so, none of these cars held a candle to the majesty of the Oldsmobile 88. Damn straight!
  • Dad was jaunty, full of fun, finding his stride as a doctor in town.
  • He’d eat lunch with Dr. McGuire at a place called “Clark’s”. He took me along one time. They ate burgers on redwood benches.
  • Of course, this caused dad to BALLOON UP! The pajamas built special would be waiting under the Christmas tree!
  • Tim was a bumptious 14 year old, reading, riding bikes, playing Avalon Hill games, finding snakes, occasionally letting me pal along. (I think sometimes at Mom’s urging to take your little brother Jay along, too. Mom was always looking out for the little guy. In this case, it was me!) But I think Tim probably often let me come along out of the goodness of his heart. He was often very kind to me. As per Mom looking out for me, you guys have probably heard the story as to how I made the first friend in my life.The story is that mom had to go out on the road and offer little Mark Sherman a piece of cake on his way home. Like any little kid, Mark bit hard for the cake, and so our minor little friendship began. A quick anecdote that kind of sums up the relationship between the surly Mark and me. It’s spring break of that year. It’s Saturday. The birds are singing and all that, some of ‘em getting drunk and flying in to the windows, or just wobbling around on the driveway (Some musicologist should attempt to tape the robins after a full round of pyrocantha berries. I wonder if they start singing Irish songs?) But I digress…

    So I’m flyin down the road to see Mark high as an eight-year old can be. Coulda been Pooh feeling singy. Out of my head, ecstatic. I come up to Mark, who has a severe, kind of what are you doing here look on his face. Undeterred, I yell out: “Wow, we got ten days with no school (geez, I feel even happier these days when spring break comes around!), and the laconic Sherman, preparing for his later days as surly drug dealer, answers: “So?” This was Mark’s favorite phrase. He thought it was magical. So? So? He loved it. He thought it gave him Harry Potter-like special powers. Whenever Mark didn’t know what to say, he’d say “So?” Anyway…

  • I was absolutely thrilled on those occasions I got to go with Tim and his friends.. Wow, this was how the big boys lived. Only problem was that sometimes I would blurt out things that were not considered exactly swift. Embarrassing verbal faux pas that would just come flyin out unedited. (Come to think of it, some things don’t change!). One time I was with Tim and his friends and I called someone a “pud.” “Pud” was a word that I heard bandied around in those days, and I must admit, I liked the feisty finality to its sound, but its exact definition was obscure to me. Tim then leaned over to me and whispered in my ear: “pud means penis.”“Penis!” I was kind of stunned. Why was everybody calling everybody else a penis?
    Mysteries abound in the eight-year-old mind! Later, down the road a patch, I had said so many embarrassing “pud”-like things that Tim (obviously, this was the future president of Palo Alto Software) was forced to come up with some way of finessing the situation. He was a nice guy, and he didn’t want to spurn his younger brother, because, truth be told, he loved me and kind of liked me, too, but he had to find a clever way to stop my unseemly outbursts.
  • This resulted in the now famous “dippish ways” policy directive of 1962. Some people talk about Breton Woods and stuff like that, to me, the “dippish ways” policy directive of 1962 continues to loom large. The first attempt globally at triangulation. In short, this was the policy: whenever I would burst forth with something that was embarrassing to Tim and his peers, Tim would lean over me with a kind of Kissingeresque hushed whisper, and say: “dippish ways.” This clearly meant that I was being a “dip.” A “dip” meant roughly, “pud.” “Dip” was all you need to know in those days. In Dostoevsky’s Russia they might call you a blackguard. In sunny little Los Altos in 1962, dip worked just fine! In fact, “dip” for about two years, carried a kind of eerie, totemistic, power.I trembled at the thought of my own capacity for “dippish ways.” Actually, I think the “dippish ways” policy worked somewhat, though not completely. Point of fact, I believe the “dippish ways” alert system was operative that entire summer, though, thankfully, only activated once. The one time the “dippish ways” boom was lowered, it was as if I had been struck dumb by Zeus. To this day I don’t remember what I said to earn that dreadful whisper of warning.
  • Big brother Chip was not someone in those days with whom I did a lot of talking. I was eight and he was a very serious 16. His heroes were Bobby Fischer and Richard Wagner. He hung out in the back room, played chess games from tournaments that involved people with oftentimes frightening Bulgarian-sounding names. I still remember a lot of the names from that chess era for some crazy reason. There was Mikhail Tal and Petrosian and Botvinnik. That was the fabbest chess name. Botvinnik. Scary. You wouldn’t want to play chess with that guy. You’d have to hose off afterword! I liked the weird sound of the names, though. Even Chip’s friends had weird names. I thought that went with the chess. In fact, I wondered one time why Chip didn’t have a weird chess name. Some of his friends had names like Blasi and Boulash and Balff. Chip didn’t like ya unless you had a slightly off-kilter name, preferably with a patina of the sinister, Eastern European sound in it. I remember Boulash. I recall that Boulash had jet black hair with a lot of oily goo in it, a major-league acne problem, and that he had a kind of Heinrich Himmler-like sensitivity to eight-year olds hanging around the chess board environs. Where is ol Boulash today? Probably picking up radio signals from outer space through the mercury in his fillings. As bits of spittle fly out of his mouth, he’ll tell ya that “cryptography is better than sex!”Chip liked to talk about people first using the phrase “the great.” So it was the great “Botvinnik (right spelling?)” or the great “Bobby Fisher.” Around this time Mom got to Chip and convinced poor Chip into taking little brother Jay to a high school football game. I bet there was some real heavy-duty deal making on that one, something akin to Jimmy Hoffa in the 50’s. It was a rainy football game at St. Francis high school– St. Francis vs. Riordan. We sat in the bleachers Chip and I. I think ol Rossovich might have been in the game, but he was not his epic senior self, he was younger. Chip’s tendency to call people “the great” got a little out of line on this occasion. St. Francis had a tiny little Japanese-American quarterback by the name of Gene Miyahara. Miyahara didn’t have a bad game. He scrambled, and, at times, ran for some yardage. But even at that age, I couldn’t help but wonder if Gene Miyahara deserved to be called “the great Miyahara!” I think the guy was maybe five foot four!
  • One of the coolest things about Chip was the music he played. The Wagner, the Puccini, the Gilbert and Sullivan, and Mussogorsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, a piece I really liked a lot, not only for the intense, evocative music (I liked the Wagner at times, when he’d cut to the chase, and Puccini, absolutely), but for the title. Wow! A night on Bald Mountain. Mr. Brown in Russia. Guarding his pomegranate tree with a shotgun. The wind swirling around. Rimsky Korsakov in the background– making motions to the violin section they are about to be shot for playing so weakly. Nowadays titles are “Song for Heather” or “Heather be a Ho.” Or “Heather be bald on the mountain”. Ya gotta like a title like “A Night on Bald Mountain.” Course, if you don’t, you might be shot like the string section! I will always be grateful to Chip for bringing all that stuff into the house. (Not that Tim didn’t bring a lot of cool music into the house! See how sensitive I am to not hurting either of my brothers’ feelings!)
  • Chip was not always welcoming when I came pouring into his lair/catacomb. His favorite phrase at this time was “beat it.” It was used with a terrific consistency. I don’t blame him for his attitude towards me. I was probably an annoying little eight year old, I suppose. An annoying, vulnerable, psychologically sensitive eight year old. It’s no wonder I wound up serving 10 years at San Quentin!
  • When you walked into Chip’s room he’d be doing three things at once and eating milk duds, to boot. The room always had a memorable odor, I recall. A synthesis of fungicidal size 13 tennis shoes and milk dud afflatus that hung about with a tenacious longevity. Chip would rarely leave the lair, and his attitude to the great outdoors was not exactly Emersonian. It was an attitude that reminds me of comedian Will Durst’s take on nature. “Hey, nature for me is where I parked my car!”
    As for the tennis shoes that ate Chicago, mom probably saw those things in her dreams. Her nightmares! I remember so often Mom yelling for Chip to get his tennis shoes out of the bathroom. After a while the shoes took on mythic proportions.
    They became like living creatures, and mom and dad had angry discussions as to which college they should send the tennis shoes. You were liable at any time to find the tennis shoe/creatures anywhere.While Chip might be ruminating over Wagner’s notion of “gesamtwerk,” or “the great Wagner’s” notion of “gesamtwerk,’” the monster shoes could be left in almost innumerable locations. But Chip’s favorite spot for droppin em was the bathroom, no question about it. And so, like clockwork, came Mom’s blood-curdling cry of complaint, a sound that could slash through a peaceful afternoon like a hunting knife through silk.
  • Martha was the sweetest little sister anyone would ever want. And so I abused her as much as I could! I had no use for her at this stretch in my life, but I would soon learn to love and respect my back seat vacation partner. I love you, Martha. And I’m sorry I abused you so much! I’d say about every five years or so I go through a paroxysm of apologies to Martha over how I treated her. I’m so glad she turned out OK! Problem with Martha in those days was that she was unable to either field or hit. I was an unrepentant fascist as far as judging people in those days. If you could field and hit you were okay, you were of use. I will say that Martha could catch and chloroform a butterfly with the speed of a demon, and I did enjoy occasionally catching butterflies with her on Sunday mornings by the Chinese elm tree.
  • 1962 was the year Chris Thomas joined our class, the Ms. Rice cult.
  • Chris has now been my best friend for approximately 40 years. Pretty heavy. This is why we rarely have a problem finding conversational subject material. It’s a Grand Canyon wide index of topics going back to Ms. Rice. There’s a ton of people who have attained a kind of goofy semi- real status in our minds. All part of sloungerland now!
  • Later that year, and this story’s often been told, Dad heeded my pathological eight year old’s desire to send in for World Series tickets even though the Giants were about 8 games out with about 25 to play. Dad said what the hey, I’ll do it, see what happens. As we all know, the Giants won the pennant. Still the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It’s been all down hill after that.
    One day Ms. Rice, the angelic Ms. Rice and vaguely erotic Ms. Rice (I was in the second grade, but I knew Ms. Rice was one steaming sex pot!) came to me and told me to go home, and that my dad had baseball tickets. Ecstasy. I’ve never been so happy in my life. Ever. Well, maybe a coupla times when the drugs really kicked in!
    So we saw ol Billy Pierce pitch a shutout. In your face, dodgers. Like a three hitter, and Willie hit two home runs. We were sitting way up in the upper left field reserve seats, the second deck, and everytime anybody hit a pop-up, on account of the visual distortion, it looked like it might be goin out. Oooh, the thought of this game still sends goose pimples down my back. Chillingly beautiful. Ol Pierce brung it that day, boy! So there Wills and Gilliam and Ron Fairly (what kind of a name is that? He had that dorky anal-retentive batting stance. A bad man!)
  • The World Series everyone knows about. Bobby Richardson and all. Peanuts cartoons for years following. Put a hurt on ol Schultz’ bean, I guess. Mom secretly was hoping the Giants wouldn’t win so they wouldn’t have a riot. Mom’s sheer quirkiness is one of the things I will always remember her for. More on that later.
  • My final memory is kind of an image. We are in the oldsmobile 88 (though I’m not absolutely sure that was the year of the 88, but I think it was), and we’re about 15 or so miles from the most exotic place of all time. If you think I mean Paris or Rome or Budapest or Shanghai, then you don’t know me! The very most exotic place in the world, and especially in 1962 was King City! What a wonderful, intriguing, mysteriously little place that was. Mom would always say: “When we get to King City we’re half-way there.” But anyway, the image is of being almost to King City, and the one o’clock sun is angling through a line of eucaplyptus on the right, and you can smell those trees deeply, because the window is open. Everything is mystical with potential and future and the beach and a coke when we get to King City. Not a can, not one of the throw away bottles they made in the 70’s. This was one of those thick little 10 cent bottles that came from the art deco little machine. “All of a sudden you get shown the light/ in the strangest of places/ when you look at it right.”
    And there is laughter in that car. Profuse laughter. Today we still get along, at times a bit less fluidly then one would hope, but in those days, the laughter cleared out everything in its way.
    Everyone, if I recall, was very funny, and I spent a lot of time just laughing and enjoying things. There was Rod Serling skulking around at times, making it hard sometimes to go to sleep, but I do remember Zorba the Greek in the back of that super 88. Somehow squeezing in beside Chip’s shoes…