One of my grandmothers is dead and gone. That I can be sure about, at least as sure as a person can be without reaching for a shovel. She left this world 11 years ago, give or take. I’m sure she is sorely missed by people other than me.
I got the news from my then wife Laura one night when we were at our local bar. I had met her there after work, which was pretty standard practice. Our marriage was about to end and we were really only nominally a couple. We were pleasant enough to each other, but had ceased communicating on any meaningful level.
After we had been drinking with friends for about an hour, she said, “By the way, your grandmother is dead.”
This was my mother’s mother she was talking about. Laura worked a lot from home and Mom had called earlier that day with the news.
“Oh wow,” I said when I found out, or maybe I just shrugged. We both went to our drinks and conversations with other people.
When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother would come visit and clear her throat in the bathroom. Every morning at six without fail, the sound of her hocking up a consumptive lung nugget would reverberate throughout the house. The rest of the day she put on airs of being a proper southern lady. She even threw in an “I do declare” from time to time. But we had heard her in the bathroom. She wasn’t fooling us one bit.
Apparently dissatisfied with her baseline level of annoying, she kicked it up a notch when she came out for my brother Gordon’s high school graduation in 1978. While Gordon in his cap and gown was shaking hands with the principal and being handed his diploma, she took that moment to have an asthma attack.
This is not to say she was faking. The terror in her watery-blue old lady eyes certainly looked legit, as did the globule of phlegm she had neglected to hock up that morning but had fetched loose later with a mighty wheeze.
Mom left me to look after my grandmother while she went off to call the paramedics. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I was supposed to do. Mouth-to-mouth damn sure wasn’t going to happen. I ended up fanning her with the commencement program. It was a pointless and absurd gesture, which is somehow fitting when you decide to put a 15-year old in charge of a life-and-death situation. The deepening fear in my grandmother’s face showed that she would have agreed with that assessment at least on some level.
An ambulance arrived, Mom arrived with a couple of paramedics, and I was relieved of duty. I made my way to the other side of the stadium where my father and stepmother were sitting. I waved and smiled. Dad peered over my head toward the ambulance and commotion in the distance.
“That’s your grandmother, isn’t it? She just couldn’t pass up the chance to be a pain in the ass for everybody.”
It’s safe to say that Dad didn’t like my maternal grandmother much. Then again, he didn’t much care for any of my mother’s relatives. Before the divorce, he would say, “I refuse to visit your family because they are stupid, boring, and grotesque,” whenever the matter came up.
He liked his own relatives more, if only somewhat. He had sporadic contact with them except for his mother, whom he talked to more regularly. My paternal grandmother was known as “Goose” after a cousin of mine mistook her for the Granny Goose on the potato-chips bag (not all my relatives are terribly bright).
I liked Goose, and not just because she seldom visited after my parents got divorced. When she did come stay, she was decidedly non-irritating. There were no crack-of-dawn phlegm launches, which is surprising considering that she didn’t quit smoking until she was 75. And there were no Scarlett O’Hara pretensions either. Goose was no southern belle, pretend or otherwise. She had lived most of her life in the almost uninhabitable Imperial Valley of California. The few creatures that actually thrive in that desert heat are the rattlesnake, the scorpion, and Cornelia “Goose” Jennings.
So there was no “I do declare” or anything like it coming out of her mouth. Mostly she’d just sit in the living room with her eyes darting back and forth, a lipless half smile spread across her face, and an assenting “Mm hmm, mm hmm” at whoever was doing the talking. She was usually amenable to a board game or playing catch out in the yard, so Gordon and I thought she was great.
That was the side of Goose that we saw. Dad filled us in on some of the other details when we got a little older. For one thing, Goose held grudges that predated the Roosevelt administration. Goose became a Protestant while her sister Hazel remained a Catholic. The resulting sectarian feud outdistanced the Troubles in Northern Ireland for duration if not body count.
Though to be fair, this sort of thing is hardly unusual for my dad’s side of the family. My twin uncles got into a fistfight at the dinner table decades ago and haven’t spoken to each other since.
Sad to say, Goose was no stranger to violence herself. My father never really enjoyed Christmas. This was because when he was a kid, she used to beat him with a broom handle for reasons she never saw fit to share with her grandchildren. Maybe it was living in poverty that was too much for her, or maybe she was just batshit crazy. I’m leaning toward the latter explanation because she did get hauled off to the funny farm for a spell in 1946 when my dad was 15. One thing I do know is that my father made it a point to never raise a hand against my brother or me. Though if he was angry enough, he had no problem telling us how much he wanted to.
The last time I saw Goose in person was at her 90th birthday celebration in late 1997. She had eventually moved away from the Imperial Valley to the comparatively civilized town of Indio, which can be accurately described as Palm Springs without money. I met a cousin or two for the first time and I saw how little I had in common with my extended family. I did try to keep my snobbery to myself since I didn’t want to spoil my grandmother’s big day. That, and the husband of one cousin seemed less tolerant of anyone’s bullshit with every whiskey sour.
I spoke to Goose on the phone one more time after that. It was November 11, 2000 and my father had been dead for about three hours. There were five of us sitting around a table working on a jigsaw puzzle. I had been off bawling in the guest bedroom and my brother invited me to “have a seat and join the denial party.”
Few words were spoken as we worked on the puzzle. Finally, Dad’s partner Karen said, “What about Goose?” That was a call none of us wanted to make, but I volunteered. I figured that if I manned up this time, I’d never have to do it again. The intervening years seem to have proven me right.
I got Goose’s number from Karen and called her.
“Mm hmm, mm hmm,” Goose said as I told her that her oldest son had died.
I assumed Goose died at some point later on, but didn’t think about it much until a few years later when a girlfriend seemed shocked that I had no idea whether my grandmother was alive or dead. After that, my opinion went from “maybe dead” to “probably dead” to “she has to be dead by now” as time went on. During one Christmas I spent at my brother’s, I asked him if he knew whether she had died.
“Good question,” he said.
After that, the matter was largely forgotten. Until yesterday. It was late afternoon and I had done all the work I was going to get done that day. I decided to settle the question of Goose’s demise once and for all. Googling “Cornelia Jennings obituary,” the closest I got was a link to Dad’s obit in Car & Driver (where had had once been editor). Next I tried her name with “Indio,” thinking there might be some news of her death without the word “obituary” in it. What I got was a White Pages listing with her name, address, and phone number, as well as her age, 105.
Of course this doesn’t mean anything. Just because no one has cleaned up the record showing you as alive doesn’t mean you’re not dead. I have an ex-girlfriend who committed suicide in 2008 and her page is still up on Facebook. As for Goose, all I had was a phone number and a question mark.
So what did I ultimately do? Nothing. There is that sliver of a chance that she might still be alive. That is true. What is also true is that once I got on the phone, I would have absolutely nothing to say.
Addendum 5/2/2013: A friend with a backtraq account looked up Cornelia Jennings. Goose died on May 30, 2009 at the age of 101.
No really, please don’t. I don’t know why I loathe the term so much, but I do. Let’s make a deal: You don’t say the word and I won’t start muttering sick and violent revenge fantasies about those who irk me. Trust me; you don’t want to hear this. It’s completely evil and not reflective of what a fine person I am otherwise.
Also, “staycation” (shudder) doesn’t really apply. It is true that I will neither be going into work nor getting on an airplane. However, I won’t be on vacation at all. I am fortunate enough to work at one of those companies that pay me while they close the office for a week during the holidays, which makes them 1/52 totally awesome.
Last year, I spent most of the week in Granada, Nicaragua. It was wonderful for a number of reasons. First, I got the hell out of the country. It was the first time doing that in almost nine years. Second, I was able to blow the dust off my Spanish and put it to use. There were some English speakers there, but not many. Mostly though, Granada is a cool town and I had a great time there. The people are very nice (and admirably patient about my broken Spanish) and I felt happy to support their tourist industry. Sorry about the Contras, guys. No hard feelings, right?
This year, the tentative destination was Victoria, BC. After the tropical heat of Nicaragua and then Roatán in July, cold and miserable seemed like a good change of pace. Victoria is supposed to be beautiful with its old-timey parliament building, gardens, and waterfront. It is also the birthplace of the Dayglo Abortions, a punk-rock band utterly devoid of Canadian politeness. How could I not want to go?
Well, I just didn’t feel like it. I had dawdled over deciding where to go for long enough that the cheap seats had already been bought. I ultimately decided that I’d get out there in the spring, maybe make a four-day weekend out of it.
So what shall I be doing other than growing cobwebs between my ass and chair? The answer is Dead Sexy, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2011. OK, maybe calling it “novel” is a stretch. It’s a rough draft of approximately 51K words. It glorifies cynicism and it gratuitously violent. Those are its good qualities.
I’ve made some preliminary stabs at revisions earlier this year, mostly cleaning up the stuff I wrote when I was feeling dead tired, but determined to make my word-count quota and didn’t care how idiotic it sounded coming out.
What made me unmotivated to dive in any further was that I had a main character who was still a mystery to me. I understood him on some level and I tried to make sure he didn’t do or say anything completely out of character, but there was always something missing.
Weirdly enough, it was during this year’s NaNoWriMo that it finally dawned on me. Milo’s motivations in Dead Sexy became clear because of how different he is from Andy in Andrew’s World(the 2012 project). Without giving anything away, let’s just say that he’s not a bad guy but far from a pillar of virtue. I know, I know, it’s silly to insist on character-driven narrative when you’re writing zombie horror. And yet, that does matter to me because Milo is now worth writing about.
So that’s what I’ll be doing. I don’t know how much I can get done in a week, but I think I’ll have Dead Sexy in a lot better shape at the end of it. Wish me luck, and pretty please, don’t call it a staycation.
When I’m at the bar with a pen in one hand and a drink in the other, the plan is to put words on paper as fast as I can. I know from years of experience that my senses are only going to stay sharp for so long.
Imagine this. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, a volunteer patriot (whom I’ll call “Nathaniel” because it has an old-timey ring to it) takes a British musket ball through his left ventricle. He drops to his knees, screams out “For Liberty!” and then falls over dead. Or maybe he screams, “Ow fuck, that hurts!” That fact remains that he makes the ultimate sacrifice to make our great democracy possible.
Nobody says “Life begins at 50.” Maybe they will someday, but they don’t do it yet. The understanding is that when you reach the half-century mark, you are supposed to have something to show for it. You don’t have to be rich or famous, but you should have accomplished at least something along the way. You could have raised a family, built up a business, or gotten a letter to Penthousepublished. Pretty much anything will do,
I’m going to be hitting that particular milestone in August and I have had a few “What the fuck have I done with my life?” panic attacks as I close in on 50. For those who are younger than me, let me explain. These are very much like the “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” you experience as you approach your 40th birthday or the “What the fuck am I going to do with my life?” as you approach your 30th. In short, they suck.
I think what makes them so bad is that you can’t just dismiss them out of hand. No matter who you are and what sort of life you’ve led, there’s going to be some sliver of truth to them. We as a species just aren’t all that perfect. Fortunately, the converse is also true. You may be a failure, but you’re not a complete failure.
Most of us are somewhere in between and when our inner voice tells us we suck, there is plenty of ammo for both sides of that argument. It’s a completely pointless way to spend your energy and for those of you who have the mental fortitude to put that nonsense out of your mind, I admire and applaud you. For the rest of us, read on.
This past weekend, I was rummaging around in my closet and found a notebook I kept during the sixth months I spent in Europe. I wrote this poem while I was in Dublin in April 1994. I think it captures the spirit of what was in my head and heart at the time. Enjoy.
It’s been over half a year since I’ve updated this blog and I suppose some sort of explanation is in order. I blame Bush. Oh wait, he’s not president anymore. In that case, I blame Obama. Or better yet, God. Admittedly, it’s not terribly brave for an atheist to point an accusing finger at the almighty. What’s he going to do, exist?
- The first item of note is that I sort of wrote a novel. What I actually did was to put down 51K words of a rough draft. In its current state, it’s not even readable let alone publishable. It does, however, have some excellent gross-out scenes.
- My first site, platypus.org, will soon my migrated to its new home on the same server. I’ve configured a spot for in in httpd.conf. What it needs is a rewrite. It’s been gathering cobwebs since 2001.
- This blog, the one you’re looking at. Poison Spur has proven itself a good place for me to tart up my crazy for public viewing and I need to do more of that.
There are maybe 200 calories in a ceviche tostada, give or take. I was eating two of those and was on my second pint of Trumer Pils. Each beer was also 200 calories. Combine that with the dressingless salad and however much sugar I dumped into the coffee I drank throughout the day, I figured my total calorie intake was somewhere between 1200 and 1500. Wait, my tostada came with tortilla chips. so maybe the maximum for the day was more like 1800 calories.
Prior to the Great System Crash of 2008 (See Back from the Dead for details), I used to categorize my blog posts. I had reminiscence posts. I had poetry posts. I had fiction posts. I had a category called “misc.” I’m not sure what purpose a “misc” category was supposed to serve, but I had one anyway. All in all, the “fiction” category was the one that gave me the most trouble.