At the age of 93, he passed away at midday today, due to complications from a virulent strain of pneumonia that finally proved more powerful than all the other physical and mental demons that had plagued him for the last third of his life. He went peacefully, without pain, and thankfully, not alone.
I got the call from my father at about 1:30 this afternoon, in the middle of my first full day of work in three and a-half months, at exactly the time when these sorts of things tend to happen, so it was a shock, but not exactly unexpected. Grandpa's health had been slowly deteriorating for some time, years in fact, and I'm sure most of the family had been anticipating the dreaded news for quite some time. Still, nothing really ever prepares you for the inevtitable dropping of the other shoe, and despite all your efforts at keeping a stiff upper lip, or whatever the contemporary equivalent is, you feel it.
So, the rest of today has been calling: parents, siblings, cousins, aunt, uncles, the entire familial gamut, trying to come to terms with this thing that has been hanging over our heads like Damocles' sword, trying to comfort and console and make each other feel better via electronic impulses that are a pretty poor substitute for real contact, but it's all we have available to us from a distance, and for myself at least, it's better than sitting here alone.
But, still it hurts.
I remember the last time I saw my grandfather, roughly 14 months ago, the day after Christmas, 2003. I drove my grandmother out to the house on Portland's Eastside, where he was being cared for in a sort of hospice situation, better than the nursing home where he'd spent the previous several years. Smaller, but what the people lacked in medical expertise they seemed to more than make up for in attention to personal needs. He was asleep when we arrived. But, he roused himself, and seemed particularly happy to see us. We spoke for a few minutes, but he quickly tired, and without much ceremony, promptly rolled over onto his side (he was essentially bed-ridden by that point), and fell asleep. As though we hadn't really been there at all. My grandmother seemed to take it in stride; no doubt, she'd seen this before, and it didn't strike her as unusual. For me, it was a blow. I was a ghost, a shadow that inhabited some twilight world between sleep and wakefulness. We left, thanking his caregivers for their efforts, and drove back to my grandmother's retirement home. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it would be the last time I'd see him alive.
I just didn't expect he'd hang on as long as he did.
By all accounts, my grandfather wasn't a sociable person. Unlike my grandmother, who knew every shop owner, grocer, maitre d', cashier and attendant along the stretch of NE Sandy Blvd., between 54th and the Hollywood District, my grandfather was a reticent sort, introspective, withdrawn and more inclined to curl up with a book than engage in a conversation. My father says he suffered from bouts of depresion most of his life, and although I can only dimly perceive those traits through the filter of a small child, I don't discount their veracity. As we all grew older, I saw those traits manifested: his sedentary disposition, his willingness to allow others to cater to his needs, his brooding silences, his desire for isolation. He was a man not fully comfortable in the world that surrounded him on a daily basis, and he was a man who retreated into the solace and security of far-flung places, exotic locales and mysterious worlds, places where we were unable to follow.
I'm not a religious person. I don't believe in an afterlife, a heaven or a hell. My grandfather didn't either. He donated his body to science. Even as I write this, what's left of his earthly remains lay in a cold, dark, quiet place, awaiting hands that will probe, explore, discover things inside of him that may someday be of benefit to someone else. Despite his general aversion toward human contact, his last willful act was to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a human being.
But If You Try Sometimes, You Might Find You Get What You Need
Well, the week ends on a high note. Which is good, considering I've spent most of it huddled under blankets, either coughing my abs into near six-pack condition while watching DVD's of the old Brit Sci-Fi series "UFO" or else deep in the thralls of antihistamine-and-pseudoephedrine induced dream states.
Still, managed to attend my second interview for the City job, which went well I thought, all things considered. And as a backup, one of the temp agencies finally came through with a couple of weeks worth of admin work, which pays at least better than unemployment. Still after nearly 4 months of sleeping in until whenever, 7:00 a.m. is going to come mighty early come Monday morning.
So, a tiny ray of sunshine peeks through the dark clouds (which is a pretty poor metaphor considering today is the first day in nearly three weeks that we've actually had any clouds up here), and if I wasn't still so congested, there'd be a little sigh of relief expelling from my tortured alveoli.
So, my favorite band in the whole, wide world (sans the two boys -- just girls tour out I guess) dropped into Sea-Town tonight for a nice little two-hour gig. If you weren't there (and I KNOW you weren't) you missed a great show. But, not to worry. They'll be back later in the summer, with a new album, and hopefully more of that Aussie sunshine.
In the space of less than 10 minutes this morning I received two phone calls from places I'd sent resumes to last week, wanting to schedule interviews, which means by Friday I'll have had four job interviews this week!
All of this is great news of course, since I've been feeling my pores expanding to .32 calibre openings for the past couple of weeks. But, today's interview is the one I really want to nail. It's at 2:00 p.m., so wish me luck.
Okay, by now most of you already know how I feel about Valentines Day, so I'll dispense with the self-deprecating chit-chat and say only this -- YESTERDAY WAS CHUCK YEAGER'S BIRTHDAY -- and if you didn't lift a glass to the goddamndest fearless man on the other side of MACH I, then -- !
As for you ladies, well it's not many dames that get their names painted on the side of a machine that breaks the sound barrier... (although some of us, if we had our druthers, would do that too).
So, on this St. Valentine's Day, here's to Chuck AND Glennis.
'Cause he caught you, you know. Broke a rib or two in the process, but he caught you, all the same, just like he said he would.
Well, after feeling all Dumpy McDumperson the past few days, there emerges a few rays of sunshine for the coming week in the form of two job interviews: one on Monday for a 5 week temp position at a local progressive sportswear manufacturer, and another on Tuesday for a permanent position with a local entertainment extravaganza. Of course, nothing's set in stone as yet, but at least I'm starting to see a bit of progress in the job-hunting front. And at this point I'd take either one in a New York second.
Gardening has been the focus of my existence the past couple of weeks. Well, more precisely, gardening and studying income tax procedure have distracted me from the increasingly discouraging Search For Gainful Employment. Job hunting is a frustrating, fruitless, ennui instilling task that lately has sucked my soul nearly as dry as actually having a job that I don't like. I guess you could say that for the moment at least, looking for a job is my job, and it's not a fun one, let me tell you.
Gardening, on the other hand is soul-filling. The physical act of rooting around in the dirt, playing Supreme Being over the lives of various and sundry varieties of inanimate vegetable matter, deciding which tufts of green will live and thrive, and which shall be tossed into the Great Plastic Wagon of Eternal Damnation gives one a sense of satisfaction that, at least some sort of order is being restored to the universe, even if it is merely in the form of conquering the chaos of neglected flower beds. Nature is being tamed and controlled, albeit on a nearly infinitesimally small scale. But, at this point in my life, any feeling of control, even over a few lowly blades of grass or patches of moss is empowering.
Plus, it gets me outside, out of the confines of my tiny apartment, away from the beckoning, siren-like glow of the computer monitor, where I would otherwise spend endless hours searching, searching the highways and byways of the electronic job posting networks, squinting with nearsighted intensity at the myriad of underpaying positions that I simply am not going to demean myself into applying for at this time, no thank you bub. I've engaged the services of a couple of temp agencies, and although they have sent me out on a mere handful of interviews to-date, I can tell that prospects aren't going to be any better along this train either. They tell me, "things are rough out there", "the economy just hasn't rebounded the way most people think", "you're going to have to lower your expectations", etc., etc., all of which just adds to the increasing anxiety I feel as I lay awake into the early morning hours ticking off the bills that need to be paid, and feeling each downward click of my savings account balance stabbing through me like a deep puncture wound made by small, sharp needles. I'm getting edgy, like a junkie way past his next fix, and feel like I need to make some modest score soon, at least a few weeks of whatever to fill the growing void, to keep myself sane and steady, or else the bats and snakes and spiders are going to start crawling out of the bleeding walls, and then all Hell is going to break loose.
But, outside the sky is a brilliant nitrous blue, the grass an enticing, chlorophyl green, and the soil, teeming with bits of wriggling, crawling life, is the satisfying shade of chocolate brownies fresh from the oven. It feels cool to the touch, comforting beneath my fingernails as it crumbles through my hand and falls back to earth. The hours slip by, and for a while I can forget that this isn't what I'm supposed to do with the rest of my life.
On a lighter note: I've just completed ripping all my remaining CD's (minus the 100+ that have been stolen out of The Big Red Rocket over the course of the last 14 months or so) to .mp3 format and downloaded them to my 120 Gb XD. 111 albums. 1449 tracks. 5.2 Gb of file space, enough to play continuously for roughly 4 days straight.
Set ITunes to "shuffle" (Yes, even we soulless minions of Bill occasionally use Mac products), and what's the first thing it selects?
Tom Lehrer's, "We Will All Go Together When We Go."
Parolee, 19, Is Held in Death of Actress During Robbery
By MICHAEL WILSON and JANON FISHER, New York Times staff
Published: February 1, 2005
A 19-year-old parolee who was prowling with childhood friends on the Lower East Side early on Thursday morning has been charged with murdering a young actress who talked back to them as they robbed her companions, the police said yesterday.
The police said that the arrest of the man, Rudy Fleming, came after detectives received tips from people who had heard that he and at least four friends were involved in the shooting.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Fleming was openly weeping in the back seat of an unmarked car as detectives drove him away from the offices of the Manhattan South homicide squad.
"It hurts me to know that this happened," said his godfather, Servino Simmon, at his apartment in the Baruch Houses, where Mr. Fleming had been staying near the scene of the shooting. "I feel sorry for the person. I wish that it didn't happen. It's not right."
Although Mr. Fleming was the only person charged in the killing of the actress, Nicole duFresne, 28, of Brooklyn, two of Mr. Fleming's friends were charged in an attempted robbery that took place nearby earlier that morning. Two other friends of Mr. Fleming's, brothers ages 17 and 21, were questioned in the killing but not charged after telling detectives they were shocked when Mr. Fleming pulled the trigger.
Shortly after 3 a.m. on Thursday, Ms. duFresne, who lived in Greenpoint, had just left a bar with her fiancé and another couple when they were confronted by a group of robbers on Clinton Street near Rivington Street. One of the assailants pistol-whipped her fiancé, and Ms. duFresne stepped forward and said, "What are you going to do, shoot us?" her friends said later. She was shot once in the chest and was pronounced dead later Thursday morning.
The murder suspect, Mr. Fleming, has lived in Brooklyn and Staten Island, but has lately been staying with his godfather at the Baruch Houses in Manhattan. He was on parole for a 2002 weapons conviction, when he sneaked a gun into Port Richmond High School and pointed it at a school safety officer, according to Richmond County district attorney's office.
The parole was not set to expire until June 2007. Mr. Fleming's meetings and home visits were satisfactory, and he had a job working at a restaurant, said Scott Steinhardt, a spokesman for the State Division of Parole.
His last meeting with a parole officer was an office visit on Wednesday, the day before the killing. "The office visit was unremarkable," Mr. Steinhardt said.
The police said detectives found two pieces of evidence at Mr. Simmon's apartment: a white scarf that is visible on one of the people in a security video taken near the time and place of the shooting, and what is believed to be the murder weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver.
"I was watching TV before the police came," Mr. Simmon said. "I was lying on the bed with the gun underneath. I didn't even know the gun was there."
Asked whether the police had obtained a confession in the case, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said yesterday at a news conference, "Some statements have been made."
A police official said the crime seemed to have begun as a robbery that went bad. "They're out there and do what bad kids do when they get together," the official said. "They're looking for trouble and they find it." About the witnesses to the shooting, he added, "If you believe them, it sort of shocked everyone else." The arrests began around noon on Sunday and continuing until midnight, the police said. Mr. Fleming was the last to be arrested, at the ferry terminal on the Staten Island side. His mother lives on Staten Island, the police said.
Mr. Simmon's two sons, Servano, 17, a high school student, and Servisio, 21, were present at both crimes but have not been charged and are being treated as witnesses, the police said.
Mr. Simmon said Servano told him about the shooting. "Apparently," he said, "Rudy went to rob the lady. He pulls out a gun. No one knew he had a gun. He shoots the lady."