Stories worth considering, thoughts, Uncategorized

Words Matter (In Memory)


September 16, 2009 is the 10 year anniversary of my father’s death.  He did not live to see the 21st century; he did not know that the twin towers would be attacked and that they would fall.  He would not have necessarily welcomed the digital age.  I guess there are many things that each of us will never know.

If you asked my father what he did, he liked to say that he taught college. He was not a professor, he was, Don, a teacher.  Not always perfect, but always learning, always embracing his path and encouraging me to skip along mine.  I think no more so than, with fearlessness and pure heart, he faced his own death. “Are you afraid,” I asked.  “No,” he said, “just curious.”

I was with him 2 hours before he actually died.  They tell you to say goodbye, to say that it’s okay to die and that you’ll be okay when they pass.  All these things to make it easier for the person to “let go.”  Cancer, being the aggressive bastard that it is, wasn’t likely going to be influenced by what I said or didn’t say, but I said everything anyway.

Fourteen months earlier, I had arrived at his hospital bed.  “Have I given you enough?” he asked.

Many words have been written and spoken about my father.  At the funeral, students I didn’t know approached me: “You were the apple of his eye,” they said.  And six months later, students running the ticket booth at the local movie theater looked at me strangely, “We know who you are, and we loved your father.”

There was one piece (Craig Carlson Eulogy) written about him that I have always especially loved. Penned by Craig Carlson, poet, teacher and long-time colleague of my father’s, the essay had story, memory, surprise, reveal.  It was an excavation of history, with them sitting in the backyard of the old house with the bees.  As with any good story, if perfectly captures who my father was and it revealed extra words and thoughts he had, which, like the fragments of ancient pottery, are precious beyond explanation.

A few years later Craig drowned, and there was a story told about it.  He and his teenage son had been swimming, maybe out a little too far and then the current had taken them out further.  They knew they were in trouble.  Craig was tired, and told his son to swim back without him.  His son didn’t want to leave him.  “Get help,” said Craig.  And so the son swam back and was saved.

Not, save yourself.  Not, just go on without me.  Get help.  A task.  A reason to survive. A charge to save the life of someone else. It’s Muhammad Ali winning Rumble in the Jungle–fighting not just for himself but for his community.  Something greater than oneself.

Get help.

For 10 years I have missed my father, but I have cherished the legacy he left behind and I am deeply grateful to Craig, a poet to the end, for his words.


Check out my father’s book: Teaching with your Mouth Shut.

Also, his as of yet unpublished, Out of the cave; steps to essay writing.

dancing, Stories worth considering, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, Pat

My adventures in dancing continued tonight when I went to Beardley’s Swing Dancing class, for beginners at 7:00, at the Peninsula Italian American Social Club on North B street in San Mateo. Ex-West coast swing dancing champion (1983, 1985, 1990, 1992)* Phil introduced the six people in our beginner class to three of the 10 basic steps.

Phil also informed me that what I thought of as swing, was actually East Coast Swing (with my apologies to Richard Powers because I’m sure he made that clear at the time), and that, he wasn’t there to judge if it was better or worse than West Coast, which they did at Beardley’s and had been doing there for 32 years.  He, in fact, had danced (also with much success) East Coast swing before he’d, let’s just say, crossed over.  Phil was a trim man, about 5’5″, wearing a rather loud shirt with an American flag on it (that matched Ed’s, the intermediate teacher), a diamond stud in his left ear and a gold chain.  Did I mention he had raced motorcycles at one point?  He did.

Phil taught us three different steps, which we repeated a lot during the hour, until they became second nature, which is how you want dance steps to be–in the memory of the muscles.  He expertly counted out time and explained the moves.  When I was curious about how to get back to my partner after the push-back he told me, I didn’t need to worry about yet.  Not to worry.  I had a long way to go.

One of the great thing about dancing with a random group of strangers is getting into the weird and wonderful world of humans-not-yourself, or even people you would ever get to know.  People not familiar, and yet connections are made.  There’s the moment where you and some overweight sixty year old with gaps in his teeth are balancing at the perfect resistance for the push back, or the disco instructor is counting aloud with Phil, or Neil, who is more advanced and just subbed in for a minute, moves his hips in such a way that you, eureka, realize the reason of those extra three beats and stomps in place.  And all the women are wearing anklets, something you were just thinking about for yourself.

The space was a large, low ceilinged hall with both painted beams in squares and that cheap office-building style checkerboard ceiling, in the centers of the squares.  A chandelier, hanging  in the center was covered in plastic. The feeling was warm (although the air condition was blasting) and friendly and as people started to fill up the large space for the nine o’clock dance party, you could see there was a real old school community here.

I had noticed when I came in a very old man in a red shirt and black pants with a patch over one eye.  He was very slight, and he sat waiting with us before the class began.  A short way into the dance party, where us beginners practiced our few known steps with the variously more advanced group, the music stopped and Phil announced that it was Pat’s 92nd birthday and that you could find him at most of the Wednesday night swing parties.  They wheeled out a cake with candles which Pat couldn’t blow out by himself.  Holding the hand of a woman, Pat limped out to the middle of the now empty dance floor and the music started.  It was jazzy version of Happy Birthday and Pat began to dance–graceful of body and joyous of spirit–as woman after woman cut in and danced with him.

It was five minutes of sweet celebration.  And all the things you might say about community, life, friendship, or the power of dance were silenced by a man, in a red shirt, getting loose, twirling his partner on the dance floor, and bending a now nimble knee in time with the music.

* I may not have remembered these championship dates exactly right.

Stories worth considering, Uncategorized

The Fairy Tale Ending; the beginning of the end?


I have to confess, I have wasted somewhere around 12+ hours watching The Bachelor this season on ABC.  Why? Well, good question.

Ostensibly, the show is about watching one man search through 25 “beautiful” (which really starts to make you question the meaning of that word) women, to find true love ending in the ever lusted after “proposal.”  At least that’s what the women lust after: their fairy tale ending.

This phrase is batted around The Bachelor with careless and casual abandon, almost exclusively by the women. Often through tears in the back of limo after being “sent home.”  Noticeably, many of the women on that mournful journey say the same things:  Why is this happening to them?  Why are they getting rejected?  What’s wrong with them? When is their time going to come?  Where is their fairy tale ending?

Endings are important, and we do like the good ones. Kind of. The show ends with the chosen woman finally getting to hear the Bachelor confess his love.  Ahh, it could be us.  But part of the appeal of the Bachelor is not only the so called happy ending, it’s the recognition that all of us, no matter how beautiful still get rejected, and it just so happens, it is kind of about our failings.  We’re boring, we’re self-absorbed, we’re dull, we lack talent, humor, the willingness to go bungy jumping in New Zeland, and frankly, we don’t look that good in a bikini.  But even if we did all those things, even if we were that “beautiful” the Bachelor would still probably reject us. Statistically speaking.

It was a happy moment for Melissa when Jason Meznik chose her at the end of this season’s show.  She finally got her fairly tale ending.  Until six weeks later when Jason, ambivalent and weepy, unable to find the, well, balls to either “fight for the relationship” with Melissa or forget about Molly broke up with Melissa on national TV.

The most hated Bachelor in television history, the tabloids claimed the next day.  You’re a bastard, said Melissa during the breakup, in a moment of utter candor.

Ryan and Tristan are a still married couple from an early season (maybe the first) of The Bachelorette.  “I got my fairy tale ending,” said Tristan, barely finishing the sentence before her husband cut her off.

“Well,” he said, “the end of the show was really the beginning of our real relationship.  We have to work to make it work.”

Melissa’s fairy tale ending ended as most fairy tales do, at the beginning of something real and something tough. Unfortunately for her, she was trying to do the work with a guy who didn’t have it in him.  And “he’s making a big mistake” Molly, of the big beautiful eyes and the shocked smile when Jason asked for her back; Molly won’t put up with his bull for long, I suspect.  “What about Melissa,” she asked with a shake of her head.

The best endings resonate in ways that both satisfy and satiate.  They find that illusive spot and tug.  There is usually little of fairy tale about them.  And endings, at least for the characters living them, are the beginnings of something else and thank goodness for that.

In the limo, on her final tearful ride home, Melissa said, “I don’t understand why this happened, but I’m sure that someday, I’ll be able to look back and I’ll say, okay I see why this happened to me.”

It turns out that tonight, there is an After The Final Rose part 2, where we get to check in with Jason and Molly. What happened? Did Molly take him back?  Did they rekindle their love?

How does it end?  I won’t be watching.

Note:  Quotes from the show are paraphrased to give the gist but are not exact.