Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dust to Dust...

My wife is convinced that March is a cursed month for us. Although I am not much given to the teachings of "Woo", I have to say there may be something to her suspicions. In March 2003 we lost a pregnancy that would have been our daughter Zoe. Numerous other marital challenges also occurred in the month of March. Then on March 26th, 2012 our house burned to the ground. However, this year, 2015, may go down as the single worst March on record for us. On the 15th we lost our dear friend Denise to cancer and two days later, on St. Patrick's day, Kristen's mother, my mother-in-law, died suddenly. I sit on Southwest flight 777 as I write this, still in disbelief. Jonatha Brooks sets the mood in my headset (Inconsolable). The woman next to me eats her salad and the laws of physics continue to hold true and keep us aloft but the "ground" beneath me feels utterly tenuous.

 Dotty was my mother too. When Kristen brought me round for introductions some 22 years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. But this woman accepted me from the very first day and claimed me as her own. And I have to say the sentiment was mutual. I was always so impressed with this woman. She had chosen a path of sobriety several years before Kristen and I met. She was an accomplished artist and we have much of her work honoring the walls of our home. I think one of the very most impressive feats of hers, however, was the fact that she had gotten her pilots license at age 40. And retired as a captain flying 727's for Miami Air. That does not happen in a normal universe. Early in Kristen's and my courtship, Dotty took us in a Cherokee to the Bahamas for a swim. That sealed my love for both flying and The Bahamas. Over the years we would spend many vacations flying to the Bahamas with Dotty and Jerry and sleeping on the fly bridge of Jerry's trawler until we got our own boat to keep over there. All these endeavors the enduring gifts of this remarkable woman.

Dotty had a way with people because she loved them. She could glean personal details from a complete stranger in 5 minutes that would normally only be revealed after an extended friendship. And she would keep in touch with those people. I don't know if it was her disarming smile and demeanor or because she was genuinely interested and knew what questions to ask. Both I am pretty sure, which is a potent cocktail for the development of enduring connections. There was no fear, which is what gets in my way even with the people closest to me. She will be a permanent reminder of what it takes to live well in this world. I will borrow words from my previous post to Denise because they are pertinent, appropriate and absolutely necessary...

"And I don't want to lessen the pain. It is how I know that she meant something to me. I hope there will always be a smile along side a couple of tears when I think of Dotty and the time she spent with Kristen and me. It really all comes down to that. Have we touched others and have we allowed others to touch us. I cannot really see that anything else makes a damn bit of difference in the final analysis. Thank you Dotty for how you touched us. I can only hope we touched you with even a fraction of the same depth. God speed."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ashes to Ashes...

We went to visit an old friend today. Not that she is really ‘old’, rather we have known her for so long it is difficult to remember a time when we didn’t know her. Even though we met her when we moved to Colorado, it seems she has been part of our lives for much longer.

When we first arrived here, Kristen took a job at an eating disorder treatment center. Kristen met her there where they ran a group together. It was a group that treated the women who lost the fight to live up to our market driven ideas about what a woman was supposed to look like. The last acts of defiance being a finger down the throat or outright starvation. Kristen had a hard time with it and eventually left the field, but Denise, our old friend, always managed to retain a visage of sanity while wading through the complete absence of it.

I wish I could say that we were looking forward to our visit. Like the time we all went to the Bahamas and hung out with mom and Jerry, cruised around on our sailboat and enjoyed the crunchy feeling of salt drying on sun-kissed skin. Or like the many times she came to visit us at our mountain retreat or in our new home in Salida sharing stories and good food.

We got to the hospital around mid-day March 10th, 2015. It was a glorious Colorado spring day, which felt like utter betrayal. On one hand the whole thing just seems surreal very much like returning home from Seattle in March of 2012. That day too was a glorious Colorado day that refused to convey the betrayal of the State of Colorado when they burned down our house, 21 others and killed 3 of our neighbors. Denise helped us in the weeks that followed by sifting through the ashes in search of artifacts of our lives that in some ways ended on that March day.

The walk to the elevator in the “Inpatient” building of the hospital was like heading to the principal’s office. We weren’t sure what was going to happen when we got there but it most likely was not going to be good. We arrived at the room where family and friends sat outside. We greeted in the awkward whispers that people do in these situations, as if hearing yourself out loud would be much too stark a reminder why we were all here.

Denise had been having stomach pain and thought it was most likely something she ate or at least a bad case of gas. Unfortunately, the non-Hodgkin lymphoma that had produced a sizable tumor around her duodenum did not care what she ate, how good a shape she was in or how many people's lives Denise had touched or saved. It just "was", just like the sun "is" or a car accident "is." The prognosis was good right up until a couple of days ago, when it wasn’t. The bone marrow transplant refused to take, and even with all the practice that doctors get, there was nothing left to be done except manage the pain.

I was not sure what to expect walking through the door and had tried the best I could to be prepared. But you can never be prepared to see your good friend in this condition. The hand of death was on her, yet her hands were still warm. The high dosage of dilaudid was the only way to control the pain. She knew we were there evidenced by the nearly imperceptible nods and less imperceptible groans. Holding her hand I was still unconvinced it was actually her. With no hair and not having seen her eyes it was easy to convince myself that she might be an imposter. That is until the pain broke through the haze and caused her to writhe with a recognizable expression of pain piercing the otherwise slack, expression. Yes, as much as I struggled to deny it, this was our Denise lying in front of us, all but unrecognizable.

As we sat with her, we sifted through the ashes of her life with family and friends. In these stories we looked for the artifacts that would prove she had been here and lived well. We laughed, we cried and we said goodbye as the hospital radio station featuring old classics played in the background. It was a good ride Denise. You will not be forgotten.

Sunday, March 15, 11:25 am
Denise passed from this world on Sunday. Kristen asked me to write more about what this all means to me. I have to say, I really didn't know what I would write. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I do have a few things to relate. In the vein of one who is as opinionated as I, how could I not?

It is utterly surreal. Denise was one of the good ones. She was supposed to outlive us all. The fact is, if nothing else, this whole thing is proof that looking for meaning in the happenings of life is a hapless endeavor. I know that Denise's life had great meaning to those whom she touched and those whom she loved and that loved her. We chose the meaning we assigned to those relationships as did she.

It is looking for meaning in the meaningless that is an utter waste of potentially meaningful time. I have very little patience for the pedantic, pseudo-spiritual explanations for these things like "God has a plan" or "illness is a product fear, anger and resentment" or "they must not have been vegan, it's karma." If that were the case, then I should have been taken long ago. Spare me, please. If you know me and have the urge to explain the inexplicable through some such milk toast, feckless banter, please check yourself. It serves no one and does nothing to lessen the pain.

And I don't want to lessen the pain. It is how I know that she meant something to me. I hope there will always be a smile along side a couple of tears when I think of Denise and the time she spent with Kristen and me. It really all comes down to that. Have we touched others and have we allowed others to touch us. I cannot really see that anything else makes a damn bit of difference in the final analysis. Thank you Denise for how you touched us. I can only hope we touched you with even a fraction of the same depth. God speed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Balance. What is that?

As kids we worked and worked, skinned our knees and punished our resilient little bodies until that instant when we got balance. It was magical. It opened up a new world to us. The bicycle seemed to stand up on its own having granted us absolution through the self inflicted scrapes and bruises. We sailed effortlessly into new realms and had access to new sets of friends and experiences. You either had it or you didn't. It was black and white. But it was the thing itself that we wanted and all that it provided.

Today, as adults, we speak of balance. We get that misty look in our eye and speak of achieving it in the same way we experienced it as children. But it is less of the "thing" that we desire. It is more of an avoidance of the pain of not having it that is the allure. The balance we seek as "grown ups" is more nebulous. It is all too obvious when it is absent, and more taken for granted and ignored when it is present. And, it is never black and white - you never get it and never have to worry about whether it is present or not. It required constant vigilance... at least that is true for me.

It has been 6 months or so since the State burned down our house. I don't say that with a sneer or venom. It is simply fact, and one I don't want people to forget. And in the "balance", they have done very little to even the scales. So, we work and work at what amounts to another full time job trying to set our lives straight again. Recently, many things have gone well for us and we may actually have a place to live and call our own. It is in sight. But we are tapped out, our knees are skinned and we are bruised. If we relied on the illusive balance to achieve the things we have to this point, I am afraid we would not be nearly as far along as we are. Maybe to us balance is that position on the razors' edge between sanity and a clean slice away from it. Maybe there is no such thing and it is some fantasy destination that is far less tangible than riding a bike.

For me, as I sit here writing this in Seattle on this project that has been the most challenging and stressful thing I have ever undertaken, I realize that if this did not push me out of "balance" there would be no growth. I suppose the edge of exhaustion is not good either, but who is to say. Do I rely on some nebulous destination called "balance" to tell me or do I just go for it and achieve what I can until I don't want to any more. I am fairly certain I will never arrive and start sailing along effortlessly. I am even more sure that there is no such thing as "balance" in the way we use the word as adults. It is only some fantasy of arrival that we have created that can never really be achieved. We should create new language for what it is that we really want. Call it rest, or a time out, or being lazy or being highly motivated.... You name it. But balance as we use the word literally does not exist in reality.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Scorching sun tempered only by the breeze and the cool water. The cicadas drone in homage to the unrelenting heat. Water so clear and blue against the pinkish white sand that it pulls at the center of one's being in an invitation to immerse in its briny tonic.  It is at once soothing and haunting. There is a quality just out of view of the directly observed beauty that is a reminder of the unforgiving and unattached nature of this place. The sand dollar bleached white, the conch shell beached at low tide, the teak on the deck of my boat, weathered and grey under the torment of the sun, even the tide itself is a reminder - nothing is permanent. I can feel the starkness of the place wresting from my pale knuckles the very idea of myself. I see the grey of my hair in the weathered teak, and the frailness of my physical being in the broken shells strewn about as I sit waiting for the morning stiffness to pass with the incoming tide. Just as I would have preferred to freeze my advance in age at a more youthful point, I wish I could hold the vastness of this place at once in my mind. But it defies me each time and is relegated to the impermanence of memory, dull and misshapen. Like the cloud of stars that appears each night, a number of those that we see ceased to exist millions of years ago, but the remaining light is just reaching us. We too burn bright for a time and become attached to the idea that the light will continue to burn after we are gone. To what end?

The point is that there is no point. There never has been and never will be. So, restore the grey weathered wood to a bright new oiled condition. Scrub the rust from the "stainless" steel to restore the shine.  And on the change of tide, do it again, not because you should, but because you can.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Break

A day like any other...? Hardly. I am sitting on the 9:00am flight from Denver to Orlando. This is the first leg of a journey well deserved. It is hard to put into words how important this trip is and how close we came to NOT booking return tickets. It seems like we waited forever for this and now that it's here I can hardly believe that it is "already" happening. Since our house burned I have not taken more than 3 days off in a row and that only happened the day after the fire. Went right back to work and kept going. Now, I am not saying that this is good or bad, it is just what I did. I have not had a real opportunity to have a break to digest what has happened in the last 4 months.

We went right into action creating a place to live. My wife found an Airstream trailer for us to live in and what seemed to be the kindest couple in the world that really understood our situation. Chris and I drove to New Mexico to pick it up. On the way home, we stopped at a rest stop and I went inside to retrieve some inconsequential thing. The stink was so bad that I called the previous owner to ask what I had done wrong to cause this. He responded that he surely didn't know anything about it and could offer no advice. Long story short, 3 months and a few thousand dollars more and we had the rear end of 'Flame' dismantled to find years of rot from a failed septic tank. Thanks for that. Sweet, but completely slimy and dishonest. It boggles the mind.

Meanwhile we had bought a Ford Excursion from Fordland in Denver. Assured that this beast was solid and sound, we had it checked at our mechanics and they said it looked good. But playing over and over in my mind was the repeated statements of the salesman, "now remember, this warranty does not cover seals, right?" It should have been a sign. But another $3K later after replacing the seals in the front differential and other non-warranty items, and I am still wondering when this kind of crap will end. I suppose the fact that the 'repaired' reverse camera that was screwed through the license plate holder into the bumper was just an honest mistake.

So, the kindness of friends landed us in the basement of their home in Denver. And after my wife lost an entire days worth of writing to a faulty computer or Dropbox or voodoo, we are very ready for a fucking break. Thank God for these folks. They are watching our precious dogs while we head for a more favorable climate where wild fire is not likely while surround by warm, blue water.

I usually don't write while I am "In the Middle" of something. I like to have it worked out and resolved so I can share some transformative lesson. I am sorry, but I don't have it worked out. And if you are expecting some growth oriented woo as the conclusion to this rant you should sign off now. I am at once blown away by the kindness of people and at the same time disgusted by the human capacity for being petty, shitty and greedy. But that is what it is. It always has been that way and likely, it always will be. I suppose the source of my dissappointment is the fairy tale that I hold on to wherein everyone gets a good look at themselves and what is really important and stops behaving like a bunch of  cave dwelling savages. I'll let you know when I get there. 

Until then, we have friends that we choose to trust, we have our boat, we have our dogs and I have a business that enables us to have a great life. Fuck with it and I will club you wth my Mastadon femur bone. Oh wait. That burned up in the fire. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The dingy, brown, tile steps he sat on were still warm from the day’s sun. But that probably didn’t matter much. He was staring at his feet and swaying almost imperceptibly as if the ground itself were moving underneath him. The equally dingy white shorts he was wearing defiantly blended into his surroundings as we walked past him on our way to dine at the 5 star restaurant upstairs. No one looked or even broke stride as we stepped around him. He was invisible.

What don’t we see on a daily, moment by moment basis? What is in our field of view by choice or by design? For those that “have” the less fortunate are often invisible. What don’t we want to see? I have noticed that I have become invisible to a certain age group. I am not sure when this happened or even what the qualification is for being noticed. It just happened. I was noticing this morning that I was not noticed by a young person on my walk to the office. I then noticed quite by surprise that an elderly woman next to me at the same intersection was nearly completely hidden from my view. I guess I don’t want to acknowledge the inevitable.

What about the deformed or disabled? I find that they are often equally invisible. It’s not that the wheel chair or the affectation is easy to miss. We just choose to miss it. It’s as if the acknowledgment of a human being in that predicament would somehow make it contagious or make us responsible in some way.

And in time, all of us that have lost nearly everything the recent fires will become as invisible as the folks that lost nearly everything in the Four Mile Canyon fire. What fire? Exactly. We close off our field of view with statements like, “Well at least you…(fill in the blank)”, or “Well your insurance will cover that, right?” God forbid we actually get in touch with anything that might make us feel something other than video game excitement or the protected numbness that we have come to loath and cherish simultaneously.

What would we have to deal with in ourselves to be willing to bring everything into view? Would I have to speak the young man on the steps? Would I have to show kindness to someone I would rather ignore? Does it take away from me to make that effort? Does it really take that much effort? Is it fear or simply disdain and resignation?

On our way down the steps the young man was sprawled out in a positional dare for us to take notice. His non-verbal challenge was palpable as we threaded our steps past his hands and feet. But he was invisible.

Monday, June 18, 2012


“First things first. Where’s your shitter?...” –Fat Bastard. 
Indeed. Where is my shitter? As I sit on my flight to Seattle, I contemplate the weekend, and my morning. I notice the people sitting around me. It is likely they know where their shitter is. The woman in front of me has what I will call a “poodle over”. This fine doo consists of all straight hair combed up toward the top of the head culminating in a frisky yet frozen wad of curly poodlized coif. This is punctuated with a part down the back of the head in what can only be described as the poodle’s ass. I bet even she knows where her shitter is.

We took Flame the Airstream trailer to John Martin Reservoir State Park for Father’s Day weekend. Before we left, we once again dealt with the stench of outhouse permeating our shiny silver dwelling. So, I went about emptying the shit tank, which is a process that rivals a root canal in its inevitable joviality. It inspires things like giggles and smiles and words like “wow, shucks and golly.” Everyone, meaning me and Kristen, was instructed not to use it. Instead, we would use the portable outhouse we had delivered for just such an occasion. Alas, this was not to be. Kristen, not wanting to suffer the embarrassment of adjourning to the comfort of said port-o-shitter in front of the crew of workers milling about our scorched yet greening property, decided that one little poo couldn’t hurt (who could blame her?) That is until we arrived at John Martin with a pack of overeager flies trailing behind us following what must have been a very promising stench. So, we emptied the tank once again and were not allowed to use it at all for the remainder of our time in the park. We had a pretty relaxing weekend boating and fishing with Chris, Dusty and the girls then turned much too soon to return “home”.

I guess we hadn’t relaxed quite enough because Kristen and I had a scorching brawl in the “car” in the final leg of the ride “home”. It is truly amazing how small a Ford Excursion can become when the occupants are not speaking. Golly. I seem to have a case of periodic temporary amnesia or some such thing. It is amazing how quickly I can forget that I am responsible for my own experience, opinions and how the world looks to me, especially when Kristen is just plain WRONG! Such is relationship. Suffice it to say, we made it “home.”

Any time I use the term “home” now I must quote it. That is because, “home” is this trailer, which can be taken with us, which is nice, but is that a home? And, “home” is this land that remains after all else was torched and destroyed. And, ultimately, doesn’t a home have a shitter? So, when we returned, “home” to our property, we set the trailer back up on her little spot and lit a candle, some incense, an essential oil diffuser and danced a jig around the trailer praying all the while to the gods of stink to relieve us of our burden. 

Then, I wanted to see how bad the little crack was in the drain line from the sink. I had noticed it about a week ago but thought that if I ignored it that the vintage ’67 PVC would simply heal itself. Not so much, really. Well, it’s bad. I had Kristen run the water in the sink while I observed through a port in the outside of Flame. The sudden gush of tea colored water and coffee grinds spewing from the crack in the line caught me by surprise. I couldn’t contain my glee and began exclaiming, “wow, shucks and golly” once again. This is so much fun. So, we are washing dishes in the “bath tub”/bird bath. Shucks! Washing dishes and breathing in the faint aroma of evening outhouse while sun sets behind the pastels caused by more fiery destruction in Fort Collins. Golly! More hapless unfortunates who have lost their shitters.

We finally settled down to watch our new addiction, The United States of Tara. Tara, in response to some unknown trauma in her childhood, has a “fragmented” set of personalities that tend to show up at the most inopportune times in an attempt to protect her from herself. Sounds reasonable… and enviable. Gangaji, our current source of spiritual teachings, would say, “welcome the experience and go deeply into it. It is there that you will discover that nothing but pure awareness is true. Everything else is a story.” Awesome. But all I really want to know is, where’s the fucking shitter?