Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So Happy to Show this Freakin' Year Out the Door.

So we lost power again yesterday. It was only down for 4 hours, but it's still like, "sonnovabitch!" Apparently it was an accident involving at least one car, an ambulance, and a power pole near the West Seattle Bridge. I know it also included the nearby transformer station, because we watched the green flashes out the window. And it happened right at dusk, while it poured down rain. It was heavy even for Seattle (we still get less precip than New York City, just more precipitous days overall). After one of the hottest summers on record, we are now having a record-breaking wet winter. At least the snowpack will be ginormous and keep us hydrated through the presumably hot summer to come.

I got a lump of coal in the form of a lien on my home from the contractor. Nevermind the fact that in order to release the funds, the mortgage company required they sign a waiver of lien. Nevermind the fact that the insurance companies are the ones paying the money... nah, that's too much work. We should just go after the homeowner. He doesn't have NEARLY enough going on. Sigh. That's all I dare say in case we go into litigation.

Creative projects are coming together, and that makes the insurance and legal crap more bearable. Got a CD of the last milestone on the Samantha tribute album. All the bass that Mike Berg laid down really fills out the sound - I'm very happy. Called Muriel and we're scheduling some rehearsal and a recording session in the early part of January to take care of the finished vocals. She's about to cast her show - the spring play for Twelfth Night. Sam Shepard's The True West. It'll be great to see what she does with the show.

Editor Dan (or should I start calling him Lieutenant Dan??) has been working on the Ordinary Angels edit. We're about to scene 5/6/7, and he's just done the most amazing effect. In the first meeting between Lucifer and Micah, Lucifer pulls out a gun and shoots one of his own Fallen, to compensate the angels for an improperly harvested soul. The raw footage is pretty pedestrian - Lucifer pulls a Beretta from his coat and fires behind himself without looking. Amazingly, the camera lines up right down his arm, and in perfect alignment with the actor across the park. The trigger is pulled on the prop pistol, and a little plastic "pop" is heard. Lucifer jerks a bit of artificial recoil, and the actor playing the Fallen crumples in a heap. The timing is great, but there's no actual plate movement, no muzzle flash, no smoke, no ejecting cartridge, and no gunshot sound.

So imagine my absolute shock when Dan gave me a short HD sequence of the gunshot, with all of the above. It looks freakin' REAL. I love you, Dan.

Been visiting a bunch with my old buddy Hans (who is up visiting from San Diego). I've mentioned him here before. It's nice to still have friends who can make me laugh 'til I pee, and vice versa.

Had a good Christmas with the fam up at my sister's new house in Bellingham. It was good to have the grandparents there, still lovely and spry, and the extended family (my sister-in-law's twin, and my brother-from-another-mother Steve). My mom is turning the big 60 next month, so we siblings are in Conspiratorial Birthday Mode. Stopped by stepmom's place on the water in Ballard on the way home from B'ham. She'd been sick and hadn't been able to join us up north, so we brought her some Christmas. Tyler was remarkably engaged in the activities and family, which pleased most everyone. He's spending the rest of his holiday playing his newly acquired videogames.

I'm sorry if the last few posts have been sour and negative. Christmas used to be a really happy time. I found the first Christmas gift Samantha ever gave me in one of the fire salvage boxes. An old RC Corvette Stingray she'd hand-painted metallic blue because they only made it in yellow or red. Christmas 1984 - our first Christmas as a couple, and she'd given me an RC version of my favorite car in its ideal color. That's an observant woman.

So understanably, this month has not really been the best, emotionally. But just bear with me. It's all part of the show, folks.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's Christmas, Charlie Brown

So here we are, another Christmas Eve.

I count my blessings. I have my kids, my extended family beyond that, and a great (and ever-expanding) circle of friends. I have a house that isn't burning down or flooding with sewage, so there's that.

But it's still empty, almost 2 years later.

It's hard to be 100% into the season without the woman that was there for 21 Christmases, that female counterpart, that partner energy, the yin to my yang. I'm tired of solo parenting, tired of making all the decisions, being the caregiver for all and being the stoic one. Whine whine whine... yeah, you've heard it all before. Probably won't be the last time I say it either.

I apologize in advance if this post is dwelling on the negative side, but it's what goes on in my head and my heart around this time. I pretty much hate holidays now, having had many of them ruined by association with tragedy and death. I mean, I keep a civil (if not downright jovial) face, but it's hard for me to really find inner joy at this time of year. I'm willing for that to change, but for now... there it is.

Perhaps it was the storm knocking everyone's power out, but the vibe around here has been retarded. People in general have been selfish, short-sighted assholes to each other. Many of my friends have mentioned the same thing. It's impossible to go from one side of West Seattle to the other without somebody demonstrating imminent natural selection. Slow the hell down and look at the big picture (and maybe hang up the friggin' CELL PHONE while you're driving in the rain and ice, idiot). The day will still come. Christmas will still be here. It's not going anywhere. And here's a concept that came via an unexpected and rather nice phone call from one of my Dining Room actors just a couple days ago: If the giving of a gift (or reciprocity from a gift given) is expected, THEN IT IS NOT A GIFT at all. It is socially-acceptible extortion. By all means, give. But give truly and from the heart, not because the calendar says now is the time to take out a second mortgage to support the retail economy or because you expect anything in return. There's a certain expectation about gift giving during the winter holidays, and a certain amount of generosity and hospitality is a good thing. But there's a point past which it just seems a bit gaudy... and missing the point of the holiday in the first place.

I mean, didn't you see A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Anyway... There. I'm done with my holiday rant. I'm sure that will help fix all the problems in the world.

Here's wishing you all a safe and happy holiday, full of love and giving... for all the right reasons. :) Be sure to tune in next week when I tell the year 2006 to kiss my lilly-white ass.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wind Storm '06

Well, we hunkered down and rode out the worst storm to hit the Puget Sound since January 1993. Between fat splats of rain (that caused flooding at major intersections and drowned one woman trapped in her basement office) and winds that clocked in near 90 mph on the coast, over 1.2 million people were without power starting Thursday night. Many areas won't be back online for days, due to the multitude of trees that ripped out of the ground and took down power lines, poles and transformers. Meanwhile, the temps are hovering around freezing. (AP Photo/The Daily World, Kevin Hong - More photos at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website)

It's a mess.

We are lucky. We lost our power during the worst part of the storm, about 2AM Friday morning, and spent a cold Friday night in the family room with our comforters and warm dog. We got our juice back on about 2:30PM Saturday, at the same time as the majority of Westwood shopping center. Still, there are huge chunks of West Seattle without power, in seemingly random patterns. Of course, the combination of holiday shopping fever and no power or heat at home means that EVERYBODY in West Seattle must go eat out, so parking and even finding a restaurant with power is an interesting lottery of sorts.

Aside: on Friday evening, I took the kids to Bamboo Grill on Alki, and saw the last woman I dated (back in March). She was having dinner at the bar with a guy friend, and once or twice when we caught each other's eye, I smiled and/or waved a friendly hello. I know she recognized me, but sadly she was in new-boyfriend mode, and made no effort to return the greeting. Sigh. Whatever. Not like I was investing a lot in the gesture, but it's usually nice to reciprocate.

These storm/disaster situations tend to bring out the extremes of human nature: people are either really nice (thank you Lisa at Ellott Bay pub!), or they devolve into complete assholes, cutting in gas lines (wait your turn like everyone else), rolling through dark intersections (if there's no light, treat it like an all-way stop), or just generally being a self-centered whiny bitch (hey, you know we're all going through this together, so chill out and be a part of the solution, not part of the problem).

Anyway, we're safe, warm and dry, and I replaced the food in the fridge today (when in doubt, throw it out). So we're infinitely better off than some of my friends out in Bothell or Kirkland or Federal Way, who are still without power and/or heat, and dealing with some VERY cold nights.

Be safe, all.

* * *

Oh, and lest we forget, with all the wind-blowing and power-outing, Peter Boyle just died. Sing it with me:

"Tryin' mighty hard to look like Gary Cooper..."


Fair winds, you beautiful monster.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More Lyrics for the Somber Masses

Gah! I friggin' HATE My Chemical Romance, because they write such lyrically brilliant and touching songs, which are made barely listenable by Gerard Way's OTT emo delivery. If I want whining, I have plenty of The Cure to listen to - and nobody does whining like Robert Smith.

Anyway, thanks to Conor for pointing out this track...

Turn away,
If you could get me a drink
Of water 'cause my lips are chapped and faded
Call my aunt Marie

Help her gather all my things
And bury me in all my favorite colors,
My sisters and my brothers, still, I will not kiss you,
'Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you.

Now turn away,
'Cause I'm awful just to see
'Cause all my hairs abandoned all my body,
Oh, my agony,

Know that I will never marry,
Baby, I'm just soggy from the chemo
But counting down the days to go
It just ain't living

And I just hope you know
That if you say
Goodbye today
I'd ask you to be true

'Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you
'Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you

- "Cancer", My Chemical Romance

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Letter Home

Dear Folks:

It's time for my second "Away From Home at Thanksgiving" letter. Only one more such letter to write, the one next year. Three in a row are enough.

Again, Uncle Sam fed me a nice turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Table cloths, cloth napkins, real plates (not trays) and fresh fruit displays were on the table for the first time this year, only to be put away for Christmas.

But tablecloths and fresh fruit do not a Thanksgiving make. It takes a certain type of surrounding, call it "home," or "family," or even "good friends."

No matter where you are in the world, no matter what the decorations, Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving with 300 men eating as fast as they can to make room for another 300 men, with the Beatles for background music.

Perhaps there'll come a time when it'll no longer be necessary for soldiers and sailors to experience such an empty holiday as this, in which men are being maimed or are dying, in which others are being thankful that they have been spared again for yet one more day - all so that their families at home can stuff themselves on this bountiful harvest.

I'm thinking of my class at the Signal School, with most of my buddies now in Vietnam, knowing that some of them might leave their lives there. I'm very fortunate being here in Germany, and yet in a way I envy those who went to Vietnam. I am needed here, but I'm second in importance to the others when you consider what they're doing for you. As much as they hate it, as much as I hate it, we are all proud that we became Uncle Sam's fighting men, that we have done something for our country besides parade around with silly signs in our hands.

I am thinking of my child, which is yet unborn. I'm looking forward to Nancy's coming, and thinking how fortunate I am that I will be able to be present when my son (of course it will be a son!) arrives next April. The others will miss the memories of their wives' morning sickness, the trip to the hospital, their children's first cries. They'll miss the bitter-sweet pleasure of two o'clock feedings, colics and teething. The baptism will belong to the past, along with the first steps, the first words, the first haircuts. And some will die, and their children will never know them, in order that these children might enjoy the bountiful harvest for many more years to come. And yet I envy them, that they are doing so much for their country, while I am doing so little.

We said "good-bye," but we'll say "hello" again. Thousands like us, with families like ours, said "good-bye" for all eternity. They have sacrificed their all that you and I and our families and most of the world might give thanks for a good harvest. Others, perhaps, are giving thanks for merely being alive but are wishing at the same time that they were dead and released from their troubles.

Pray for those men who are there. They are the ones who need the prayers of 10,000 people. I am not worthy of the prayers of ten.

I come to the end of this letter giving thanks that my last year was as wonderful as it was. May the next year be half as good to me, to my family and friends, as it will be to those who will be able to leave Vietnam for good after serving their tour with death. Perhaps - hopefully but improbably - we may ALL come home to enjoy Thanksgiving next year.

Your loving son,

* * *

Letter home written by Edmund Downing from Heidelberg, West Germany, November 1967. My father. The unborn child he mentions is me, and Nancy is my mother. The letter appeared in the Los Gatos Times Observer, and I have posted it here without edit of content.

I find it interesting that he is so self-effacing about his worthiness, considering his job had to do with coded transmissions and therefore he could not go within 10km of East Germany. I do not find it surprising that he was able to reconcile a hatred of the political situation in Vietnam with a love of country and willingness to serve. I was brought up a pacifist, and we never had guns or any facsimiles of guns in the house. I remember it was a major issue when I bought my first G.I. Joe with my own birthday money, and it came with a little rifle.

My father usually voted Democrat or Libertarian, and was very socially progressive. When the Iraq war began, he shook his head and muttered, "God help them," and I never had the guts to ask who he was talking about - our soldiers, their soldiers, the administration or the innocent civilians caught in the middle. Knowing my father, my money is on "all of the above."

I just found the newspaper article in one of the boxes. Thought I'd share some words that haven't been seen in almost four decades, and which seem to have particular relevance at this point in our cyclical history.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

This is the Day

As part and parcel with this '80s phase (mostly due to going through many boxes of fire-scarred memories), I burned a CD with a lot of my favorite '80s alternative. Stuff I was listening to back in the olden days. Yes, I know I can't live in the past. This reinforcement is simply giving me the strength I need to dig through boxes and sort through the emotions associated with them. For instance, I found Sam's cheerleader uniform from high school, with her rally squad letter. Damn, but that was a kick in the gut.

The point being, I know that when I'm done sorting through boxes and framing old pictures, I'll be able to put those memories aside for a time, and not have to dwell on them. But for now, yes, I'm wallowing a little. And that's okay. Because I said. And nobody makes the rules for my grief experience but me. That rat bastard.

Sorry - back to the music. I was listening to this compilation CD of '80s alternative when This is the Day by The The (aka Matt Johnson) began its tinkly little opening arpeggio. Found myself singing along to it. Found myself singing through honest-to-God tears. For no apparent reason, save for the fact that the words just may have had the effect of an epiphany. I mean, I've always liked the song - even planned a college animation project around it. But for some reason the meaning had never felt as strong or as clear - it was like I'd been saving it up for 22 years.

Well... you didn't wake up this morning
'cause you didn't go to bed
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red
The calendar on your wall is ticking the days off

You've been reading some old letters
You smile and think how much you've changed
All the money in the world couldn't buy back those days

You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes
You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky
This is the day your life will surely change
This is the day when things fall into place

You could've done anything, if you'd wanted
And all your friends and family think that you're lucky
But the side of you they'll never see
Is when you're left alone with the memories
That hold your life together like glue

You pull back the curtains, and the sun burns into your eyes
You watch a plane flying across a clear blue sky
This is the day your life will surely change
This is the day when things fall into place

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sappy Lyric Day

OK, so looking at those John Hughes films from the '80s got my sleep-deprived brain working in the dead letter department, and I went and pulled out my copy of The Beat - Special Beat Service (thanks to Gordon for the replacement copy). It was one of those chosen few albums in heavy rotation in our cars when Sam & I were dating. Well I shouldn't really say "few", since we were musical gluttons. But if you'd been riding along in Sam's Arrow in 1985, here's a sampling of the cassettes you would have found on the floor:

Madness (best of)
The Police (everything)
Sting (Dream of the Blue Turtles)
The Beat (Special Beat Service, Just Can't Stop It)
Howard Jones (Human's Lib, Dream Into Action)
Flock of Seagulls (the first two albums on 1 tape)
Sparks (In Outer Space)
Depeche Mode (People Are People)
Shriekback (Oil & Gold) - (Any band who can use the word "parthenogenesis" in a song gets my vote!)
Yello (Stella)
Boomtown Rats (In the Long Grass)
Marillion (Misplaced Childhood)
Love & Rockets (Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven)
Oingo Boingo (Good For Your Soul, Dead Man's Party)
Danny Elfman (So-Lo)
Repo Man (soundtrack)
A-Ha (Hunting High & Low)
Queen (best of)
Tears For Fears (Songs From the Big Chair)
Psychedelic Furs (Mirror Moves)
David Bowie (Let's Dance, Tonight)
Berlin (Pleasure Victim, Love Life)
Missing Persons (Spring Session M, Rhyme and Reason)

...Add to that a smattering of my obscuria (at the time), like Art of Noise, The Replacements, Kate Bush and pre-So Peter Gabriel, plus some leftover Scorpions, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin and some showtunes (a dead giveaway that you're in an actor's car).

Aaaaaaanyway, the point being that when Sam & I would go to the Baylands in Palo Alto to make out in my (dad's) '81 Oldsmobile with the big back seat (like this, only white/beige - we called it El Presidente), inevitably a tape from one of our respective collections would be providing the soundtrack for our own real-life John Hughes movie (seriously - replace Chicago with San Francisco and slightly fewer bold pranks, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off *was* my senior year in high school). So whenever I hear "End of the Party" by The Beat, with Dave Wakeling's very '80s crooner voice dramatically professing love for the girl in question, I flash back to those times. More fondly now, not quite as painful. I just thought I would share some of that history. Sappy? Sure. Like I said, we lived in a John Hughes movie.

She said to leave it till
the end of the party
Do it now, you know
there's never a next time
How come the feeling
that it's only just started
Pull back your cover,
I could love you for all time
But do it now,
you know there's never a next time.

The bees are busy,
Now there's gold on the hill
The branches waving
But our hearts are wrapped up inside
And then you leave me,
so I start missing you a lot
No argument oh do I love you or not
No argument,
you have all the love that I see as mine
Pull back your cover,
I could love you for all time
But do it now
you know there's never a next time.

You know Wakeling was speaking to a whole generation of kids coming of age at the time, otherwise why would Hughes have crammed his soundtracks with so many of his songs?

So, as you may have guessed, this post is neither here nor there... Just rambling and sharing memories. And maybe sharing the imperative: do it now, you know there's never a next time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holidays Upon Us

For various reasons, some more obvious than others, we didn't quite get around to shooting a family holiday photo last year. This year, however, the kids and I agreed that being back in our own home was cause for celebration, what with all that has occurred in the last 365 days. So we got the new tree, decorated it, had the fireplace going, and snapped a few shots with the digital camera on my still tripod. The lighting came out looking warm and even, which makes us quite lovely (heh). Tyler's in his sweats, Kayleigh in her PJs. Just like Christmas morning.

Christmas (for me) came early in the form of Autumn's Grey Solace's latest CD from Projekt Records. I'm in shoegazer heaven. Wiley & I both went to our respective groomers today, and now I have a belly full of Taco Del Mar, so I must do as the Spanish do, and take a short siesta this afternoon. When I am Dictator For Life, the siesta will be among the first institutions adopted and mandated. You WILL have a nap after lunch, and you'll LIKE it!

So, yes, what was I saying? Ah - had a postmortem for the film on Sunday with Sally, Darlene and Sally's husband Justin, who is our production accountant. Then had a meeting with the sound designer. Today I got a great call from the actor who played... well, ME, essentially. Such a great group of people... I really can't say enough good-and-gushy about them! Then I got a call from the editor, who said he was interested in potentially forming a production group with Sally, Justin and me. He has done the HD video capture from the camera, and says it looks AMAZING. Huzzah! I'll check it out later this week when I retrieve the camera.

I also got email out of the blue from a gal I did theater with back in junior high! The embarrassing thing was I didn't remember we had a stage kiss! Of course, much of my early teens is a giant, hormonally-crazed blur. I'm sure I'm not alone in being able to remember what happened to me at age four, but having fourteen mostly a blank. Ah well... it's cool to catch up!

Anyway... I'm sure there is more, but right now the Dictator For Life has mandated a siesta. Hasta~

Saturday, December 02, 2006

DGIs and What We Want to Hear

I haven't really gone into a lot of the terminology that we in the "widda" community use, mostly because I really don't identify as a "widda" so much as a guy trying to live his life under difficult circumstances. But there is one term for a whole section of the populace, a section I've encountered a lot since losing Samantha. The DGI, or Don't-Get-It.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of an immediate family member has encountered someone who told them "they're in a better place."* Or, "It's been X days/months/years. It's time to move on with your life." That's a DGI.

* Really? Better than alive and interacting with a family that loves them dearly? Maybe he/she should have been allowed to choose where he/she would like to be right now. If life on Earth is so bloody awful, why do we persist in it? Anyway, you get the picture.

So I'm reading Go Go Yubari's blog and she in turn has a link to another fellow widda's blog, which contains the perfect rundown of what most of us absolutely do NOT want to hear, and what we do...

Just got back from seeing David Whyte recite from his new book (which is a huge compilation of old and new work from 1984 to present). Most of the pieces were about experiences at holy places in Ireland. But some were very personal, transformational insights into loss and the cyclical continuity of life. The autobiographical Tempus Omnia Revelat describes his father's passing with such beauty and reverance that I found myself wiping tears when he'd finished.

This part of a piece called Ancestral stuck with me:

Each life a traveler
not yet really arrived
like passing strangers,
the lanterns
half cloaked,
showing a glimmer
at the doors
of the living,
looking for
half wanting
to stumble on
beyond us
to what waits,
some place perhaps
in the brimming dark
the story ends.

Powerful stuff, that. 'Nuff said.

Friday, December 01, 2006


That's right. Fifty.

After weeks of negotiating with the RestorX manager who worked on my case, I thought we'd hit on a workable deal. They would drop off 10 or 20 boxes a week for a couple weeks, making the sort-through a managable affair. So imagine my surprise when the truck arrived fully loaded with everything from the flood AND fire. Everything. While I'm quite happy to see how many photos and videotapes survived, there are unfortunately several issues at work here:

  1. I don't have room to store fifty boxes inside with any semblance of organization, and my carport is open the the elements and leaks, so there is now a maze of cardboard, floor-to-ceiling in my downstairs hallway and my bedroom.
  2. All of that old energy is now sitting back in my home.
  3. A lot of this stuff is Sam's, and I was not prepared to deal with those memories and the attached emotions right now, all at once.
  4. Some of this stuff is fire or flood damaged and had been written off, yet they are giving it back to me anyway, so I now have the task of throwing it out. Thanks, RestorX.
  5. A roll of toilet paper?? A year-old 1/4 full bottle of lotion?? Yuck. Come on. All the toiletries were itemized and claimed. I don't need this crap back.
  6. Most boxes are only packed half full; the rest of the space is taken up by brown packing paper - but here's where it gets fun: sometimes the packing paper is just wadded up to fill space, and SOMETIMES it actually contains something fragile - and I get to do the Easter egg hunt every time to make sure nothing fragile or valuable gets recycled.
  7. They simply HAD to bring me all this stuff right before Christmas, so I have nowhere to store anything else.
Bottom line is, the settlement with RestorX's insurance carrier is still open, and it will not be closed before my family and I are compensated for the trauma of having our home burn, losing our family cat, any dump runs I have to make because of this garbage coming back, and my time spent unpacking.

Sorry for the rant, but it was a rude awakening. I made it through about 10 boxes yesterday, tossing out and consolidating.

Only forty more to go.