It was my second try in two days to make chocolate chip cherry bread. I stood in Mom’s kitchen, kneading the dough in a bowl. Normally I’d do it on the counter, but that was covered with everything needed to prep Mom’s morphine, and cross contamination seemed like a bad idea. We didn’t need bread, and we certainly didn’t need chocolate cherry bread, but I needed something to do.
This is Mom in the navy. If you only knew Mom during her actual time as a parent, this picture probably looks odd. I mean, she’s smoking a cigarette! Even stranger: she’s wearing a dress with buttons, and probably sleeves! WHERE IS HER NORMAL UNIFORM?
But she’s also being silly, and Mom was good at silly. A song I learned from Mom:
Rattle up a tin can, Johnny shot a bear! Shot him in the poop hole- didn't touch a hair.
And of course, this classic:
Oh, the liquor was spilled on the bar room floor and the bar was closed for the night When out of the wall came a little gray mouse who sat in the pale moonlight. He lapped up the liquor on the bar room floor and back on his haunches he sat. And all through the night you could hear him roar: "BRING ON THAT DOGGONE CAT!"
Mom was in her bed in the living room, her caregiver Lita holding her hand. Since the morning, Mom was investing all of her energy into breathing. No movement, no talking. Just breathing. It was my turn to stay with her. I had a pattern. Mix some ingredients, then check on Mom. Do a little kneading, then check on Mom. Prep the fillings, then check on Mom.
That’s me on Mom’s lap.
I stopped kneading, washed my hands, and sat by Mom. All day her breathing pattern had been changing as her body tried to find the right combination of muscles to keep the air moving. Right after I sat down, her body moved to try and draw a breath, but this time it didn’t work. She didn’t struggle, gasp, or twitch; she just tried to draw a breath and couldn’t get the air to move, so she stopped. Exactly what I’d expect from Mom. Simple, practical: “That’s not working? Okay, show’s over.”
I was not quite that practical- the first thing I said was “did she just DIE?” exactly the way an offended person might say “did she just call me a WHORE?” – but a couple of hours later, with the help of my siblings, the Gattuso in me had reawakened. We were all sad, but we weren’t afraid to laugh.
Mom was not afraid to get things done, even if it meant bending the rules a bit.
She worked for twenty years at Humphreys Avenue Elementary School, 37 miles from our house in East LA. A few years in she was moved to a new classroom. The room was in desperate need of a paint job, but thanks to LAUSD’s constant budget challenges wasn’t scheduled to be painted for years. So one weekend our family went down to the school and painted it ourselves.
Teachers aren’t allowed to do that! There are union rules, and safety concerns, and specific required paint vendors, and budget issues, and equity issues, and so much more. It was easily grounds to be fired.
Mom didn’t care. The room needed paint. We knew how to paint. We painted. And when mom retired, her room was in such good shape that the staff argued over who would get to move into it.
Anyone who knew Mom would tell you that she was direct, honest, and most of all generous and kind. If you had a goal, she would support it. If you had a need, she would help you satisfy it. And she always had a hug ready for you.
Immediately after she passed, I wasn’t sure what to do. Lita was taking care of her body, Steve was taking care of the paperwork, and I had called the people who I needed to call. Then I remembered the kitchen. Mom wouldn’t have wanted that dough to go to waste. Came out pretty good.
…and how to overexplain a joke
On one of the many top secret websites I visit, someone started a thread with this question:
What’s a bizarre sequel to a movie or new season of a previously-canceled show you would like to see where the plot, characters and even tone take a sudden, drastic left turn?
Someone suggested Breaking Badly, a Breaking Bad prequel sitcom with Walter White as a science teacher. But I thought it should go farther. I spent far too long (hours, if you count the time fixing Photoshop crashing) making this:
…and I wrote:
BONUS: I have seen roughly one and one half episodes of the show, so my pitch is based almost exclusively on memes.
PITCH: it’s the 80s. Walter is a student at the school where he teaches in Breaking Bad. He’s a go getter with two jobs: car washer and pizza delivery.
Every adult from the original show is in school with him, even if the ages don’t line up.
His mentor and favorite teacher is a nutty science teacher who tells him “With a little work you could be as famous as Heisenberg!”
His parents are happily married, but dad is always traveling for work. At the end of each episode he shows up in his tricked-out RV (“I can take my business anywhere”) to deliver the moral of the story.
You might think “Why did it take so long to make that graphic? Even if Photoshop died, couldn’t you have made something similar in Paint or something?”
Well, here’s the thing: that’s not just a random jumble of early nineties shapes and colors. It’s a pretty darn accurate re-creation of the title card from the sitcom “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.”
There’s an excellent chance you’ve never seen Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. It only ran for three seasons from 1990-1993, and it isn’t on any streaming services in the US. Corin Nemec played Parker, who was like Ferris Bueller if Ferris lived just a bit farther outside the bounds of reality.
Why did I try so hard to match the original logo? Who would know or care? Why didn’t I pick a show people would actually remember?
Those are all good questions.
Also: a Ferris Bueller TV series started at roughly the same time, and it was not popular. Also, it was not good. But it did have Jennifer Aniston.
The Ferris Bueller TV show was so unbeloved that Parker Lewis would make fun of it on his show. Now they’re both long gone, Corin Nemec (who played Parker) does Lifetime movies, and Charlie Schlatter mostly does voiceover work.
Today I saw Dad’s face – his actual, physical face – for the last time. Dad wasn’t actually there. He’d left the day before, but his body got a little extra time to hang around.
I shaved before we left for the mortuary. A few years ago (or maybe ten) I had read a few things about how great old-school safety razors were and I wanted to try one. Dad had switched to disposables, so he gave me his. I don’t know why he stopped using it. It really is a more comfortable and cheaper way to shave. But it was a very Dad thing to give me something I wanted even if he had made a different choice.
It wasn’t a memorial; this was technically just the identification of the body. In the past there probably would have only been Mom and one of my siblings there, and an actual service would have happened later. But these are not normal times, and there’s no telling how long it will be before a memorial happens. My sister and one of my brothers live two states away; there was no way for them to be here.
The mortuary did its best to give us something for closure. They laid Dad’s body out in the chapel area and let our family say goodbye. They did a good job with his face, but as natural as it was he still looked like he had fallen asleep and a prankster beautician gave him a secret makeover.
I broke social distancing rules for the second time in two days. Both times it was to hug Mom. It was absolutely worth it.
Katherine took advantage of the moment to get in a photobomb. Dad would have liked that.
Dad was a funny guy. On the old version of this site I wrote about his accidental garden. He could find the dark cloud in any silver lining, but he also loved to laugh and joke. He could tell a two minute story in just under thirty minutes. He never met a chair he couldn’t sleep in. He loved a good loaf of bread. He would wear any t-shirt as long as he could reasonably fit into it, and the sillier it was the more likely he’d wear it. He was always organizing, and always making piles of random stuff. I missed the organization gene, but doubled down on the random piles to make up for it. His love for Mom, for all of us, was not a complicated thing. It was just there, and that was that.
I was getting ready to ride my bike to visit Mom when I saw the message from Katherine, who was on her way to Yosemite for a few secluded days in a friend’s cabin.
Call me ASAP.
I knew exactly what that meant before I called her.
I decided I’d still ride over; the hour or so would be a good time to get my head together. I cued up “Rhapsody In Blue,” one of the few bits of music I knew Dad liked, or at least that I thought I remembered that he liked, and started my ride. I could hear why Dad would like it. Like him, it’s switches between structure and meandering all the time. That Gershwin guy has potential.
A bit after the music ended I got a flat. Then my pump screwed up my spare tube and I laughed, because of course it did. But it worked out, because Katherine had canceled her trip and come home so we could go over together. So: thank you, flat tire.
I was uncomfortable at the memorial-that-wasn’t-a-memorial. Seeing Dad’s body helped make Dad’s death real, and I was happy to be there to support Mom, but a lot of it felt like an attempt to Create A Special Moment, and special moments are hard to force. Afterward at the house, when we were just talking about whatever was on our minds, I relaxed. The special moments were here, in the house where I grew up, in the house where Dad lived for most of his life, not in the mortuary we had never been inside.
So long, Dad. I love you. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I’m wrong I hope they’ve got lots of fresh bread and good mustard there for you.
I posted about how hard the last few weeks have been. It’s time for a little counterbalancing. Here’s the end of the year video I put together with the help of our staff and students. Enjoy!
This is from Marvel Team-Up #74, where Spider-Man teamed up with the 1978 cast of Saturday Night Live.
Or one license twice, depending on how you look at it.
I always try to put my actual weight on my driver license. The top one is what I weighed five years ago – 235 pounds. After that, my weight gradually crept up to the second license, and then beyond. I peaked at just under 270. I thought 235 was bad, but 270 was a whole new world of doughiness.
My weight stayed in the 265-270 range until about nine weeks ago, when I finally decided to really do something about it. The method doesn’t matter, but the progress does:
Losing the weight has been great, but I’m more happy about the invisible benefits than my appearance. I can do things like ride my bike up hills without stopping. My resting heart rate has dropped by 15bpm. My apnea dropped to “really loud snoring” – not great for Katherine’s sleep, but good for mine.
I’m not done yet – you wouldn’t believe how far I’d need to go to officially move out of the “overweight” range – but it’s pleasant for my weight on my license to be too high instead of too low.
…and yes, it’s “driver license,” not “driver’s license.” At least it is in California.
Our old bathroom scale does that thing where it gives a different weight every time you step on it. So I did some research and bought a scale listed as most consistently accurate. I weighed myself this morning and it claimed I lost a couple of pounds overnight. I thought “You bought this because the old one wasn’t working right- of course they don’t match.” To prove it I weighed myself on the old scale.
It also said I lost a couple of pounds overnight.
I have learned the secret of rapid weight loss: MAKE YOUR OLD SCALE JEALOUS.
Don’t write like this. If you do write like this, don’t send it to a publisher. It’s creepy, embarrassing, and hilarious. You could be doing much more valuable things, like finally cleaning out that space under the kitchen sink or taking a really good nap.
Also: don’t publish writing like this. That’s paper that could be still be trees. Instead it’s a permanent record of a complete lack of understanding of composition, physical intimacy, and basic anatomy.
I changed my mind. Publish all writing like this. It accidentally brings the reader satisfaction. I hope that’s not a parallel to anything in the authors’ lives.