"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Sep 7, 2010


That's my mother's younger brother my ridiculously awesome wife mentions over her way, to the right of this column. Uncle Charles.

Charles lived hard. Then he broke down. He ate too much. He smoked, whatever. Then cigarettes. And finally the cigars. He never gave up the cigars, not even after a couple of heart attacks.

Congestive heart failure. Diabetes. A family curse. Men die young, in my clan. I grew up with aunts and great aunts, grandmothers and cousins of cousins, almost all women. Matrilineal as all get out. Fucking proud, too. I love that.

Hearty. Handy. Mothers. Stregas, when it came to food. Craftswomen of taste.

My Uncle Charles, the only son and youngest child of a Mediterranean mother.

He ate well, so...

First, his physicians chopped off a toe. Then, on the other leg, all the way up to his knee.

He went blind, or mostly blind. His girlfriend went away, and he really loved her. He did right by her, and her son. I don't think she could handle it. But, he never held it against her. He didn't try to save her. And he didn't try to keep her where she didn't want to stay.

Her self-destruction weighed him down, but didn't give in to the filthy urge to lighten his load by making her behave.

Many, many, many years ago - when my grandmother proved once and for all that schizophrenia and alcohol didn't go so well together, at least in her case (and my Nana is a really sweet and amiable schizophrenic...I mean that), Charles poured all his liquor down the drain and went dry at home so my mother's mother wouldn't have her poison so close to hand.

He didn't try to save her, either. He just did his own part. A son's honest felt obligation to a mother who loved him.

They lived together almost all of his life, and most of hers. They didn't pull punches and they never used shame. A good house, that one. I loved going there, even when Charles scared the hell out of me, before I hit my teens and my own taste of rebellion. Later, he told me he just didn't like me. He was young when his father died, not long after I was born. My grandfather's death hit him hard, and my birth took his older sister away at the worst moment. It took him a while to forgive me the accident of my birth.

We talked, then, about my mother, back before life turned her into a deeply fanatical Beckian proto-fascist.

About my grandmother, too - and how she climbed out of that dark place and learned to live without the man who'd loved her so fiercely she could handle her affliction.

My grandmother could cook, and Charles could really eat. And they made a feast out of survival.

He ate, and it killed him. He ate his way to an early death. But, no grubby MacDonald's road to death, that. Real food, from the ground. From the seasons. From Lebanese bakers, Polish butchers and Italian grocers, the gatekeepers of pleasure in a cold New England city.


Last winter, two years into borrowed time, I asked him about his looming death. A pious man, in his own way; he felt only gratitude for the extension on life.

Charles didn't fuck around.

He didn't paint it pretty, or himself the victim.

We talked, that time, about a month before he died. "I did this to myself, " he said in his rumbling whisper.

He owned it, right up to the end.

He owned his joy, his pleasures and his suffering. He owned his choices.

I wish I knew more people like that.

And that they did not so often die too young - that the cosmos rewire itself and curse instead the grasping sycophants, the lying liars, the adherents to power and the petty and not-so-petty tyrants.

Not those who relish their lives, and do little harm to others.

But, then I know I have to abandon the sting of that wish, and its ersatz and too-sweet pleasure. I'd rather honor Charles and do without even a hint of resentment or bitterness.

He owned it. So can I...

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