Not Passing

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The fairly nondescript tan sedan was stuck in bad Sunday morning I-95 traffic in northern Virginia, on its way back to New York and the colder climes after a wedding in Williamsburg with college friends from William & Mary, now already three years past graduation.

Her left leg was curled up against the door – perfect as a balancing place for her iPhone, in constant use. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, the way she used to wear it when she did gymnastics in high school. Her dress, the one that makes her gym-toned legs look extra tanned, hung from the back door handle.

Other cars could hear the blaring music leaking out the doorjambs, her depression playlist of lost-love power ballads. She looked green, positively nauseous as she went back in her head over the weekend’s events.

It had been fun, one supposed, to party with old friends. Hard to get them all in one place these days. So many have left the east coast for grad school, or Europe, or ridiculously high-paying tech jobs in the Bay Area. But most came.

The food was surprisingly good, the bar serving tasty and refreshing drinks all night, the music fun.

But, God, why had she left and taken a drive with him? He was still the impossibly good-looking asshole she’d remembered from their college days together – the perpetually drunk frat boy from a well-connected family who’d kept putting his hand down her harem-girl costume at the ‘Lawrence of Sigma Nu’ party, showing off for his friends. He wanted to take her to his family’s boat, to the very place she’d fallen for his line of bullshit the first time, half a dozen years ago.

Once they’d finished, he supposed out loud that they ought to get back. He made sure to take her new Manhattan phone number, just to be polite, as if he’d ever call, which, intellectually, she knew he wouldn’t. He’d always had the good manners of the rich boy he was to his core. Minutes after they got back to the reception, he was back in his new BMW and gone without the slightest trace.

The only lasting thing she had was a painfully red rash around her mouth from his too-carefully groomed stubble that she somehow found completely irresistible after two or three too many fruity drinks at that damned open bar.

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These Foolish Things

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My father lived in that little house for something like 50 years. And because he was who he was – a kid born in the 1920s, who came of age during the Great Depression – he threw nothing away. Nothing, that is, on purpose.

A few months back, I had to clean out the house where he and my mom lived. The question isn’t what I found; the question is what I didn’t find.

Old tin toys. Ties. Boxes of paper plates and plastic hi-ball glasses. Pennants. Hats. Tchotchkes from his former workplace. Stacks and stacks of twine-bound Stanford Chaparral magazines from the 1940s.

Here’s the thing you have to know: I was very close to my dad. He was my father but also my pal, my business partner and my mentor. I viewed everything of his – and I mean everything – as an almost-sacred artifact. And what does that lead to, I ask? Madness, plain and simple.

Sure, I knew keeping everything was literally impossible and yet, when push came to shove, throwing away any of my dad’s stuff was pretty damn hard.

The story of cleaning out my parents’ house in numbers:

Full-sized dumpster, 1
Truckloads of donations to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP), 2
Estate sale, 1
Truckload of stuff that SVP didn’t want/wouldn’t take, 1

 

The Stanford Chaparral humor magazines? Yeah, I got rid of plenty. (Although, I kept one or two.)

Hats? Mostly discolored by use and age, so I dumped. Kept his fishing hat with the inexplicable crossed golf clubs but dumped the crappy 49er hat from the 1970s.

Still, the culling and tossing wasn’t without emotion and even pain. I realized I didn’t have the resources, the space, or even the interest, when it really came down to it, in owning and maintaining a museum dedicated to my dad’s keepsakes. But if I wasn’t going to keep all those tangible reminders of him, how was I going to honor him, or at least keep his memory and maybe carry on his legacy?

About 15 years ago, we had a son. He goes by Giggy, a name he gave himself some years ago, but he’s actually named after my dad. And I guess that will have to do, as far as tributes to my dad’s memory are concerned. It’s the best I can do – certainly better than keeping some unfunny humor magazines merely out of a sense of obligation.

Besides, the kid turns out to be pretty terrific, unlike most of the crap I found in the house.

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Deepest Sorrow

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Okay, well, here goes; I must start this post with a personal confession.

Between 1990 and 1992, I was treated for severe depression with a combination of psycho-therapy and drugs. Although this was over 20 years ago, I do not consider myself ‘cured.’ Depression has turned out to be, more or less, a permanent part of my life. I have, however, learned to manage it without ongoing therapy and drugs but it’s something I have to remain aware of and it does sometimes color my perceptions and experiences. In some people, the anti-depression drug I took also has the cruelly ironic side effect of heightened thoughts of suicide. For many, depression is not just sometimes feeling blue; it’s a serious and chronic condition.

When I heard about Robin Williams today, well, I can scarcely express how badly I felt and maybe also, initially, how frightened.

Several years ago, I ran into Williams at the Polo Fields in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was literally running and he poked out of the space between two hedges. He was with his son and carrying some sports gear. He’d obviously been out playing with his kid, just like any dad would do on a nice afternoon. I said hi and he said hi back and, to be honest, there wasn’t much more to the interaction. He wasn’t in the park to get noticed by a fan and I wasn’t about to invade his personal time and space. I may be reading more significance into the memory than really existed but I’d swear he looked at me with a little gratefulness at being allowed the courtesy of just being a dad in that moment and not a world-renowned stand-up comedy and film star.

I am so sorry for his family’s loss. I can’t, and don’t even want to, imagine their grief today, especially the grief of that boy who had a catch with his dad in Golden Gate Park on a brilliantly sunny afternoon 20-something years ago.

If anyone reading this suffers from depression, or is dealing with thoughts of suicide, please talk to someone. Please. Depression is not something to be ashamed of, or to be suffered through in silence. You’re not alone.

Here’s the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. 

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