Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dan Fogelberg Addendum:
Allow me to say this about that...

Moon Walking
I have to apologize for the pell-mell nature of the last post. I meant well; I really did. However if for no one else’s satisfaction than my own, I feel I need to stop and take a step back in light of what I’ve learned recently — beyond what I thought I knew about Dan Fogelberg’s career — prior to my posting the first part of this tribute to him on Tuesday morning.

My original inspiration was to throw out a bit of biographical info about the late singer/songwriter’s career, wrapped around a few personal anecdotes regarding my long admiration for his work, then set it all free and move on. It was to be just another unqualified tribute to a qualified musical genius by one of his millions of fans; a simple statement by someone who loved everything about his music and felt that the world should know.

However after writing nine pages of mostly disjointed paragraphs that staggered on and off-topic like a drunken sailor, by 2:30 AM Tuesday morning I still didn’t have anything really cohesive to post.

I had no choice but to extend it into two parts. However after considerable editing and grafting of topical threads, I’m still not really sure what that first installment meant to say — beyond the fact that I am devastated by the loss of a great artist and longtime personal hero. And it is because of the great respect I have for Dan and his memory that I want to take the time to clarify what I wrote earlier, so as to make absolutely sure no one misunderstands my intention.

So as somewhat of a preamble to the rest of what I wanted to say about the beloved troubadour, allow me to dig a little deeper into what was really on my mind these past Sunday and Monday nights, along with a few things that I also just came to realize today.

After re-reading what I had posted in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I realized that it might have sounded as though I was dismissing the latter portion of Dan’s career as a creative failure compared to his earlier work in the 70s — and that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Clearly, Dan Fogelberg’s status as a pop icon was cemented by his post-1970s work, and that latter flurry of fame did not invalidate anything he’d done in previous years. But although I personally may have been less excited to see the kind of ‘superstar’ success he had in the 80s (and I’ll expound upon that point in my next post), I now realize that my personal opinion pales in significance to the scores of new fans his post-1981 fame has afforded him.

I say, ‘I now realize,’ because prior to Sunday evening, I was smugly ignorant of a lot of things; things that it took until today for me to even begin to figure out.

For one thing, since August 31, 2004, one of Fogelberg’s web sites, has been fielding and posting well wishes from Dan’s many fans ever since he announced his illness. Over ten thousand such notes later, that ‘well wishes’ section has now been closed to new entries and a similar ‘condolences’ section has been added, fielding new e-mail entries from fans, the numbers of which have grown exponentially each day since Dan’s passing.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of days reading what others have had to say about Dan and the impact his music had on their lives. I have been floored — not by the responses themselves, but much more by the number of them citing his 1980s works as their most treasured, and the ones through which they discovered his incredible music.

Never mind what I said about the way ‘Soft Rock’ ruined Dan Fogelberg’s legacy. Screw the idiotic notion that it makes a bit of difference what kind of music Dennis Leary believes made him ‘soft’ in the 1970s.

Despite what I, or anyone else may say, Dan Fogelberg was a true legend in all four decades that spanned his outstanding career. His passion, his honesty, his musical virtuosity were all without question, and in my opinion, without equal as well.

If people don’t think his music was macho enough, then fuck ‘em. Let them eat Korn.

After operating in what I would call ‘successful anonymity’ throughout the 1970s — a fact he himself acknowledged — Dan finally broke through to the mass public in the early 80s, nearly ten years and six successful albums removed from his 1972 debut. He had several top 20 hits throughout the 70s, but had never yet achieved the household name status that he would now reach.

Years ago Fogelberg acknowledged that he considered himself fortunate to have acquired a fan base that wasn’t dependent upon ‘radio success’ to be viable. After 1981’s The Innocent Age, however, he had that radio presence, and the whole world discovered what we ‘old-timers’ had always known. The double album sold like wildfire. This collection of songs contained four of Dan’s most recognizable and memorable hits: Run For The Roses, Hard To Say, Same Old Lang Syne, and his signature salute to his father, Leader Of The Band.

Waterloo-zin’ it
In my original attempt to condense my feelings about Fogelberg into a single post, I stumbled in my reasoning on one issue that, try as I have, has been difficult for me to navigate around. It’s a side issue that I was unsuccessful communicating, regarding Dan’s legacy; something that his post-1970s music always brings to my mind: that ‘Soft Rock vs. the New Millennium Macho-Man’ phenomenon.

Hopefully now I can finally put it into words.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’m sensitive about how other men might perceive me, regardless of how many times I say that I don’t give a shit. Call it ‘Napoleon Syndrome’ or whatever you wish, but I’d be willing to bet that I’m not alone in that regard. Men are often insecure about their perceived standing amongst each other, hence the posturing and machismo that we all try so hard to show in the conduct of our daily public lives. And as I pointed out previously, it’s all bullshit; smokescreens; window-dressing. The true heart of a man is rarely seen in society these days and that’s a real shame — but one of our own making.

I admit that I may be prone to going a bit overboard in my public disgust regarding the subject, but it is an unfortunate situation to be sure. In my opinion it’s a telltale indication of how much we’ve traveled backwards as a society in my lifetime.

It is those attitudes that stand in sharp contrast to what Dan Fogelberg’s music has come to represent to me: tenderness, emotional honesty, strength through vulnerability — things that were to a large degree celebrated in popular culture thirty-odd years ago.

Dan’s death has triggered such a distinct and frustrating sense of loss in me; a sense that is quickly followed by a righteous indignation that demands to know why our world has changed so dramatically.

I suppose I’m just concerned that we’ve lost the ability to find those qualities again.

For years now the vulnerable, honest, beating male heart in society has been replaced by a hollow, cast-iron counterfeit. Men hide their feelings and pretend to be strong. They avoid honesty — to themselves as well as everyone else — usually at all costs. They seek to keep up the charade of male bravado that tells the world they don’t really need anyone.

This has long been a hot-button topic for me, but I suppose I didn’t realize just how close to the surface it was until DF’s death ignited those feelings afresh within me. And because Dan’s music was so caught in the crossfire of what I believe was a critically fundamental shift in societal mores, from the 70s to the 80s and beyond, I don’t think there was any way for me to completely separate them in an overall discussion.

The bottom line is, I resent the fact that I’ve been conditioned to feel apologetic as a man for enjoying and identifying with music of Fogelberg’s ilk. I specifically loved Dan’s music because it so touched the sensibilities that my father raised me with; sensibilities that I know to be right — that a real man is a whole, emotional being and that it is the coward who hides behind his anger.

Who the hell said it was ‘correct’ anyway?
As I mentioned earlier, Dan Fogelberg’s music and what it represents in our culture now versus 30 years ago is the spark that fuels my frustration, and that the essential argument here actually has nothing to do with music, but rather society and the way we view things so much differently now.

So please forgive the departure here, but I guess this is what it really comes down to for me. I’m sure I’m gonna offend someone, but please hear me out. This is really where the rubber meets the road in what the events of this past week have stirred up inside me

Just when it seemed that our culture had finally begun to allow men to be what their women had always wanted them to be: available, emotionally, that window seemed to suddenly close again by the late 80s. The same old stoic, emotionless standard for men in our culture returned to once again raise its neanderthalic head. However now it was even worse, because the same kind of rationalized excuse for that behavior intertwined with a paradigm shift in behavior all across society.

‘Political Correctness’ was born.

Political correctness seems to me to be an extension of the notion proffered by the 1969 self-help book, I’m Okay, You’re Okay, whose oversimplified explanation of Transactional Analysis, while well-intentioned, seems to have set into motion a ‘one size fits all’ mentality in America with regard to conflict resolution.

PC places a condition — a ‘label’ — on everything. Everything is relative; nothing is absolute; we mustn’t do anything to offend anyone’s sensibilities, so long as they align with the basic concept of the group. Challenging another’s beliefs is not allowed. Everyone is ‘respected.’

Faux courtesy, faux respect, faux friendships are the order of the day.

It’s, ‘don’t say anything bad about me and I won’t say anything bad about you — unless, of course, enough people feel you deserve to be criticized, and then, boy, you’re gonna wish you’d never been born.’

After years of seeking the truth, we became more than willing to be happy with a lie, so long as we felt we were getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T we deserved.

And again, in my opinion, it’s all bullshit.

Political correctness is little more than justified lying — lying in exchange for judgement. You do your thing and I’ll do mine, whether or not it’s wrong. I’ll pretend to care about your ‘rights’ but all I really care about are my own. So let’s not hurt each other’s feelings, aiiight?

It is disingenuousness in its purest form.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I hate deception. I hate lying. I hate subterfuge of any kind. There was a time in my life when our culture hated it too. There was a time when my generation strove for truth; for clarity; for common ground. Dan Fogelberg represented all of that. However society, over the past 25 years or so, has been going steadily in the opposite direction. It’s no wonder that the sensibilities of his music are often mocked by men in our culture.

I think it’s more than pathetic that these days our top-rated TeeVee programs are ‘reality shows’ whose plotlines actually celebrate raunchiness, subterfuge, ‘alliances,’ back-stabbing and deception.

I didn’t believe that commercialism could have gotten any worse than it was in the 60s and 70s, but it has. Blame it on whatever or whomever you wish, but it isn’t about politics, it’s about people. The more they get, the more they want. People are ultimately self-centered, and to believe otherwise is mere delusion.

I realize I’m not all, ‘up with people’ but let’s be real here, shall we? We celebrate the ‘bad boys.’ Goodness is scoffed at in our culture. ‘Nice guys finish last,’ right? We preach kindness, but selfishness and hatred abound.

Sure know how to paint a rosy picture, don’t I?

I’m not trying to be a pessimist; not trying to be a whiner or a complainer. What I’m trying to do is to get us all — myself included — to wake up.

Dan Fogelberg was not a top-of-mind figure for me at the time he died. His music had become little more than a relic of my past; an echo of the unbridled self-confidence and hope I had for the future when I was in my early twenties. But I to a large degree am not the same person I was then. I’m much less idealistic; more jaded; less forgiving or willing to see the goodness in others. And to sit here and say these things about myself makes me nauseous. To realize that I had forgotten about Dan Fogelberg makes me feel ashamed — not because I feel as though I believe I somehow ‘let him down,’ but because in so doing I let myself down by separating myself from his message and the reminder of how his music has always made me feel; feelings that the events of my average daily walk of life don’t often deliver.

Dan Fogelberg never changed. His message, while perhaps losing some of its popularity, never lost its fervency or sense of truth.

I want to celebrate that truth. I want to celebrate the man.
If there are any words that we haven't said
Let us say them
I know all too well how people's lies betray them
More than ever I'll wait for you there
More than ever I will need you to care
And I'll never need more than a prayer to be near you
To be near you
Time is a baby child found in the rain born of fever
She'll bring you pretty songs laced through with lies
But don't you believe her
More than ever I'll wait for you there
More than ever I will need you to care
And I'll never need more than a prayer to be near you
To be near be near you

More Than Ever
From the album, Home Free
Dan Fogelberg ©1972

Dan the mountain man, circa 1975.
Dan the mountain man, circa 1975.


Also see: Since You’ve Asked

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Leader of the Band Has Died —
A Tribute to Dan Fogelberg (Part 1 of 2)

Long Way Home
I have lost someone very important to me. He was neither a family member nor even an acquaintance, but was nevertheless a man to whom I felt very close; someone who had a tremendous effect on my life during my early twenties.

This post was at first a spur-of-the-moment project, as the information regarding the subject matter was something I had learned only a few minutes before I launched into writing it Sunday night. I felt that I had to sit down and immediately begin writing in order to keep from going into a complete funk over what I myself and many others have considered a tragic occasion.

However in throwing myself into what was intended to be a short, yet heartfelt tribute, much in the same vein as one I wrote for Johnny Carson, immediately upon hearing of his death in January 2005, I found that as my thoughts began forming actual sentences, they fell far short of anything cohesive or meaningful — certainly less so than I had intended or needed for them to be.

I realized that all I had were impressions with very little substance behind them; far less information than necessary to form a fitting structure upon which to build an account of all this man and his music meant to me and the millions of other fans he touched over a thirty-plus year career. So I decided to take a bit more time to consider the life, career and spirit of one of my heroes, Dan Fogelberg, to appropriately say goodbye to him today.

Dan Fogelberg, circa 1977 and 2001
Dan Fogelberg, as I remember him best, circa 1977 (left) and of more recent vintage, in 2001 (right).
Dan passed away early Sunday morning, following a three-and-a-half year battle with prostate cancer. He was only fifty-six years old, but his music, in my opinion, was timeless.

I learned that he was sick through my good friend Bee, of whom I’ve written about a couple times before, back in 2005 while in Southern California for my 30th High school reunion.

While back in my old stompin’ grounds, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Bee and another other of my oldest and dearest friends, Cindy. Dan and his illness was a high topic of our conversation that afternoon.

Bee absolutely worshiped Fogelberg, and is the person who originally introduced me to his music back in the mid-70s. At the time I spoke with him two summers ago, he was excitedly extolling Dan’s latest, and first original material release in over three years, Full Circle. However my friend’s excitement was tempered with the additional news that Dan had canceled his tour to promote the new album, as a result of the discovery of his illness a little more than a year earlier, in May of 2004.

Nonetheless there was encouraging news. Fogelberg had just issued a statement announcing the apparent success of his doctor’s hormonal therapy efforts to treat the cancer, which had subsequently spread from his prostate to his bones. He was at that time in partial remission and the outlook for a full recovery was good, although he was still far from being ‘out of the woods’ completely. And even though he announced that he was officially curtailing his active career as a performing musician to concentrate on getting well, he said that he wouldn’t rule out returning to it again at a later, healthier time further on down the road.

That road unfortunately would grow narrower and come to a premature end two and a half years later.

The Reach
So here I am now, trying to pay my last respects without making the same seemingly obligatory gesture of loss, like the lip service I’ve read in several news media reports over the past 24 hours. The vast majority of these all but insist that Fogelberg was the Godfather of ‘soft-rock;’ that the weightiest contributions he made to the pantheon of popular music were songs like Same Old Lang Syne and Leader of the Band, both of which became huge hits in the wake of his career finally reaching a critical saturation point with the public in the early 80s.

However to me, Fogelberg’s career wasn’t about what happened after he hit it big, but rather, beforehand. By my personal observation, the creative highpoint of his career’s impact was around its mid point during the 70s when he was defining the modern singer-songwriter genre like no one else in popular music. Then later, at what in retrospect seems to be the critical mass of his fame, changes in the music industry as well as his own creative decisions almost inexplicably forced Fogelberg’s career and creative significance into a slow but steady downturn following that high-water mark of success.

In the years soon following the 1981 release of Fogelberg’s most popular work ever, The Innocent Age, his particular style of music seemed to suddenly draw a different public perception in the light of the burgeoning age of Punk and New Wave Rock. The soulful, ballad-esque singer/songwriter variety of pop music was becoming viewed as somewhat staid as the new generation gap between Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers began to emerge. The more folk-influenced styles, along with the popular torchy R&B ballads of the 80s were pooled together into a new genre of pop music, targeting an older, more conservative, less cutting-edge audience. ‘Soft Rock’ was the new ‘elevator music’ being piped into offices and shopping malls across America; its glossy, middle-of-the-road tempo and romantic subject matter made it the perfect background music for the now-approaching-middle-aged ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, to whom its sensibilities were targeted to appeal.

Every radio market in America suddenly had some sort of ‘Lite-FM’ type of station, playing everything from Luther Vandross to — you guessed it — Dan Fogelberg.

For a self-proclaimed music hound like myself, this was hard to witness and even harder to accept. I didn’t want to blame Dan. I knew that pigeonholing his music in such a way was as wrong as it was inaccurate. I instead hated the commercial music establishment (and still do) for its unabashedly formulaic, cookie-cutter methodology, which seems to all but completely strip the true soul from any musical genre they get their money-grubbing hands on.

Fogelberg had been one of my all-time favorite artists since I began seriously listening to music. It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I can truly say that his music touched me in a way that no other’s had before or has since. And although I haven’t talked about him an awful lot, I’ve certainly considered it. However to be brutally honest, there’s a very real reason that I’ve chosen to skirt the subject.

These days, admitting that you’re a Dan Fogelberg fan is not exactly a safe thing for a guy to do, unless of course you don’t mind being consequently crushed by most other men for being a wimp.

‘Macho’ comedians like Dennis Leary have made Fogelberg’s music the butt of jokes about the emasculation of male society. And as vehemently as I call bullshit on such a notion, you can’t fight City Hall. Just as ‘Political Correctness’ swept an entire generation of society in the late 80s and early 90s to become the new law of the land, so the notion that ‘sensitivity’ is the opposite of masculinity has now become ingrained in our culture as well.

I have to admit my shame in saying that a large part of why I’ve rather distanced myself from Dan’s recent work — having not purchased any of his albums since the late 70s — has been in large part to avoid the stigma attached to that type of music in our culture.

And yes, I know that’s hypocritical — and stupid.

Michael Bolton, Kenny G., Hootie and the Blowfish — these were some extremely talented artists who made huge contributions to Pop Music in the 80s and early 90s, but in part due to that popularity, particularly in conjunction with their inclusion in the ‘soft rock’ genre, they have become cultural punching bags for the new macho bullshit reality: the unspoken rule in our New Millennium credo that says a guy who expresses emotions other than rage and indifference is weak and unmanly.

Sure. Go ahead. Throw the baby out with the bath water — whether it’s dirty or not.

And BTW, screw you and the dinosaur you rode in on, dude.

Outta Sync
I absolutely bristle at one of the new TeeVee commercials for Microsoft’s Sync voice-activated in-car audio interface now being offered in select Ford and Lincoln/Mercury vehicles.

In a recent spot, playing off of this same popular dynamic, equating Michael Bolton’s music with unmanliness, a large, macho-looking black man, riding shotgun in his skinny, wimpy-looking white friend’s new Sync-equipped vehicle tries to ‘out’ his buddy by asking the voice activated interface to first, “Play artist, ‘Tiffany’” in hopes of embarrassing his friend by discovering that he listens to an artist made famous by pre-teen girls.

Upon realizing there was no Tiffany in the music library, Macho man goes to plan B, calling out, “Play artist, ‘Michael Bolton,’” which, predictably, wimpy guy has in his playlist. As the car stereo belts out the chorus of Bolton’s How Am I Supposed to Live Without You, Wimpy Guy, mortified that his unmanly musical affinities have been discovered, quickly blurts out, “Play artist, ‘Korn,’” the heavy metal, ultra-macho band, whose thunderous beat then fills the air as the commercial cuts to slogan.

Although this is more than just a little bit farcical in its characterization of society’s musical attitudes involving men, it’s certainly true enough on the surface. And as shallow as it appears a man needs to be in order to allow this to truly affect his choices, I’d be willing to bet that upon first blush (pun intended), most men that I know would fall lock-step into this pattern.

And that’s what’s so silly about it all; it’s all about appearances — not real attitudes. I recently read one person’s take on the idea of men enjoying ‘unmanly’ music, describing it as a “guilty pleasure:” the type of thing you don’t mind doing with your wife or girlfriend, but something you’d never do with ‘the guys.’ And I think I’d have to agree with that assessment, except that I really hate myself when I realize I’m knuckling under to the pressure. It’s not always a conscious thing but rather much more, a conditioned response.

Personally, however, I know which men I can trust to judge me fairly, and I know those whom I cannot, so I rarely get embarrassed. Nonetheless I open myself up to that kind of criticism anyway; I admit to being a sensitive guy. I don’t necessarily attempt to hide my emotions in daily life no matter who I’m around; I allow myself to feel them all.

I suppose that’s the reason I enjoyed Fogelberg so much. I identified with his passion, his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve without fear; that and the fact that he was just so very, very talented.

He will be missed.

Next: Since You’ve Asked

Friday, December 14, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part VII)

The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
Such a Deal(ey)

I’ve really been looking forward to this part; it really could have been a series unto itself, the afternoon my Dad, Alex and I spent in Downtown Dallas at Dealey Plaza, the site of the event that truly changed America for my generation, and quite possibly all else to follow it: the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The time of year wasn’t quite the same — early February instead of late November — but given those two dates juxtaposition to opposite sides of winter respectively, the effect seemed nearly identical. The air was crisp and cool and the sun shone brightly in the clear, blue Texas sky just as it did a little more than forty-two years earlier on that fateful day of November 22, 1963.

As someone old enough to remember JFK’s presidency and the way that just his name captured the imagination of people of all ages (I was seven years old when he died), this was a pilgrimage; a trek upon holy ground. It was hugely significant to me if for no other reason the event’s profound historical relevance to my generation.

But this time was just as special for its rareness; the opportunity for the three of us to do something together, just we boys. I really can’t remember when that had happened before — if ever — as crazy as that might sound. But then again you have to remember the circumstances in which we grew up. Being the two youngest of five sons, and particularly given the tragic timing of our Mom’s Alzheimer’s onset beginning within a year of Alex’s birth, ours was definitely not a ‘normal’ early childhood. Having concentrated access to our Dad simply wasn’t something that came along often. His time was stretched between increased hours at work to cover the hospital bills, and dealing with the sometimes-tumultuous goings-on of my three older brothers. Although we knew it was never intentional, Alex and I sort of got the short end of the stick when it came to our Father’s personal attention during those years.

But we never once felt abandoned or incomplete in any way, and I for one wouldn’t trade the relationship that I’ve had with my Dad as an adult for any amount of time we might have spent together as a child. I truly believe Alex feels the same way, and has indicated as much in many a conversation we’ve had on the subject over the years.

We were indeed victimized by our Mother’s illness and all that surrounded it, yet we never felt like ‘victims.’ We knew that we were loved regardless of the circumstances that swirled about our family. And on the occasion of this opportunity — the three of us spending an afternoon together sharing an activity which itself represented a great deal of meaning for all of us individually — that love was never stronger.

Alex knew who he was, he knew where he was, and he knew what he was doing. We had fun.

But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even started the day off properly, that day being Day Three of the four-day 2005 visit.

He’s a Lumberjack and he’s okay
I actually made a lot more notes than I’ll elaborate upon in this story, but one point I wanted to touch upon was that our accommodations for the three nights we spent in Dallas. As I said before, our first concern was to not be a disruption. Seraph had to keep on working and school was in session, so kids and parents alike had their routines to keep; we didn’t want to be in the way. We opted for sharing a room at a nearby Super 8 motel about five miles away from Alex’s house.

It was good to have the opportunity to be able to unwind after the sometimes emotionally draining all-day sessions with Alex, especially so for my Dad as this was the first time he’d seen his baby boy in his tragic condition, not that he hadn’t been through this before.

We would commiserate and decompress, then hit the hay and sleep like logs; especially Dad — only he sounded like he was actually sawing them.

I’ve always kidded my Pop about his snoring. Back in 2000 when I came home for Maxine’s funeral, I stayed with him at their place in the assisted living center where they lived (and where Dad and his wife Helen still reside currently).

It only took one night of that experience to remind me that any subsequent circumstance in which I found myself sleeping within 100 feet of my Father would require earplugs as standard equipment. As it turned out on this trip, they were my singular ticket to dreamland.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical; Michelle tells me that I snore a little myself, but gawd help me if I ever duplicate my Pop’s performances on an average night. Yikes.

Momma Maxine always said, “if you can’t change your situation, change your attitude.” I’ll amend that here to say, ‘if you can’t change your situation, change your accessories. I did, the earplugs worked great, and everyone slept superbly.

On Wednesday morning we ate breakfast at the motel and then headed over to Alex’s. After receiving a few thumbnail directions from Seraph (I had the printout from the Dealey Plaza web site in hand that she’d given me), at around 10:30 A.M. we were on our way.

Mia Botha
Although it was in fact my second visit to Dealey Plaza, it was my first occasion to circumnavigate the Dallas Metroplex behind the wheel in more than five years — easily more than sufficient time for whatever familiarity I might have had with the freeway system there to be long gone.

Back in 1998 most of our family convened in Dallas to celebrate Thanksgiving at the home that Alex and Seraph owned prior to their current one. Three out of my Dad’s five boys’ families were represented, including Alex, myself, and even Son #3 — my brother Kenny and his wife — along with Dad and step-Mom Maxine, scant more than a year and a half before she passed away.

As a part of the long Thanksgiving weekend festivities, we all piled into cars and traveled em masse down to Dealey Plaza. I’m not sure if it was simply the fuss associated with making such an excursion with thirteen people (including my two whiny, mostly disinterested kids) or what, but I don’t remember getting a whole lot out of that visit. Thankfully this time would be different, but I still didn’t know where I was going, but it was a lot more fun getting there.

Maybe I didn’t listen, maybe I’m just a knucklehead (remember that one; it’ll come into play again in a later trip), but on the way to Dallas, I took a wrong turn — a wrong split, actually. After about a minute I realized my mistake and announced that we’d have to exit the freeway and double back to the place where we had gone astray. Alex however insisted that we were in fact going the right way and argued passionately to that end. Using the directions that Seraph had given me, I tried to explain to him that we had gotten turned around and needed to be heading east. “Well I LIVE here!” He protested, insisting that we needed to go west instead.

Nevertheless I had to go with my gut even if it meant upsetting my brother.

“Tell you what, Alex,” I offered, hoping to smooth his ruffled feathers a bit. “We’ve got all day; we’re in no hurry. Let’s just go east a little bit further and if the signs tell us we’re going the wrong way, we can always turn back around.”

Reluctantly, he accepted.

When we had gotten back to the original point of departure, this time I took the correct split and got back on course. Alex suddenly could see that we were headed in the right direction and began apologizing profusely.

“Mia culpa, mia culpa,” he exclaimed, disgusted with himself for making such a big deal to no avail.

“No, Alex; I screwed up first. Mia BOTHA, bro; We BOTH made a mistake,” I replied.

Alex chuckled. The tension was broken, and we were back on our way.

Wheelin’ and Deal(ey)in’
Negotiating downtown Dallas traffic was a nightmare. I didn’t exactly know where I was going, Dad didn’t either; and Alex, well, he wasn’t quite sure; you could tell that he wanted to help but was understandably struggling to get his bearings as well.

When we finally reached the general area, the real headache set in — I was driving down Houston Street trying to find a parking spot. At one point I nearly turned the wrong way up Elm — which is a one-way street.

We finally found a parking place across from the Hyatt Regency hotel, but some four blocks from Dealey Plaza. The lot was packed but still had a handful of open spots so we snagged one. That left us with a bit of a hike, which was fine with Alex and me, but a little tough on our Dad, who at a still-spry age of 84 was nevertheless having some trouble with one of his knees at the time. On a couple of occasions as we were strolling along, Alex and I would look up to realize that Pop was straggling behind us some 40 or 50 yards. We chided the old man to hurry it on up — we didn’t have all day y’know (even though we actually did). We all laughed about it; Alex seemed wonderfully relaxed and at ease. It was the official start of what would become an extremely enjoyable and memorable afternoon.

Again, the weather was perfect for the occasion. The previous time we’d visited, it was overcast and rather cold. This day, however, the bright, sunny conditions and the time of day made the setting absolutely surreal. The landmark event of my generation, the JFK assassination, was coming alive to me as if I had actually been there on the scene 42 years earlier.

Next: The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
A three-hour tour

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part VI)

The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
Papa’s got a brand new (used) bag.

Remember when I mentioned earlier that my Pop discovered he had forgotten his luggage — after we’d already arrived in Dallas and were just minutes from Alex and Seraph’s house?

And remember when I said that we decided that the first thing we were going to do was to go visit Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas?

And have you ever heard of the old adage, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?

Such was Day 2 of this initial latter-day trip to Dallas. However in the long run it was actually a good thing, as it gave us something more to do than just hang out at the house and in the end provided some of the most enjoyable memories of the trip.

I had honestly forgotten about the incident until I started going though my notes I’d written in off-moments while we were there; hence my not mentioning it in the previous post. In my unaided memories of that trip, Dealey Plaza and touring the site of the JFK assassination was the event that really stuck out in my mind. But thankfully, I managed to keep a pretty good, dated outline of all we did during that four-day trip, including our actual Day 2 activity: shopping for a replacement suitcase for my Dad.

The fact that he’d left his clothes behind in Franklin could be remedied. But the course of action we took required that we find a new suitcase — albeit a temporary one — to service him for the time we’d be in Dallas, and to get him home without having to check a Hefty Bag at the airport counter.

The whole thing was a fairly comical circumstance. After arriving at Dallas Love Field Airport, we were shuttled on over to the rental agency to pick up our car. We were happy to find that they upgraded us to a minivan because they were out of the mid-size sedans I had reserved.

So once we’d secured our wheels for the tour-day trip, we were “off like a herd of turtles” as Pop would always say as we’d embark upon a new destination via automobile. We headed northward on the short trek to Alex’s home in the suburban Dallas Metroplex.

About ten minutes out from our destination, I thought it prudent to give Seraph a call to let her know we were on our way, and to have her refresh my memory as to which exit to take from the freeway. This was my first time driving to their new house as well approaching from the south. Although they still lived in the same area, before it still wasn’t all that familiar so I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a turnoff.

As I broached the subject of getting directions, Pop was quick to go for his ever-present AAA mapbook to see if he could offer some assistance. He reached for the suitcase that he was just certain was in the back seat of the minivan, then suddenly it dawned on him — not only wasn’t it there; he realized that he’d never placed his suitcase in the minivan. In fact, we hadn’t even visited the baggage claim area after we arrived at Dallas Love Field.

Didn’t think about it even once; the subject had never come up in conversation since we left Nashville.

Personally, I hadn’t given my Dad’s luggage a second thought because I never check baggage myself. I always travel as lightly as possible, and if it doesn’t fit into my suit bag and duffel — both carry-ons — it just don’t go, yo. So given the fact that I’m just not normally disposed to even thinking about checked baggage, inquiring about my Dad’s lack o’ luggage when we set off from the rental car place was by far the least of the numerous details that were racin’ ‘round my little head.

So as calmly as possible I began to retrace in my mind’s eye the events of the previous five hours since we’d left my house to head to Nashville International Airport.

On Monday my eldest brother Jack and one of his three daughters had driven Dad down to Franklin from Anderson, Indiana where he’d spent the weekend. They stayed the night and were due to head back home after we left for the airport Tuesday morning.

I clearly remembered seeing Dad carrying his suitcase out the front door, as I was right behind him as we were leaving the house. I went straight to our car, parked in the driveway, to load my two bags into the trunk. However Dad continued on down to Jack’s van that was parked on the street, apparently for one last look-see to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind on the trip down from Indiana.

I left the trunk open and went ahead and got into the car. From that point on I didn’t remember seeing his suitcase at all, nor did I remember unloading it from the trunk when we got to the airport. Apparently in all the excitement we decided that Dad must have left it on the street or sidewalk when he went to double-check Jack’s van.

I quickly made a cell call to my house, where luckily, Jack and my niece still were, waiting for us to contact them, for yes indeed, Dad had left the suitcase behind. But what were we gonna do now? The thing weighed a ton and would cost a fortune to ship overnight.

Being his own problem-solving-big-brother-kinda-self, Jack wanted to help. He offered to take the suitcase to the airport and see if Southwest Airlines would be willing to stick it on a later flight to Dallas. I told him no, I thought that was too risky; he’d have to provide proof that Dad had even taken a SWA flight and the logistics of accomplishing that would have been a nightmare. Alternatively, shipping the suitcase overnight would probably exceed the cost of Dad just buying all new clothes & toiletries for the time he’d spend in Dallas. I asked Jack to just proceed on home and thanked him for his willingness, but that we’d figure something else out. I would look to Michelle for help.

You see, at the time (unfortunately they don’t offer the service any longer) Michelle had the ability, through her work, to ship even personal items via a popular express shipping company at a drastically reduced employee rate.

Once we got to Alex’s I made the call to Michelle, who immediately swung into action. Fortunately she was able to leave work and go home to grab a few items of Dad’s choosing from the suitcase, re-pack them in a lighter-weight box, and then return to work and overnight the package to Alex’s place, to arrive late Wednesday afternoon.


Later on we would ship the suitcase containing the balance of Dad’s things back to his home in SoCal, only we shipped it freight-rate; it would take a week to get there, but at least the cost was reasonable.

Nevertheless, Michelle’s deft action wouldn’t solve the ensuing problem of how Dad would get the clothes and other things she was sending him back to California when we returned home on Friday. He wasn’t coming back to Nashville with me on the flight home, but instead I had booked a direct one-way flight for him from Houston (and oy…I’ll talk more about that scenario a little later…) to San Bernardino, CA, the airport nearest to him.

So with all that said, our primary activity on Wednesday was no longer that originally decided pilgrimage to Dealey Plaza, but to tour the local thrift shops to locate Papa’s brand new (used bag).

Wednesday is ‘Errand Day’
Point was, we could have just gone to Sears and bought him a ‘new’ new suitcase, but Dad liked the one he had, and would still have to use after he returned home to California. Why waste the money on a new case?

So Seraph suggested we try out one of the area thrift stores to see if there was something passable yet cheap enough to be essentially a ‘disposable’ replacement that Pop could use then set out at the curb once it had accomplished it’s purpose.

At that point in his onset, Alex was definitely still able to travel. He was only a few months removed from having his privilege of driving a car removed, having smashed in the front of his cherished Chrysler LeBaron convertible just a week or so prior to our trip to Indy that previous November. So there was no problem with him accompanying Dad and me on a little shopping trip to find a Papa a replacement travel bag.

So while we were out, we asked Seraph if there was anything else we could do. She asked if we’d pick up some coffee. With our mission plan set, we headed out.

We tried two separate thrift stores in the area, but the second one was where we found both a suitcase and a nutcase in the same location.

The Second Glance Thriftshop is a part of (from what I’ve been able to glean from Internet searches) a national network of stores whose proceeds go to benefit Battered Women’s groups and like charities across the country. The local store was just a few miles from Alex’s house and was the one Seraph seemed to be the most familiar with.

After really not finding much of what we were looking for at the first place Seraph suggested, we hit the jackpot at the second. Second Glance had a number of older, but still-sturdy suitcases. It was just a matter of deciding which one was best for the job.

Dad’s decision was based strictly upon performance rather than looks, as the hardy-but-hideous 1970s-vintage brown tweed-like suitcase looked almost new, but set Pop back about eight bucks.
So we came, we, saw, we rubbed our eyes and bought. However it wasn’t until we were leaving the store that we realized how well-spent the $8 actually was.

A man we had seen in the store, wearing a broad smile and friendly disposition was walking out to the parking lot at about the same time as we were. Seeing three men in a thrift store to buy a single suitcase I’m sure tipped him off that there was an interesting story associated with it, so he stopped and thanked us for shopping at the store and asked why we had purchased — of all things — an old suitcase.

We thought it was kinda weird, but he seemed to be a regular guy so we talked to him for a few minutes, explaining the need for the suitcase. He introduced himself as ‘Cap’ Ellis (and yes, I’m using his actual name) and that he did volunteer work there at the store. Cap went on to talk about the work that stores like Second Glance does with Battered Women’s charities and we all kinda looked at each other like, “Hmmm, that’s pretty cool.”

The smalltalk continued, but when he learned that we were all originally from SoCal, his eyes lit up. He related that he used to live in the LA area as an actor/comedian and that he used to do voiceover work in Hollywood on animated shows like Fox’s King of the Hill. He then gave us a sample of that talent, delivering a killer impression of Bill Clinton. We were all in stitches.

Soon thereafter we parted company, but that little meeting stands out as one of the more unexpectedly enjoyable moments we had together. Seeing my Dad and brother nearly doubled over in laughter will always be one of the more prominent freeze-framed images I’ll carry in my mind from that memorable trip.

Next: The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
Such a Deal(ey)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part V)

The Long Goodbye — First Movement: Allegro
To begin, let’s back up a bit; like, say, three years ago this month. If you’ve read the series I wrote about this and the circumstances surrounding the discovery of Alex’s tragic victimization by the family curse, you already know the back-story.

The Alzheimer’s research team at Indiana University Medical Center, who had been working closely with my family since my Mom’s AD diagnosis, had agreed to run tests to determine Alex’s medical disposition and find if indeed it was AD that was causing his rapid mental and physical decline.

I flew down to Dallas to pick my brother up, continuing on to Indianapolis, where together we submitted to two days of psychological and physical testing. I had been asked to partake in the same battery of tests as a control subject for comparison with Alex’s results. But inside I was wondering if I too could still be subject to a more latent AD onset, as was my maternal Grandfather, the portal of the disease’s introduction into the family gene pool. Whereas every affected male in the family has displayed an age onset consistent with Alex’s (i.e.: early 40s), our Grandfather’s was much later, lasting well into his late forties before his death at age 53.

In November 2004 I was 48, so I figured I still wasn’t out of the woods. I wanted to help the diagnostic effort for Alex’s sake how ever I could, but I too wanted to leave the door open to find out for myself, if I too carried the genetic mutation.

As of the time of this writing I’ve still never applied for those test results, now three years later. Fortunately at this point I am (as far as I can tell) still symptom-free, unless of course you want to count the natural absent-minded tendencies that I’ve displayed since childhood.

It appears as though I’ve lucked out. However the determination for Alex at that point appeared to be pretty much the confirmation of a foregone conclusion.

It was nevertheless our first purpose to definitively evaluate Alex’s condition, determining for certain that it was indeed Alzheimer’s, and then go from there. We hoped that in making the determination then that we could catch it early enough to allow the staff at IU to possibly help him — if not to get better — then at least to hold on to what he had for as long as possible.

And now, in looking back on the three separate instances I’ve had to observe him, I’ve seen a clear pattern of decay in his mental state. It’s almost remarkable as I scan the notes I made from that first trip following indy, how much better he seemed and how hopeful we were that his progress would be indefinite.

By late 2004 my brother was still conversational — more so at some times than others — and it was hoped that the new drugs he was prescribed would extend his remaining cogent years by a considerable margin.

The following year was mostly upbeat in its outlook for Alex, but we were nevertheless realistic; we knew that at best, the new drugs were merely postponing the inevitable, but for how long? At what point and how dramatically would he begin to regress?

Naturally I wanted to see him as much as was feasible, to spend as much time with him as I could while that borrowed time was still ours. But my desire to see my brother paled in comparison to that of my Dad’s.

Immediately following my return from Indy, while reporting to him the details of that momentous three-day trip, our Pop was inquiring as to when he and I could return to Dallas together to spend some time with his youngest son. I certainly expected it but I couldn’t have even anticipated how much he would depend upon me to make the arrangements. I guess I had always just assumed that because he was my Dad that he would do what he wanted to do and take care of what needed to be taken care of.

I was honored to help my Father in this way. I planned the trip, purchased the airline tickets, and reserved the car and hotel. The first trip was set for February of 2005. We decided that it would be best for all involved to make the visit short and sweet; fly in, spend a couple days with Alex and see the kids (who would still be in school during the day), and then return home with as little disruption to Alex’s family’s routine as possible.

My sister-in-law, Seraph has completely had her life turned upside-down; there are no words that can accurately describe just how emotionally wrenching this entire circumstance has been for her. And there’s no amount of praise I can heap upon her to accurately describe the respect I have for how she’s dealt with the incredibly harsh hand issued to her.

I touched upon it a bit in the original series, but something that I became keenly aware of was just what an incredible change that Alex’s condition wrought in the family as a whole, not just in my brother’s life.

Alex was the sole breadwinner. He was a successful attorney in a prestigious international law firm. His wife devoted all of her energies into managing their home and raising their three incredibly bright and vibrant children.

Seraph is a brilliant woman, make no bones about it. She has a MENSA IQ, but never went to college, as she and Alex married just a year out of graduating high school. She forewent any career aspirations that she may have had to be a devoted mother and wife to her husband’s rising star in the legal world. It was a choice they made together and one she never doubted or for which she ever expressed regret.

But now, she was being thrown headlong into a world for which she’d never dreamed she would need to prepare herself. My number one concern in planning this visit was for it to have as little impact on the routine of the family involved as possible.

Given that he’d be traveling halfway across the country, my Dad made the trip a nearly all-inclusive national tour to see his boys. We made the arrangements to have him fly one-way from his home in California to Indianapolis, where he would spend the prior weekend with my eldest brother Jack, who then drove him down to Nashville to our house on Monday. The next morning we would depart from Nashville and proceed on down to Dallas.

We flew into Love Field on Tuesday, February 1st, and after dealing with the realization that Pop had left his suitcase at our house (he would have Michelle ship some essential articles of clothing overnight the next day — more on that later), we found ourselves walking up to the front door of Alex and Seraph’s home late that afternoon.

I was pretty encouraged to see Alex’s reaction to our arrival. As opposed to the tentative, almost apprehensive lack of emotion he displayed at initially seeing me three months earlier, this time his face was full of joy to see us. He hugged his Dad for what seemed like five minutes as Pop returned the favor. He seemed so much more animated then when I had seen him last. He wasn’t the ‘old Alex’ by a long shot, but he was considerably closer to that standard than the person I’d accompanied to Indianapolis.

We exchanged small talk and everything seemed wonderful. Seraph was happy to see us and caught us up on what the doctors were saying and the remaining peripheral health issues her husband was dealing with. We talked about all the medications he was taking to deal with everything from Alzheimer’s to the ‘myclonic jerks’ (a mild form of epileptic seizure) he still experienced in his sleep.

We discussed the routine that was such an important part of Alex’s life, and how much his change in disposition was a result of being in his home and in a familiar space.

And as he always had been, my brother still knew how to get a laugh.

I exclaimed to Alex just how much better he looked and sounded. I was just so happy for him and the fact that the medication was obviously working so well.

“Well, I take like eight pills, y’know,” he replied.

Pop chimed in, “Well, I am too, Alex.”

“Yeah, but I’m not as old as you are…” my brother deadpanned.

Open-ended agreement
There was really no activity agenda planned for this trip. We were gonna play it by ear, not knowing whether or how much Alex would be up for doing anything away from his familiar home surroundings.

Seraph had taken the liberty to print out some information from the Web on Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, site of the JFK assassination. She thought it might be a good diversion for the three of us. I thought that was an excellent idea and we decided that would be tomorrow’s primary activity.

But for now we would just hang. Seraph prepared dinner and we had an enjoyable evening together catching up and trying to be as normal around Alex as we could be. For despite the fact that our spirits were buoyed by his apparent improvement, the sad realization remained that each passing moment from that point on was the best it would ever get. Alex would have some days that were better than others, but his descent had merely been slowed, not stopped. We would likely have him for years longer than could have been otherwise expected, but we would never have him back.

It was a tough balancing act to negotiate those two emotions for me, and I know it was excruciating for my Dad.

Next: The Long Goodbye — First Movement (continued):
Such a Deal(y)