Confessions of a Horror Lightweight

I have often derided myself as a “lightweight” when it comes to horror movies.  

Many people talk about how horror movies are fun because they let you get frightened in a safe environment.  You get all the fun stuff without any real danger.  And this makes a lot of sense to me.

But I’m one of those people who gets deeply immersed in the virtual world when I’m watching a movie.  On some level, I become part of that world, and I forget that it isn’t real.  Brutal violence leaves me profoundly shaken and it takes me a while to pull myself together afterward.

Lots of gore, body horror, intense personal violence — these things are just not my speed.  I barely made it through the original Evil Dead.  The original Dawn of the Dead left me shaken and weeping.  I had to bail on Hellraiser and Blade II.  I don’t even want to think about the Saw movies.

There are few movies out there which bring enough other valuable stuff to make the distress worthwhile.  A Clockwork Orange and Pan’s Labyrinth come to mind; and I’ve still only been able to watch them once.

But all of that doesn’t mean that I dislike horror movies.  Far from it!

Monster movies, kaiju, the work of studios like Universal in the 1930s through the 1960s, Hammer, Amicus — I love that stuff!  I relish the creepy, the occasionally gruesome, the mysterious, the atmospheric.

If the violence is restrained, or just unrealistic enough that I can abstract myself and remember that what I am seeing is imaginary, then I can get frightened, creeped out, even excited by the possibilities of a mysterious and supernatural world.

I spent several very key years of my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and spending my late Friday and Saturday nights watching Creature Features.  It was the late 1970s, and things were quite different from the way they are now:

There was only one “Star Wars” movie.  It was called Star Wars.

Home video games were limited to the brand-new Atari 2600, which with a price tag of over $800 in today’s money, was a toy for the well-off.

It was more or less accepted that smoking was bad for you, but most people did it anyway and it was legal just about everywhere.

Home video recorders didn’t exist.  If you wanted to watch a TV show, you had to plant yourself in front of the set when that show was on.  And you’d better hope no one else in the house wanted to watch something on another channel.  Most folks had only one TV set in the house.

During that time, I often spent Saturday staying over at my best friend’s house.  Sometimes we’d swim in her pool.  Other times we’d play games on the Atari, which I was terrible at.  (Some things don’t change.)  We also played with our Barbie dolls, making up stories that were much more befitting the movies we’d be watching later than the usual clothes, cars and glam stuff.

After dinner, we’d make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, finishing up with one giant cookie each, and took that still warm and gooey treat into the den and settled in to watch Creature Features.

We’d get the tail end of The 10 O’Clock News.  And then came the funky theme music and the decidedly un-funky host, Bob Wilkins.  Unlike many horror hosts, he didn’t go in for costume or schtick, but simply sat in his chair in a spooky old house set, smoking a cigar and telling us a little about the movie we were about to see.

As often as not, he’d caution us that we’d best not expect much.  I don’t remember ever being put off, though.

Our favorites were the Godzilla movies.  We’d make up Godzilla’s dialogue, our own translations of what everyone’s favorite giant radioactive lizard was saying with those weird roars.  Those roars have echoed down through the years and informed a lot of my taste in movies.

Come to think, Godzilla movies (along with You Only Live Twice) were probably my introduction to Japan and Japanese culture, giving me a curiosity which blossomed into full blown fascination when I discovered anime almost a decade later.

We saw lots of other movies on Creature Features too.  Universal monster movies, spooky haunted house flicks, William Castle weirdness, goodness knows what else.  I might have even seen Night of the Living Dead there, although I doubt I made it through the whole thing.

Or maybe I did, and that’s why the movie disturbs me so much to this day.  Who can say?  I certainly can’t.

I probably saw my first Hammer films on Creature Features too, but my strongest memory of a Hammer film comes from the fall of 1984.

I was alone in a college dorm TV room, stitching trim on a cape and watching a movie with the (as it seemed to me at the time) outlandish title of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.  Outlandish or not, that movie ended up having a lot of influence on my writing, and still does.

Now that I’ve shared my background, I’d like to contribute more to this blog.  I’ll be offering my takes on some old favorites and new discoveries.  I hope to share an “old school” perspective, and maybe even show how “lightweight” can be exciting, appealing and fun.  

After all, getting a broader perspective can’t hurt — especially when you have to look over your shoulder or into the dark.

Comments: 0
Written: Oct 22, 2015

Zombie Hellhouse By The Side of Cemetery That Dr Freakstein Got All Weird In

For fuck’s sake.  It’s been a year.

I said I was going to keep up, but I didn’t.  Look, it’s just been fucking chaos.  Some good, all sorts of bad.  Even a fracture.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying to keep the faith.  Today, I offer proof. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments: 0
Written: Sep 10, 2015

Stop Whining, Start Running

So what happened to Afterhell?

Did anyone notice that we were gone?  Or that we were ever here?

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m feeling defensive about the whole thing.

I’ve been putting off this post, figuring that it would be hard to explain the long absence to an invisible audience.  I know three people are out in the ether, following all this.  And they already know most of the details.

But I’m also aware of the trolls, griefers, and spammers out there.    You know, the ones with the knives out.  And beyond them lies a vast, cold indifference.

So is there a point in saying anything?  I wondered.  For a long time.

I took too long.  I know that.  So yeah.  Feeling defensive.  And embarrassed.  Bitter.  Feeling lost at sea.  Most of all, I feel like walking wounded.

Bear with me.  If you want me to answer the question of “where were we,” keep reading.  Follow the white rabbit.

Short version:  Ollin Productions has been a troubled house.  We suffered many personal losses, a few professional ones, and it fell hard.  Now we’re doubling our efforts.

Shorter rude version:  Fuckyou youdontknowwhatIvebeenthrough wherethehellwereyouwhenallthisshitwasgoingon

Sorry, I had to get out of my system.  Let’s do the long version.

A lot of things went wrong.  Not everything.  Just a lot.

For Ollin Productions.  For Afterhell.  For me and Jamie.  In the end, they all mean the same thing.

Or so I thought.  That was the first problem.  The big one.  I’ll save that for the end.

The perfect storm for us was death.  Not the boogeyman we flirt with in horror fiction.  Every few months, for four fucking years, death ran through our extended family like a wave.

First it was my father.  Four of my aunts.  My cousin.  Over six weeks, all of our cats died.  A dead cat every two weeks, like some twisted subscription service.  Then Jamie’s uncle.  To say nothing about all the heroes, icons, and inspirational figures — but those fine people didn’t tuck us in or hug us by the shoulder while saying, “Welcome to the family.”  They were background radiation compared to all this.

After months and months of shellshock and grey days regardless of the sun, Jamie and I were left empty.  We knew.  We’d suffer loss before.  But this felt like war.  We were losing.  And we were trying so hard not to surrender — to find a deep enough bottle and never come out.

Seriously, Death.  I’ve long suspected you were beautiful and well-meaning even before Neil Gaiman stuck his fine nose in.  But seriously, Death, fuck you.

Christ, I’m still crying.

And considering how many times Afterhell had been written off, dismissed, publicly mocked, literally thrown back in my face…  honestly, would you have bothered to keep it going?

Even for a shoestring production, Afterhell is an intimate process.  Friends were brought together and separated by personal concerns, not market forces.  There was no business plan.  No concern about mainstream radio or podcasting (which was bleeding edge tech at the time.)  And no awareness of online communities that might like us, shag us, or throw us over a cliff.

We found out later that most of them would do all three.

Old Time Radio groups glommed onto us, only to disavow us because our horror wasn’t corny and our sound was too digital.

The Horror Writers Association dismissed us out of hand because our work is self-produced and uncommissioned.  Self-published horror comics are okay, but fuck audio.

Audiodrama discussion groups romanced us like codependent partners from hell, openly courting us and avowing their undying friendship, then squelching any difference of opinion.  Quantity over quality and mutual admiration societies.  Otherwise?  Yerrrr out.

Real audiodramatists, professional artists instead of fanfic writers, embraced us until they realized our content wasn’t family friendly or sufficiently highbrow.  “You’re a great writer, but sorry, Afterhell is out.”  BOOT.

And I won’t even get into radio programming directors.

I once called horror audio fiction the crazy aunt locked in the basement.  That’s how Afterhell is treated.  Sometimes it sucks to be right.

So I really didn’t think anyone would notice whether we’d gone away.

I don’t say this to rationalize our non-existent turnout.  We haven’t produced new episodes in years.  Or blogged.  Or tweaked code.  Hell, I’ve gone months without looking at the damn site.

Remember the worst part?  Here it is.  The clincher.  The nail in the coffin.

I was the only member of Ollin Productions who wanted Afterhell to happen.  Jamie was done with it.

It wasn’t just the grief.  Jamie was never really into it.  She gets vampires (old school vamps, none of that Twilight crap) and Lovecraftian horror to some extent.  Between the extreme content and the public disapproval, she walked away from Afterhell.

Before someone gets mad at her, let me tell you something.  I was on the verge of doing the same.

But I’m getting so damn tired of crappy horror.  Sturgeon’s Law probably applies.  It usually does.  But instead of demanding better, horror fans embrace the crap.

No, I mean it.  We applaud the gore and the cheese.  We’re making deliberately shitty meals out of all the gore and cheese.  Not tolerating lackluster production values for the sake of a fun story.  Just eating the shit sandwich.

Zombie stories are everywhere.  A dime a dozen.  Ripping off Max Brooks or George Romero doesn’t cut it.  Stupid people doing stupid things for the sake of the plot is stupid.  And vampires are worse.  Whether it sparkles or splatters, the characters and the story they’re have to be interesting, people.

And making them interesting takes a lot more effort than it seems.  And fewer creators are making the effort.

Look at The Strain.  Or better yet, don’t.

Instead, just read it.  You’ll find intriguing, sympathetic people in a crisis.  The absentee father who chases plagues.  The married couple, lonely and growing apart while passion still gnaws at them.  The grieving vampire hunter, haunted by the depths of true evil.

Watch the premiere episode and you’ll get bored.  And irritated.  It feels like some droning lecture masquerading as a puppet show.  Stuff happens and there’s no one to care about.  Only divas and dimwits.

Where’s the likeable, driven scientist?  We get a pushy, self-important jerk who kisses and pats his son like a puppy.  There’s a vamp hunter and he’s kind of tragic.  He’s sharp enough to scare the crap out of a hardcore thug, but not smart enough to keep his fucking cashbox out of reach.  And of course, the archetypal dying rich guy pulling all the strings.

This isn’t a horror story.  It’s a one-stop cliche superstore.  The grieving parent who lashes out at the hero.  The lab tech that touches scary shit with his bare fucking hands.

But surely, this is a horror story!  There’s blood and goo and dissected people.  Little worms that poke through people’s eyes.  Yea, verily, an ample opportunity for gross-out.  And spooky stuff.  Oh, such spooky I shall give thee.  Nay, I reject thy claim of compact comestible shite–

Look, I don’t care.  Maybe I’ve gotten old or more jaded by life.  But I was never impressed by gore.  Part of my problem is that I’ve already read the book, so I know the gross-outs are coming.

But everyone’s expecting the gross-out.  The promo art.  The worm in the eye.  Everybody knows it’s coming.  So that couldn’t be the only attraction for the audience.  Can it?

Judging from all the tweets and reviews… yup.  Only one negative review so far.  And I usually hate that guy.

We’re talking about Guillermo del Toro, I know.  I get that.  Boy, do I get that.  I’ve been a fan of his movies for years.  He makes movies I wish I had made.  He lingers on shadows and turns them into magical worlds.

So watching The Strain on FX was really, really depressing.  I know pilot eps usually suck, compared to the whole series.  But Cthulhu on a crutch, our pilot ep was better!  And we were learning! We were struggling, praying that we were doing something right.

Guillermo, you let me down, man.  I’m disappointed.  Utterly furious.

And then I see some more horror news come down the pike.  Chris Carter is producing a post-apocalyptic show called…

The After?

The After?!

A violent, unpredictable world called THE AFTER?!

Did someone declare war on me?  Ugh, just walk away.  Find a dumpster and do penalty throws.  No more struggling.  No more nightmare wrangling.

No.  I was here first.  Not my friends.  Not the fans.  Not my allies.  Just me.

I was alone with my nightmares.  I saw things.  People.  Things they did.  They appeared in my dreams and mutated.  Every time I fell asleep, I had nightmares that I still can’t talk about.  They tore at my waking hours.  Kept me from sleeping for weeks.

Weeks.  Days and days of being afraid of your own head, of the crap inside it, terrified of closing your eyes.

Do you know what that’s like?  Fuck Nightmare on Elm Street and that pervy boogeyman bullshit.  Do you know?

One day I started writing them down.  And I was so tired.  Enough to fall asleep.  And the nightmares stopped.  They were on paper, given a place to live, so they let me go.

I went through it.  I lived it.  I’m still here.

And nobody.  Fucking.  Helped.

Despite my reputation, I try not to complain.  I do anyway.  But only because I’ve had enough.  The meter reads full and I have to let it out sometimes.

So I don’t like to share my troubles.  Big or small.  Heartbreaking or stupid shit.  I don’t know.  I just assume everyone has something better to do.

But now I’m telling you.  This is why.

Afterhell disappeared for a while.  Whatever the reasons, I just stopped doing it.

And now it’s time.  Put up or shut up.

Afterhell delivers to live.  There is ample evidence of a need, regardless of whether the need is mine or that of others.  But if you’re smart, you’ll keep up.

I’m going to do my best to give you the best nightmares you’ve ever had.

Start running.

Comments: 1
Written: Jul 14, 2014

Goodbye, Forry

We interrupt the long wait between Afterhell episodes to mourn the passing of an icon.

AP: Sci-Fi’s Grand Old Man, Forrest J Ackerman, dies

Forrest Ackerman was known by many while serving many roles, under many names.   He was the editor of the Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, not to mention its heart and soul.  His playfulness appeared in its pages as cheesy puns and tongue-in-cheek captions.

He often signed his editorials as Dr. Acula.  Readers addressed him as FJA, Forry, 4E, the Ackermonster, and many other goofy epithets.  He embraced them all.  His knack for cheesy puns and wordplay was infectious.

He first coined the term “sci-fi,” so the AP headline is apt on so many levels.  People can’t decide whether it became a benefit or a detriment to science fiction.  The only certainty in its issue is that he said it with genuine affection.

The bottom line:  Forry was the ultimate fan.  He might not be the reason why people invented the term “Big-Name Fame,” but he’s the reason why people still use it. Forry was a model citizen, a grand master in fanboy circles.  He represented what fandom at its best.  He was warm, courteous, playful, and generous.

Spending decades collecting tons of sci-fi and horror memorabilia, he didn’t simply horde his treasure trove.  He opened his home and shared them with strangers from all over the world.

He was a friend and idol to millions — writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, starry-eye nobodies.  Forry treated them all the same…like family.

I’ve bumped into him once or twice at conventions, on my way to this or that.  And he was doing the same… well, mostly the same.  I was in the company of one pretty lady.  Forry was always surrounded by at least four of them.  (Who says fanboys don’t get any?)  But each time we passed each other, he’d light up, extend a big warm hand, and beam out with “Hi, good to see you!”

Forry was Santa Claus, Dr. Frankenstein, and Hugh Hefner all rolled into one.  He delighted in the dark, revelled in the light… and always seemed to know your name.

He’s gone now.

Does Halloween seem darker every year?  Does every winter seem colder?

No… no, I can’t afford to play that game.  And neither can you, friend.  Yes, you too.  The word “friend” has been overused, but Forry Ackerman proved in his life that it can hold a multitude of real human warmth every time the word is spoken.

A toast to Forry.  The best fiend you could ever want.

Comments: 0
Written: Dec 5, 2008

Slow vs. Fast Zombies?

As Halloween and the election season come to a close, a strange fusion has taken place, setting the stage for international controversy.

Simon Pegg, one of the brains behind the brilliant movie Shaun of the Dead, has thrown his hat into the metaphysical ring of zombie politics.

Simon Pegg:  “Zombies Don’t Run!”

On Afterhell Volume 3, we kind of cheated.  In “Bloodbath at the Giallo Hotel,” zombies move at the speed of plot.

So what does everybody think?  Should zombies be fast or slow?

Comments: 2
Written: Nov 5, 2008

Farewell to the Masters

A wise woman once wrote, “If you’re that unhappy, then just leave.“  Sensible enough.  So I’m leaving.

I wish I could say this wasn’t necessary.  But this is it.  I’m leaving LiveJournal and moving back to Blogger, grinding my teeth the whole way.  Blogger isn’t necessarily better or easier to use.  But they haven’t messed with their users or their content either.

LJ simply isn’t trustworthy anymore.  They censor.  They obfuscate their own policy.  They distrust their own customer base.  How does anyone with even the most rudimentary desire to write and express oneself hope to feel safe in that kind of environment?  No, sooner or later, someone is going to say something a little more unmutual than the usual angsty emo-crap.  And when that happens, I predict a riot.

And no, all the hype about LJ’s advisory board does not impress me.  The current Powers That Be simply ignore the board’s advice.  They have never acted on it.  It’s a sop to the fanbase, nothing more.

I’ll do my best to keep up on my favorite LJ blogs.  I’ve done what I can to make it easier for folks here to follow my words around.  My new/old/new-again blog can be found at http://darkkarma.blogspot.com/ .  I’m putting in subscription options of various sorts.  If you already have a Google account, commenting should be fairly easy.

And for those LJ and WordPress users who don’t want a Google account (people have their reasons, cut ’em some slack), Blogger lets you use your blog URL as an OpenID login.  Go to the comment page for a given post, select a provider (like say, LiveJournal), and type in your blog’s URL.

Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Comments: 0
Written: May 28, 2008

Lilith, 1998-2008

I thought I should let folks know, in case they had been following.  I’ll get more into it later.  Still shellshocked, myself.

For now, I can tell you this much.  We asked the vets to come out to our place.  They’re accommodating that way, not to mention expensive.  I carried her to her favorite pillow in front of the fireplace.  I sat beside her.  Her head was resting on my knee.  I held her while they prepared the injections, one that would end the fear, another that would end…everything else.

I said sorry.  I said goodbye.  Then she went away.

You think you know how to cope when you’ve been through it before.  The shock.  The loss.  Feeling gravity fail under your feet.  But it’s been hard.  So hard.

Comments: 0
Written: Apr 29, 2008

The Abyss Reopens

Yup.  Back… in all sorts of ways.

When we first found out that Lilith was sick, Jamie and I were too.  That crud that’s been going around ever since the year started?  It nailed Jamie in January, then me in February.  And somewhere in between, Lilith had lymphoma.  Coughing and post-nasal-dripping, we dragged her all over town, looking for a way to stop her pain.   And a way to deal with ours.  To our disbelief, it seemed to work.

We’ve spent the last few months chasing and wrestling with Lilith, dragging her out from under our futon, our closet, or the bed to wrap her up in a towel and ram pills down her throat.  The more effective the pills were, the harder it got.  That part, you already know.

So it’s April now.  The crud, or something like it, hit us again like a freight train.  Jamie was down for days.  Once she got back up, it slammed my ass into the ground.  I’ve had it for a week.  Exhausted.  Wheezing.  Rest and liquids, squeezing in scriptwriting duty while the energy comes to me in drips and drabs, have been my whole life for several days.

And what happens while we’re so tired, so damn weary that we literally crash into bed?  Lilith is in trouble again.  The lymphoma is back, only now it’s… expanding the bridge of her nose.   Her eyes water.   Her nose oozes the same flesh-colored junk.  It’s back and it’s worse.

We’re practically strapped to the wheel of pain, fer crissakes.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s too much drama.  But damn it, I’m tired.  The weariness goes down to the heartmeat core.  I knew her disease was going to return sooner or later, that it was going to win somehow.  But did it have to be like this… when we’re all running on fumes, feeling that we’ve been going around, tracing the same ouroborus path, back to the end and starting again, left to wonder what was the point?

Strange thing, though.  When we were first confronting Lilith’s mortality, the knowledge torn us apart.  Jamie and I talked and talked, going over the same ground for days, uncertain about… everything.  We weren’t sure if we’d done enough or whether we’d done the right things.   Now, three months later, we already know the outcome.  Jamie might feel the pressure, I’m not sure.  But I certainly don’t.  I feel sad of late, but rock solid accepting.  We know what to do; and that there isn’t much else we can do.  We don’t have any doubts.  I’m not sure whether we even have room for regret.

Actually… I think we do.  We don’t want Lilith to go away.

But she will.  We took the time to deal with that.  And now we deal with it again.

Her time is almost up.  It’ll be soon.

Maybe today.

Comments: 0
Written: Apr 16, 2008

Updates, quandries, and other noises

I noticed it had been a while since I posted.  And I basically left people hanging on a dark note there.

Catz, catz, catz!
A frequent refrain in our household.  Usually mine.

Anyway, Lilith has actually improved.  We can’t afford chemotherapy for her (it sounds nasty, but reportedly cats respond to chemo much better than humans do), so we went with more conventional medication.  Shortly after I posted my lament of woe-squared, we got some prescriptions for her,  an antibiotic and a steroid, that are supposed to boost her immune system.

We chop the pills to the right dosages and fit them together into gelatin capsules.  That way, we only have to ram one big pill down her gullet while she’s spitting and clawing her way out.  We got used to her being so weak, offering no resistance.  Now we wrap her up in a thick towel.  The minor — but many — bites and scratches snapped us back to reality.  Bactine:  the sweet nectar of success.

Well, that and seeing her.  Her coat and her eyes shine.  She talks more than ever, not so much “meow” as squeak, cranky squeak, and terrified squeal!  She jumps around like crazy, bumping our legs, bounding across the apartment, maintaining her regular security patrols, and watching birds from the window sill with laser light intensity.  In short, she’s acting like a kitten again.

But sometimes she lets out a loud violent sneeze.  And it’s enough to stop my heart for a second.

I keep thinking about a line from Blade Runner, probably the most important one:  “It’s too bad she won’t live!  But then again, who does?”

LJ Uber-drama
I’m sure everyone else has heard about this by now.  Certainly lots of blog postings out there.  Some of them are even useful.

I’m not going to get into all the back-and-forth, the horribly translated Russian interviews with the Powers That Be, the yay’s or nays (deliberate word choice) regarding the big boycott on Good Friday, or any of that.  My understanding of the whole thing boils down to a few simple things:

  1. LJ intends to close up the no-cost, ad-free Basic Account level.
  2. They didn’t intend to let anyone know about it.
  3. They were also caught censoring user interests, rendering them invisible on key listings.
  4. They have now fostered a hostile relationship with their customers — and their content — for several months.
  5. There’s no sign that it’s going to stop.

On the first point… sad, I guess.  But it happens.  It’s a business.  They have to make money, yadda yadda.  That’s a fair complaint.  If they had just said so, and not resorted to item number two, people would grump, but eventually deal.  Look at DeadJournal.  I bitched, but I moved on.  And they’re still around.

But it’s the last three items that give me and Jamie pause.  And how many times has LJ gone to war with its customers over content — two times? three?  — in the current management’s first 100 days at the helm?

Content issues are a big deal for us.  It’s not just a hobby for us.  This is our business.  We have to make money too.  We do an audiodrama show that’s clearly, loudly, proudly not for everybody.  How long will it be before LJ has a problem with us?

We’re really busy now.  We don’t need this kind of grief now.  I’m working on several scripts, some of the Willamette Radio Workshop, some for Afterhell.  I’m mixing a new episode fast as I can, when I’m not writing, collapsing from fatigue, fielding family emergencies, or trying to medicate cats.  Deadlines are looming close behind.

So we’re left with two choices.  Pray that LiveJournal never comes after us.  Or take Afterhell off of LiveJournal ourselves.

We’re preparing to move the Afterhell blog.

I’ll be cross-posting this elsewhere.

Comments: 0
Written: Mar 25, 2008

I Look Into The Abyss… And It Can Bite Me

It’s a good thing that leap years come only every four years.  Judging from the month I’ve had, I wouldn’t survive it.

Oh jeez, I hear somebody say, what could possibly be so bad?  You get to surf the net, eat bonbons, and watch “Tiny Toons” all day in the comfort of your own home.

Odds are that the folks who keep up on my little rantings already know.  Well, some of the info might be new to somebody, so be patient while the dorks in the back catch up with the rest of the class.

There’ve been a few family emergencies.  My father has Alzheimer’s.  Jamie and I made a point to drive a few hundred miles to visit him over Christmas.  We said hello.  He led us around the house in his walking frame (my God, he needs a walker now) giving us candies and tangerines and words of wisdom that occasionally made their points clear.

He’s so frail now.  He’d had a bad fall months ago, and his growing dependence on others depresses him.  One minute he curses everybody for hovering over him.  In quieter moments, when they’re not around, he calls them a blessing…and cries.  And yes, his thoughts wander.  He rambles.  But he did that even at the height of his powers.

One thing that’s definitely new:  He’s like a kid, getting into mischief.  Months ago, he had an ongoing battle with a KFC near his house, badgering them about their lousy service, forcing the manager to placate him with a fistful of gift certificates.  This morning, my sister e-mailed me that he’d just eaten a whole box of tangerines and gotten himself sick.

I’m gonna lose him.  Seeing him deteriorate, seeing the difference in just six months, shook me harder than any storm.  It made an abstract certainty real.  He was a well-intentioned brute when I was a kid.  I’d always felt like Bilbo Baggins facing Smaug in his lair whenever he called me to his room.  Every fourth Saturday, he spanked me with a belt.  He once tore my shirt, balled up his fist, and tried to deck me.  When I was eighteen, he threw me out of the house because I hadn’t taken the garbage out, first thing in the morning.  But all the grudges seem pointless when he’s so fragile.  Now he’s like chipped, faded china.  I’m…gonna lose him.

Yeah, I know.  Old people go mental and die all the time.  Newsflash, it’s always different when it’s yours.  And you’re never ready.

Another case in point.  My second best friend is dying.  It’s just a cat, so who cares, right?  I mean, ten to fifteen years is a good run for a cat.  I knew that when we first took her in.  Ten years ago.

Her name is Lilith (for the mythological character, not the one on “Cheers,” so for God’s sake, world, please stop asking.)  She’s a black domestic shorthair, a classic Halloween cat.  She chose me.  I’d chosen several cats as pets over the years.  This one chose me.  I didn’t know cats ever did that.  She ran up my body, planted herself on my chest, where she did that kneading, “making biscuits” thing.

She has lymphoma, deep in her left nostril.  It’s growing well beyond it.  For a while, it was so bad that she held her head up, her dark face coated in snot, gulping down air, struggling to breathe.  We took her to a specialist who performed a rhinoscopy, taking some of the tissue out for analysis.

The preliminary results.  The preponderance of evidence.  The how fucking burned out I am, watching Lilith sleep longer and longer, knowing I could look forward to weeks of watching her fade away.

The rhinoscopy has actually helped her. I hoped it would, but didn’t expect this.  Her nose bled a little, but she could breathe.  She’s relaxed, become more energetic.  Last week, when the early results were in, I slept sitting up because Lilith wanted to sleep between my feet for the first time in weeks.  At first I couldn’t sleep at all.  I figured I should savor it while we both had the strength.  I stayed up.  Cried a few times.  Quietly, so I wouldn’t wake her or Jamie up.

I get on with my day.  I want to do something more productive than feel wounded, angry, or powerless.  Look at me.  I’m so productive.

Oh, and that e-mail from my sister.  Something else she told me:  My uncle Fred died yesterday.

My father is down to two tangerines a day.

Lilith sleeps.

I’m tired.  Haven’t been sleeping well.

Other than that, everything’s fine here, situation normal.  No, really, everything’s perfectly all right now, we’re fine, we’re all fine here now, thank you… how are you?

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Written: Feb 21, 2008