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Last Call

lastcall
Mood: Pensive
Drinking: Water

Last Call

Years can be rough on voices
can wear them down
to the tiniest sounds.
His voice
like his frame
has shrunken with age
and the weight of regret
and has grown
so small now

even hearing aids
cannot help me
find it. Only the sound
of his breathing
survives the long miles

struggling across the frozen shards
of empty Illinois cornfields,
catching on the ragged claws

of the Rockies, blowing through
the dusty Californian cities
until it finally reaches me

on the other end of the telephone.
I don’t know where to begin
so I speak of insignificant things
like forecasts and geography.
I am soft and careful, listening

for the rasp and rattle that tells me

he’s still connected. But the
Tootsie Rolls are my undoing.
I mention them to remind him
of sunny days when I was small
and his voice was as big as a canyon.
I remind myself, instead

of his endless parade of feathered fedoras

and secret cigarettes out behind the
horse barn, the one he himself
hammered with bent brown hands,
of the certainty of years’
worth of twisted candy wrappers,
the chewy chocolate sweetness
melting slowly inside sandwich baggies
stuffed into grandfatherly wool pockets,
always proffered with a whistle and

a Polident smile. I am so much taller

than he ever was, now. And
it’s my voice
that echoes back across state lines,
traveling along snowbound freeways
and forgotten shortcuts,
spilling across his bed sheets and
pooling gently around his ears. “You can

go, if you need to. You can go now,”
I whisper and the silence slips in

and he’s gone.

-Lo, in remembrance of Grandpa.

In Honor of Henry

Mood: Mixed Up
Drinking: Hot Chai

My Grandpa is dying.

His body has grown tired and gray, but I never remember him that way. I always picture him spry and whistling, pulling into our gravel driveway in his navy blue Oldsmobile, a red feather perched in his jaunty fedora.

Every day of my childhood, Grandpa was there. He always came bearing a ready joke and a baggie of Tootsie Rolls. (Even now I can’t untwist the wrappers without remember his endless sticky candy offerings.)

I know the years have passed us by, but it’s still so hard to imagine that the Grandpa Hank who built my sister and I a horse stable out of scraps of old lumber, clambering around with hammer in hand, nimble as you please, hiding a cigarette behind his back whenever us kids appeared (as if we couldn’t see the smoke winding up, wreathing him from behind)… it’s hard to equate the Grandpa of my childhood, joking and jovial, with the Grandpa of my adulthood, feeble behind his walker. And now lying so quietly in a hospital bed.

So today, in honor of Henry Witmer, I’m sharing a story my sister wrote about him last year. (She has a way with words, too.)

A True Glimpse of Grandpa
by Johanna Witmer Baldwin

Everyone wants a second chance, a chance to be redeemed, to start over. I just never thought Grandpa was one of those people. To me, Grandpa was my hero, invincible and un-aging, without fault. Or so I thought, back then when my world was so small and perfect.

More than President Reagan, Johnny Cash, or even Daisy Duke, I wanted to be like Grandpa when I was little.

After retiring from the steel mill, Grandpa began driving the 10 miles to our house every morning at about 6:30. By the time I crawled out of bed, Grandpa had already finished his cup of coffee, hammered out a few carpentry projects, and probably taken a break with his morning smoke.

Except I wasn’t supposed to know about that smoke. He diligently tried to hide it, even around Mom, who told him that she had known about the smoking for years. She even offered to buy him an ashtray.

Even so, he continued to slink behind the garage, barn or the garden to light up. I can’t remember how many times I walked up on him smoking and nearly gave him a heart attack. After regaining his composure, Grandpa would cough out the smoke from his last drag and pop a Vick’s drop into his mouth to drown his ashy breath. Then he would stand with the cigarette behind his back, in a futile attempt to look innocent while the cigarette smoke slowly curled around his ears grew into a hazy wreath behind his back.

“Oh, hey there! Did ya just now get out of bed?!?”

I played along, but spent more than one afternoon combing the gravel for his cigarette butt, so I could pretend to be a rebel smoker like Grandpa.

So why was Grandpa the secret smoker such a perfect icon in my childhood mind? Because only a few of my memories are of Grandpa pretending he never inhaled; the rest remind me of the selfless way he showed his love for us.

No one ever asked him to show up and work at our little farm, but there he was every morning, whistling a raspy tune while he invented an economical way to convert a shed into a 4-stall horse barn for my sister and me.

In addition to his carpentry skills, Grandpa was the only adult to recognize that I honestly COULD handle an entire Big Mac (minus the middle bun) and strawberry shake at McDonalds instead of a mere child’s Happy Meal.

More than that, he always knew the perfect time to offer me a Tootsie Roll to brighten my mood. Like on the days he drove me to school when my fake stomachaches had not convinced anyone that I was dying and needed constant bed rest.

Amazingly, the Tootsie Roll always healed me instantly. At every school program, Grandpa wandered in half an hour early, in order to get the best seat in the house.

In almost every corner of my childhood memories, I find Grandpa in his feathered fedora, flashing his false teeth to gross me out or standing proudly somewhere nearby.

Last summer, I flew back to my hometown to see Grandpa, whose heart was failing. Maybe all those years of hidden smoking had finally caught up with him. He had been in and out of the hospital every few months, and Dad said Grandpa “might appreciate” seeing me. In other words, Grandpa was dying.

The first night back in Illinois, my Dad sighed as he talked about my Grandpa’s health problems, “He spends all his time complaining about this ache and that pain, how he’s getting too old and might as well die. And he wonders why I don’t always want to come visit him. He forgets that he missed most of my childhood. I mean, for crying out loud! He was a horrible father! He’s never admitted all the affairs he had, or how he disowned me for years after he divorced Grandma. He said terrible things to me back then, things I don’t even want to repeat.”

He rubbed his brow in frustration, as if to erase the painful memories, “But he seems to have forgotten all of that now.”

I was still thinking of this new side of Grandpa the next day when I saw him. He appeared to have shrunk over the past six months and was so frail as he shuffled into the house with his walker, a mere shadow of his former self. But he didn’t seem like the playboy who once had abandoned his family, either.

What was Grandpa really like, and why hadn’t I seen the other side of him all the years when I scampered around in his shadow?

As I was deep in thought, Grandpa’s ashen face lit up and he interrupted my reverie, “I always think about how you used to run around, following me everywhere when you were just a tiny tyke…” A smile tiptoed across his weathered face, then cautiously crossed to mine.

At that moment, the foggy doubt about Grandpa lifted. Grandpa did remember all the hurtful years he lived as a father, and he had spent the next few decades trying to make it up to the following generation of family. I was Grandpa’s redemption. I was his second chance at fatherhood.

Sometimes I just want to go back to the way things were before, when I was little, swaying in the swing he built for me and listening to his stories of surviving through the Depression. Before I knew. Before I could read between the lines of our family history.

But maybe it’s better this way. Because now I know that all Grandpa wanted was redemption. One chance to make things right.

-Lo, who could use a Tootsie Roll or two right now.

Seeing Red

Mood: 100% Concentrated
Drinking: Iced Tea with 12 Sugars

I find it strange and slightly amusing that when I have the most going on in my life, I have the least to say about it. Could be a factor of time — more specifically, the lack thereof.

Or it could just be that I’m lazy and I prefer to write when I have absolutely nothing else to do.

What’s all the fuss about, you ask? Well, it’s been a busy pair of weeks since I last sent word to the Internet. There was the 4th of July, of course, with all the attendant banging hullabaloo. Boy and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit his family (including his 101-year-old Grandma!) in the Valley, and then we foolishly made our way into the mountains to Yosemite to hang out with my sister and her SO.

And I say “foolishly” not because of the sister hang-time, which is always too short, but because of my aversion to crowds and to other people in general, and the corresponding record-breaking number of people swarming the Yosemite Valley on that fine holiday weekend.

Nothing like hiking to a waterfall with 1200 babbling strangers.

And then there was the heat. I don’t do well in heat. That’s why I live in Fog City. Put me in the sun with the mercury rising over 91, and I’m a melty puddle of whiny incompetence. I’m absolutely worthless. LeeLoo is, too. So that’s why in the middle of the afternoon at Boy’s parent’s house, the Loon and I were laying helplessly on the living room floor, tongues hanging out, while the rest of the family went about their business like actual human beings.

You’d think I’d have a higher tolerance for such things, having grown up in 100-degrees-plus-humidity, but apparently I left my heat-endurance-ability (HEA) packed up in a box with my plaid school uniform, pennyloafers and Trapper Keepers, somewhere in my mom’s attic.

The one happy ending to the heat index…when Boy and I were driving back home into the city across the Bay Bridge, I looked over to the west to check on the fog status and nearly teared up when I saw the familiar opaque haze hanging over my neck of the woods. Fog! Bless the Inner Sunset!

But lest you think I’m a complete baby bitch, whining about hot holidays (which I am, but that’s beside the point), there have been many other contributions to the calendar to keep me on my toes lately…

I now have a much-needed volunteer agent, who’s keeping me busy with requests for publicity materials and potential reading dates and all kinds of ambitious plans.

I have continuing wrist therapy, twice a week, with the fabulous K. The end is in sight, now that I’m back on my motorcycle and squeezing the clutch with comparative ease. (Yes, back on the horse! Celebrations were had.) But I still have some bendy issues, so the therapy continues…

I went south to Mountain View this past weekend to catch the last stop on the 2006 Nine Inch Nails tour. Trent was in fine form (although honestly? I prefer him pale and pasty instead of buff and beefy.) tearing up the stage, and the ever-glamorous Peter Murphy opened the show with Bauhaus. Oh, goth glory days! Actually, Peaches opened the show, but I find her ridiculous and paid no attention until she and her crotch-high boots exited stage right.

My favorite quote of the evening came courtesy of Mr. Murphy and was instantly texted to a few choice friends — (this only works if you say it in a British accent whilst wearing a cape): “It’s exhausting being marvelous!”

Speaking of choice friends, our dear G (which stands for Genius) is flying out from Chi-town to visit us this weekend. We are extremely excited to see him and I’m busy trying to figure out which are the *best* sites to show him in SF and which are the sorta cool, but not really all that awesome things that should wait for another time. I must make sure my city makes the best impression, after all — it’s his first visit to San Francisco!

July is turning out to be a big month for visitors…I get to see my sister again in a few weeks when she and the other J drive up from LA for a short stay. They’re bringing along my nephew-hound, Yoda, and I’m eagerly anticipating all the Yoda-LeeLoo antics that shall ensue.

In less happy news, I also have a friend who is very ill and nearly died just this past weekend. Which is a situation that doesn’t really make me any busier, but does occupy a large space of my brain with the worrying.

How to keep from worrying? Stay busy… This week I’m editing cinepoem #11. Yes! Eleven. Her name is “Yin”, and she’s very sweet (and shows off a great deal of that magical fog I’m so taken with). And then we’re shooting #12 (“Die Pretty”) up in Mendocino in two weeks with the Lovely L.

Which brings me to the big news about cinepoem #10, Alter Ego, she of the multiple personalities and the infamous “death star”. Alter Ego is ready to see you now.

We shot #10 just before Memorial Day at The Hotel Utah Saloon, with the help of a few fine ladies who deserve a little mention here: My usual partners in cinematic crime, Michelle Brown and Misha Hutchings, were there. Kathy Azada was there too, minus the White Rabbit costume this time. And Angela Primavera, Katie Motta, and Amanda Henderson joined in the fun and smoked up a storm. Well, Angela didn’t smoke…she was running our second camera. But they all were smokin’ in the fabulous sense of the word.

Anyway. Alter Ego. Go. Watch. Learn.

-Lo, who does not believe wearing in short shorts.

The Season of Objects

Mood: Stuffy
Drinking: Liquids

I haven’t celebrated Christmas at “home” for five years. That’s mostly because Boy and I have been busy making a home of our own here in San Francisco. So every Christmas we do the present thing and then throw the Loo in the Jeep and drive up (or down, depending on our mood) the coast to see what we can see.

Christmas at the beach. It’s better than snow.

But this year, we’re breaking with our little tradition and heading back into snow country…all the way back to Illinois. We’re going to spend the season with my parents, assorted grandparents and friends, and my most favorite sister.

See, said sister (who is also a Californian now) has been husband-less for over a year, since right after her wedding when her brand-new-husband was shipped off to Iraq. He won’t be home until next year, so we’re all going to attempt to make up for his absence by doing the big family Christmas gathering thing.

Truth be told, I’m excited to see a little snow. Not so excited about the accompanying cold (which I got my fill of in New York a couple of weeks ago), but everything else will make up for it.

Not one to break with tradition, I’ve managed to come down with my usual stuffy nose, sore throat, and hacking cough just in time to return to the homestead. (This happens *every* time I go back to Illinois.) So I’m celebrating the season with pocket packs of Kleenex and steaming mugs of TheraFlu. ‘Tis the season, after all.

And speaking of seasons of glitter and giving, I have a little something for my Internet world. A shiny new present that will be waiting for you all on Christmas Day, not under a tree, but here on this site.

M and I just finished editing our 6th cinepoem, “Object”, late last night. So it will be up in time for Christmas, on the cinepoems page.

So after you’re done with your stockings and cheer on Sunday, come visit me here. I promise you won’t have to wear any red sweaters or take any photos with a leering “Uncle” Bob under the mistletoe.

Just sit back with your ‘nog and watch a little “Object” in action.

-Lo,who thinks sugarplums dancing in anyone’s head is just kind of weird.

Of Tsunamis and Tiny Tabascos

Mood: Extravagantly Exhausted
Drinking: Liquids

Coming off my episode of utter contentment on Christmas Eve, it’s been a wild and bumpy week. Not all of it has been the bad kind of bumpy, but when you consider that a giant tidal wave devoured thousands of lives and homes and left disease and despair in its wake, and it’s not even 2005 yet… Well, that will put a damper on anybody’s warm fuzzies.

When you have relatives in town, you tend to pay much less attention to the TV…at least my family does. So my awareness of what’s going on in the rest of the world has been lagging a bit behind, but it’s there. And, much like on 9-11, I’m feeling incredibly helpless and inadequate in the face of such phenomenal devastation. Boy and I will do what we can to help, there’s no doubt, but it’s times like these when you feel like such a fortunate and fat American. And you realize, once again, that you are just really fucking lucky. And you feel grateful and dirty, all at the same time.

So I’m going to spend some time researching where to make my disaster relief contributions…where is it most needed, where will it do the most good, etcetera. And I’ll also be searching for tiny Tabascos and miniature A-1 sauces. The explanation is this:

My sister and her shiny new husband visited the foggy city for the holiday extravaganza this week, and it was the last time in a long time that I will see my brother-in-law. He’s heading to Iraq in a couple of weeks. And it’s one of those things that there are just not enough words for. Or not the right kind of words. So I’m focusing instead on the Tabasco sauce.

See, apparently the chow sucks for soldiers. Eating the same thing day in and day out, out there in the middle of god-knows-where, and they can’t just run over to In-n-Out and get a nice fat burger anytime they feel like it. So my sister told me that they (the soldiers) like those tiny bottles of Tabasco, A-1, whatever, because they can pocket them, season their dinner, and then toss out the bottles. It’s genius. And that’s why I’m on the lookout for tiny, tiny Tabascos. Got any?

Okay, I wasn’t kidding around when I said that I was extravagantly exhausted. A week of in-laws and long drives in the California snow (Yosemite-style) and traveling with a 50-pound Boxer on your lap because she thinks she’s a teacup poodle and hearing about home-wrecking Tsunamis has left me without any wits whatsoever. So I’m going now…

-Lo, who has already calculated the distance from beach to home in case of a California tsunami. (I think 36 blocks might be far enough away.)

Where Does the Time Go?

Mood: Oh, so sleepy
Drinking: Water

It’s time for the Sunday Night Blues. That’s what me and this one guy used to call it way back when I was stupid enough to talk to guys on the phone for hours and think that meant we had some sort of connection. (long story, not worth telling). You know what I mean though…it’s that time of night when you’re like, “Shit. I have to work in the morning. I should have slept in longer. I should have taken a nap all curled up in a pile of blankets in the sun with my dog. I should have eaten more candy.” Or whatever your should-haves might be.

Slight consolation: it’s a short work week and I have plans for a movie lunch with a co-worker to go see Lemony Snicket and get our gothic children’s tale fix. (Screw you, Harry Potter.)

For the past six months, since Boy and I got all adult overnight and bought our Very Own Home, I’ve done nothing but work my hinder end to the nub every. single. weekend. There is always some new Task that must be done. Especially since the parental units are coming for Christmas (which I am inordinately excited about, but which also triggers the need for excessive cleaning and random projects and the mowing of the lawn in mid-December).

This weekend’s task: re-upholstering dining room chairs. So very glamorous and sexy. Ok. Not really. But strangely satisfying, nonetheless. (There is really so little of life that actually is glamorous and sexy, have you noticed? So disappointing when you have tulle-skirted ballgowns and no reason to wear them. I was foolish enough, at one time, to think that I would be attending some sort of fancy parties and balls and whatnot when I was All Grown Up. Wishful thinking. And I buy the tulle ballgowns anyway. Addiction to tulle, that’s my diagnosis.)

My weekend wasn’t all about dining room chairs. Some Thai food was consumed. Friends were seen. Movies were watched. Books read. Lawn mowed. (but you knew that already.) Last-minute presents were wrapped. LeeLoo got her beach time.

I am oh-so-productive. And oh-so-very sleepy. Which is probably why I am rambling on and on with no point in sight. I’ll give up now.

Lo, who can’t wait to see what exciting adventures Monday might bring. (That’s my sarcastic font, there.)

Mine Are Real!

Mood: Candied-out
Drinking: Water

We attended a memorial service for Dennis on Friday. It was sweet and sad and bizarre, all at once. Never been to a memorial service in a dog park before. I think the worst part was seeing Dennis’ dog, Nika, who was very depressed and in a week’s time had already lost a lot of weight. She’ll never have another guy like Dennis.

Neither will we.

In the midst of all the mourning, there have been holiday things to do. My parents are coming to California for Christmas, so Boy and I are all a-flutter trying to get the place ready for parental inspection. Not that they’ll white-glove it or anything. But still. There is a list, and things must be checked off! (Slightly obsessed with the list-checking, that’s me.)

The Christmas tree itself has been crossed off the list rather triumphantly. It’s all green and woodsy-smelling and fabulous-looking. And it looks perfect as seen through the window from the street. (I am so loving the new house, have I said that yet?)

When I was growing up back in Illinois, we always had a fake tree. I’m not sure if it was about tree conservation or reluctance to spend money on the real thing or what, but every year, our Christmas tree came out of a dusty box that had been hibernating in the attic all year long.

For some reason, it became the Witmer family tradition for my Dad and I to put the thing together. In the early years, that wasn’t so hard. All the branches were color-coded and I could just hand them to Dad–first the blue, then the green, then the yellow and finally red. But then the paint got all scraped off and from then on it was a guessing game. We could have made a hilarious-looking inverted tree if we wanted to.

The housecats (who had better manners than the barncats) would always make little nests for themselves among the lower branches. And some of them–the dumber ones–would eat long silver strings of tinsel off the tree. A day or so later, they’d be running around the house with Tinsel Butt. (Which is really funny and very disgusting all at the same time.)

Other Witmer family traditions: Dad did the lights, then the girls (me and Jo) would decorate with various handmade and sometimes hideous ornaments, as far up as we could reach. Mom would always top the tree with the angel at the very end. Oh, and there were real candy canes that were hung on the tree, but they never lasted long, since my Dad and I are peppermint fiends. There was the Christmas Card Door, also. Every single card and picture we received was carefully scotch taped on the living room door (which led out to the front porch and piles of snowdrifts, so it was always closed off with plastic and duct tape during the winter.)

During the years when there was snow, Mom would make snow ice cream from the tallest, freshest snowdrift. Once I learned in science class that snow particles formed around dirt, the concept of snow ice cream became instantly less delicious, but still. It’s hard to resist fluffy, cold piles of sugar.

Boy and I have made an effort to establish our own Christmas traditions since we’ve moved out to the coast. For the past 4 years, we’ve spent Christmas Day alone, just the two of us, (and last year, LeeLoo, too). We open presents in the morning and then drive down the coast until we find the perfect abandoned beach. We do some beachcombing and ocean-gazing and just generally meander about. It’s the most peaceful kind of Christmas I’ve known.

There were a whole lotta years in there where I hated/dreaded/tried to ignore the whole depressing holiday rigamarole. But now that we’ve found ways to make it our own, it’s not so bad. Especially when you can watch your pup tear the wrapping paper off a stuffed penguin while it sings an obnoxious, tinny, christmas carol. When the Ler is around, it doesn’t take much to entertain me.

-Lo, who never once played the virgin Mary in any of those Sunday School pageants.