Goddamnit

Speaking Ill of the Dead

A few years ago when Jackson was playing youth league basketball, he jammed his finger pretty badly and we ended up at the ER, and then we were referred to a hand specialist because it was a weird break. The bone at the tip of his finger had actually split, like if you took an ax to a log. There’s a name for that type of break but I Google image searched and couldn’t find an example, and now I’ve creased my brain with so many truly horrendous hand injuries and I’m not even done with my first cup of coffee.

Jackson’s break was small and it healed up well, but the hand specialist kept telling us to come back for what felt like unnecessary follow-up appointments. I began to feel like we were being milked for not only our precious time but for $50 copays. Did he need to finance his winter trip to Arugula, I wondered? (I mean Aruba, you knew that, but I left Arugula because it’s funny to watch someone’s mind crumble.)

Here comes the point! I titled this post for a reason! So this last Wednesday it was starting to rain, and everyone around here gets edgy now when a storm comes in because enough water could trigger another debris flow through the areas that burned in last December’s fires. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a video from the moment last January 9 when a couple of Highway Patrol guys realize that they need to get the fuck out of there:

I started this post feeling kind of jokey about the whole thing but now having watched that again I’m all choked up. It was so awful.

Because the place where I work is a hub for the Warming Centers, where people can come and sleep and eat and get out of the cold when it rains or the temperature drops below 40, people who need shelter tend to gather outside my office to wait for the shuttle bus. I am not supposed to let people hang out or stow their stuff or use the restroom, but I will occasionally make an exception. Wednesday a slightly addled woman showed up and I went outside to see what her deal was, and I ended up listening to a long, substance-fueled monologue about some recent not-great events in her life, including an ugly hand wound that had required stitches and antibiotics and a trip to (ah ha) the same hand surgery office that I’d taken Jackson to for his broken finger. Except now it has a memorial plaque in the waiting room with a photo of Jackson’s finger doctor, because he was swept away and died last January 9 in the mud slide, along with his daughter.

Then a cab driver got out of his car and came up and started arguing with the addled woman, accusing her of stealing $10 from him, and I wandered back inside. When I looked out again later the woman was sitting on her duffle bag and crying, and then my office mate, who is much kinder than I am, brought her out a cup of coffee and a candy cane.

A ball bounces up a Penrose staircase while a Shepard scale plays. The staircase is everlasting, and the Shepard scale creates the illusion of tones that steadily rise, but don't actually seem to get anywhere. This is a combined audio and visual illusion.

Kidneys of Steel

I keep putting off writing this post. It's a beautiful day, where I am, in a bright room with a breeze, and yet here I sit, sad for no reason. My normal coping method is to lean into it, to hunker down and find a way to enjoy the bluer moods. Don't feel like smiling? Then don't. The only problem is that I work in a public place and it's 50% of my job to be welcoming and helpful. If I were the boss of me, today I'd have sent me home.

Peewee died ten days ago, and I have to figure that's at least part of the sadness. I keep thinking I've cried all my tears when, whoops, here come some more. 

He almost made it to nine years old, which is a good, long life for an English bulldog. I read an interesting article a few years ago that talked about how bad the breeding has gotten for many English bulldogs, and as an example they used Uga, the mascot for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. There have been a string of white, male bulldogs named Uga who trot out onto the field while people cheer, and then hop back into their crates and die. At young ages, like two and three. Yay for over-bred dogs. Peewee had congestive heart failure for the last two years of his life -- not a disease bulldogs are known for, surprisingly -- and I threw thousands of pills down his throat to keep him alive and snoring in Jackson's bed at night. (If you live north of L.A. and need a good veterinary cardiologist -- and I sincerely hope you never do -- I recommend Dr. Nick Russell without reservation). With Dr. Russell's guidance, my willingness to max out a credit card, and Peewee's kidneys of steel, we gave him two extra years of life. Our regular vet said she was amazed at how well we took care of him, when most other dogs would have been long dead by that point. Most people have a $500 limit for what they'll spend to save a pet's life, I'm told. I respect your $500 limit, but we exceeded that to a laughable degree. Did we love our dog more than you loved yours? I don't know. Ours was a pain in the ass. He barked at strangers, and at people he'd known for years. He produced impenetrable walls of gas from his butt. He also had the softest ears, and the biggest, brownest eyes, and when he liked you he'd sit on your feet. And he had just as much of a spark as you or me.

Suspicious pecker.

Suspicious pecker.

Remember Cookie? She's dead, too. I stopped writing about her a long time ago, though occasionally people would e-mail and ask what had happened to her. 

Sick for eight days straight.

Sick for eight days straight.

They say there are no bad dogs, just bad owners, but you don't have to be abusive to be a bad owner, all you have to be is dumb. Cesar Milan would have wept to see how lost I was with Cookie. Me trying to tell her what to do was a joke. She'd listen to Jack all day long, but I was mildew to her; I was a mushroom.

Cookie and Alice.

And yet Cookie was a cuddler. She was the neediest, lap-sitting-est bulldog on earth, and everyone loved her. I took her to three different trainers, and they all said, What a wonderful dog! She's so sweet! She sits, she's gentle with children. Enjoy her! But she had no respect for me whatsoever. I did not deserve to control her leash, and she made sure I knew it. She was constantly nipping at my hands -- "correcting" me, I'm told -- leaving bruises but never drawing blood. I had no idea why until I read that you're never supposed to hold a puppy over your head, because they'll take that to mean they're superior to you. I don't know if it's true, but I know that I hoisted Cookie up into Jackson's bunk bed every night so she could sleep with him, and I can imagine, every night, Cookie looking down on me and thinking, Yup, I'm the Alpha Bitch. Sleep tight, Beta.

The struggle I continually lost.

The struggle I continually lost.

In the morning I'd take her down and then put on her leash so she could go out to pee and she'd nip and yank and drag me up the stairs and then I'd cry because I didn't know how to grow a spine and dominate her -- be the pack leader! -- like I guess I was supposed to. I called Marcel, the breeder we'd gotten her from, and asked him what he thought I should do. Like any good breeder, Marcel is involved in rescue work and he said he knew the perfect home for her, if I wanted to let her go. There was no judgment on his end, so I let her go. The people in her new home named her Roxy, and they had a little girl who loved her until Cookie/Roxy died of bone cancer two years later. So thanks, Universe, for sparing us that, at least. We'd already done the cancer thing with Katie anyway. Katie Potatie. I think I have a few tears left for her, too.

Tortoises smell delicious.

Tortoises smell delicious.

I might as well come clean about Peanut, while we're at it! Remember our tortoise? We had some good times.

I wish I had video of this.

I wish I had video of this.

Peanut was entertaining as hell but she must have hated us because as soon as we moved to a new house in March of 2012, she R-U-N-N O-F-T. It was, again, my fault. I took her outside to our new brick patio and said, Look at all this space you have now, Peanut! Thinking our fence was tight and secure; thinking, She can't move that fast and I'll only be gone a minute. I went inside to get her some lettuce, and when I came back she had vanished. I was frantic. I hoped she might be hiding under a hedge or something -- I thought she'd be back when she got hungry enough, but now it's been four years so maybe she's not hungry anymore.

BEFORE YOU WRITE THAT ANGRY E-MAIL: about a year after she'd disappeared I saw a post on a neighborhood message board asking if anyone had lost a tortoise. I immediately e-mailed and said, Yes! I have lost a tortoise! and asked them to send me a photo of the tortoise they'd found, and I will bet you my last bottle of Wolfgang Puck Caesar Dressing that it was Peanut. Her shell looked a little dry, but she had all the same markings, I couldn't believe it. Somehow she'd made it out of our neighborhood and ACROSS A BUSY STREET and into a new yard. But someone else had already claimed her! The lady who posted the "lost tortoise" announcement apologized to me, but I guess the other people said Peanut was theirs so she let them have her. I forget what they called her, something fancy. Maybe she has a little velvet bed now, and her own princess phone. I almost mounted a protest to get her back, but I let Peanut go, not wanting to break someone else's heart.

IMG_2825.jpg

So now we have this little bit.

Jackson named her Cassidy, but we call her Cassie. She's teeny and she sleeps with him every night.

She's indoor-only -- I will not have her carried off by coyotes, thank you very much -- and she likes everybody.

I think we really lucked out this time. I mean, she's going to live forever, right? 

Forkhead

I just discovered that I have no healthcare coverage, and that I have been completely vulnerable re: healthcare coverage since May 1 thanks to Covered California. They're a badly programmed automated nightmare, if you haven't heard, which may be worse than a bureaucratic wasp's nest of red tape because a badly programmed automated nightmare is just a runaway train of indifference, whereas a bureaucratic wasp's nest of red tape can at least be argued with. But you can't even get an automated nightmare on the phone. Covered California makes me grateful for the wonderful people of the Internal Revenue Service. Think about that for a minute

My husband is covered, thank God, and I think my son is, too, I won't know until I make some phone calls in the morning, fully expecting never to get a human being on the other end of the line. I am honestly too upset to write right now, but I've promised myself I'd do this no matter how I felt, so here we are. Not very satisfying for you to read, I know. If I were to draw a cartoon of myself right at this moment it would be of a woman jabbing herself in the forehead with a fork.

Here's a photo I took on a walk through Ellwood a few weeks back. That bird doesn't have any health insurance, either. Take your vitamins, bird! Stay hydrated! 

The State of My 51-year-old Body As Witnessed By My 14-year-old Son

The Hair

Me: "I am so tired of looking this way. Maybe I should try to grow my hair again."

Jackson: "Your hair looks good short."

Me: "Really? Thank you."

 

The Face

I bend down to kiss him goodnight; he bites my cheek and won't let go.

Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson, if you draw blood I will kill you."

He begins sucking on my cheek like a moray eel.

Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson! I cannot go to work tomorrow with a hickey on my face!"

He bites harder, then lets go and looks at me.

Jackson: "Oh my God, there's a crease!"

Me: "Yeah, I'm old, my skin doesn't just bounce back to its normal shape if you do shit like that."

Jackson: *shrieks*

Me: "WHO'S THE MONSTER NOW?"

 

Arms in a Sleeveless Shirt

Jackson: "Stick out your arms."

I stick out my arms.

Jackson: "Now wiggle them."

Dies laughing at the way my upper arms jiggle.

Me: "Goddamnit, Jackson."

 

Derrière

Jackson: "Mom, come into my room, I need to show you something."

Watches me climb awkwardly out of bed in a nightdress, gives my ass a horrified look.

Me: "I saw that look."

Jackson: "What?! I didn't say anything!"

 

Knees

"Your knees look like butts."

 

Legs

Looks at me wearing yoga shorts.

Jackson: "Your legs look . . ."

Me: "It's called cellulite and it's totally normal."

Jackson: (silence)

Me: "Trust me, I will never leave this house wearing yoga shorts."

Jackson: (politely) "I like your long yoga shorts* better."

 

*I'm pretty sure "long yoga shorts" are actually yoga pants

 

Feet

Me (walking into his room): "Jackson, I need you to take out the --"

Jackson (yells at my house slippers): "WHAT ARE THOSE?"





And if you go camping in drag it's called Vamping

Here is the joke I made up last night: Q: What's it called when you get your period while you're camping?

A: Cramping!

One thing that Jack loves above all things is camping, and one thing I fear above all others is camping, and so up until last week we have spent every moment of our lives as a couple not-camping. Jack would take Jackson up to camp in Big Sur every summer and try to patch the sad camping-hole in his soul while I'd stay at home and guard our stuff, reveling in clean linens and locked doors and the sterile, bug-free existence that modern civilization provides.

I have been camping three times in my life, all of them terrible, sleepless affairs on lumpy ground, soaked with rain, or intruded upon by bears. I am at two with nature, as the saying goes, and despite Jack's assurances that he would provide me with a four-star campsite -- a veritable Mandalay Bay of roughing it -- one thing I knew he wouldn't be able to control was me getting carsick on the way to the Nature. Nature has some twisty roads into it, for some reason. Teddy Roosevelt and his horse both had something to prove, no doubt. But this summer I decided that maybe if I loved my husband I ought to give him this one thing, this camping thing, so here is everything I did/you can do to successfully avoid nausea on the road to Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. I offer this list for posterity and nothing more, for I am not some asshole blogger being paid to pretend she knows more than you about anything. If I were I would have titled this post, "Ten Ways To Avoid Carsickness This Summer!" and been paid $500 for it. I could still use the $500, so if you find this post useful, please PayPal a lot of money to me.

1. You have to want to not get sick. Some people have inner ear problems, or they're undergoing chemo, or God knows what's wrong, and I'm deeply sorry if that's you, for that sucks. However, other people (and this used to be me) unconsciously get sick for the attention, or to get out of doing things out in the world, or they just assume that's the way they are. "I get carsick." Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don't have to. Do you want to try?

2. Do not hit the road hungover. The last time we drove to Big Sur I had a wee bit of wine the night before, which led to insomnia and dehydration, all of which ensured that I wanted to barf all the way up Highway 1 the next day.

3. Hydration. So simple. You have a bottle of water? Drink it. Drink two. If someone complains that they don't want to stop for you to pee, say to them, "Would you rather stop to have me barf?" If they still complain, roll down your window and barf all over the side of their car. That will show them how serious you are.

4. Have a nice, fatty meal. I had eggs with buttered toast before we hit the road. It doesn't have to be a huge meal, if that sort of thing makes you nervous, if you think, "What if this doesn't work? It will just be more for me to barf." If you're afraid of eating too much on a nervous stomach, I don't know what to tell you apart from what I told myself: "You have to get something down, protein and fat. Figure it out."

 5. Anti-emetics are our friends. In Morro Bay I bought some off-brand, non-drowsy, pseudo Dramamine from an angry, sarcastic young woman at the grocery store. I'm not a big fan of too many OTC drugs, but it was $2.99, and I'm sorry she hates her life or whatever, but I took half a dose and immediately felt like Wonder Woman.

6. There are natural quease-easers, too. As a back-up I also had a bottle of herbs from the acupuncturist, they're called Curing Pills, you can get them in Asian markets, and I have never had a digestive issue that hasn't vanished within ten minutes of taking them. AND I had a box of hard-core ginger candy with me, and every half hour I'd eat one because ginger is a digestive stimulant (as opposed to peppermint, which is a digestive coolant, but which works well against nausea, too, as long as it's real peppermint, not just peppermint flavoring). I am also thinking of getting a couple of magical anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands for next time -- clang! clang! Wonder Woman!

7. Do you want to drive? Some people feel better when they're driving, but I let Jack do it because it was his truck, and his patience and nerves of steel were what was needed for Highway 1, whereas if I were behind the wheel no doubt I'd be too absorbed in prayer not to drive us off a cliff.

8. Pat yourself on the back when you get there, you did not want to barf even once!

9. Except then your period came on like gangbusters. I'm sorry, I have no advice, that part of your body is totally out of my control. Would you like to hear about the convenience of Diva Cups? No?

10. Ha ha, unreliable narrator. Guess what? Half of this post is a lie because once we got to Big Sur, Jack had booked us into a cabin just in case I changed my mind about this whole outdoors thing and crawled into the bed of his truck to die. So at the end of a long day of hanging around the campsite with friends eating weenies, going for bicycle rides, waving at deer and turkeys, taunting squirrels with Doritos, drinking beer, and soaking up the glorious Parkitecture, we would drive up the hill and sleep in not-tents. But now that I seem more amenable to the not-indoors, we're going to try camping a little closer to home before the summer's over, and Jack has already started his grocery list. And I still managed to write what sounds like a sponsored post for a group of products that paid me no money to endorse them, in a way that still makes me sound like some asshole blogger who probably knows less than you do about not throwing up. You're an expert at not-barfing, aren't you?

Goddamnit, sometimes you just have to barf. It's okay, you'll feel better.

Highway 1

An un-Photoshopped photo of California Highway 1 on July 22, 2014.

And if you go camping in the rain it's called Damping.

And if you go camping with Lionel Hampton accompanying you on vibes it's called Hamping.

And if you go camping in your pajamas it's called Jamping.

And if you read a book in your tent all night it's called Lamping.

And if you go with a baby it's called Pamping.

 

Also, there are so many elephant seals just laying around on the beach on the north side of Hearst Castle, above the zebra herd (California is a crazy place, if you haven't heard). After watching them do nothing for awhile I said to Jack, "If you're a stressed-out executive in this life, in your next life you get to be one of those."

Elephant Seals Outside of Cambria, California from Eden M. Kennedy on Vimeo.

That dude was the ambitious one.

Eric

Twelve years ago I was living in Brooklyn with Eric and Joe. They were ex-lovers. When Eric was getting evicted from his place, Joe and I let him take the extra room in our ground-floor brownstone apartment. It was supposed to be temporary until our other roommate came back from New Zealand, but Joe and I were both so smitten with Eric that when our other roommate came back we told her Eric was staying and she'd have to find some other place to live. We loved Eric for a hundred reasons. He was tall with dark, chin-length, blunt-cut Sting hair. He had a rack full of sturdy Buffalo China diner ware. He cooked lavish dinners for attractive friends. He always did the dishes, no matter who made the mess. He hung art for a living. He traveled to Italy to hang the Venice Biennale and came back with stories about Peggy Guggenheim and about how nothing was better than having sex with a man who was whispering Italian in your ear. He anchored our Christmas tree to the floor so well that we practically had to cut it down to get it out of the living room. He unclogged the shower drain with real tools.

When Eric told me he was HIV-positive, Joe was surprised that I didn't move out. It didn't occur to me. Eric was healthy otherwise, and he was the best roommate I'd ever had, so what was the problem?

The problem was that Eric decided to go on a macrobiotic diet to cleanse his system and he lost so much weight you could see his skull under his skin. He joined a group called The Waters of Life that advocated drinking your own urine to boost the immune system, so he had big jars of his own pee sitting on a shelf in his room. He got so weak that I finally had to drive him in to Beth Israel hospital, where he stayed for seven days. When he asked his mom if he could then come recuperate at home, she said not if you're drinking pee. So he came back to Brooklyn with us.

Exactly twelve years ago today I was in our kitchen in Brooklyn making myself a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich to take to work. Eric shuffled in -- he was twenty-eight years old and he could barely walk. I tried to laugh off the fact that I was going to eat a chocolate sandwich -- embarrassing, when he was living on miso paste and seaweed. He gave me two-fifths of a smile and started rummaging around in the silverware drawer. Joe was still asleep. I headed for the subway.

I went to the movies after work, and when I got back to our apartment the door was open, all the lights were on, and a cop was standing on the stoop. Joe came running down the hall, put his hands on my shoulders, and told me Eric had killed himself. I burst into tears, and was secretly glad that I could cry, instead of just standing there blankly and saying, "What?" In the kitchen were three of our friends, all gay men, all wearing white, sitting around the table. Steve said, "We were just talking about how we all woke up this morning and just felt like wearing white." I had put on black that day. If you put it in a novel everyone would think you were trying too hard.

Joe had been looking in on Eric from time to time during the day, thinking he was just napping, but around six o'clock he tried to give him a little shake to wake him up and Eric was stone cold. Joe screamed. There was a huge blood stain on the futon underneath him. Eric had taken a knife from the silverware drawer, wrapped himself in a white sheet, lay down, and stabbed himself twice in the chest.

We sat on the stoop until nearly two in the morning before the coroner's van came to pick up Eric; the cop stayed in the living room, respectfully declining offers of iced tea. The driver of the body pick-up van, a black man in a white shirt, explained to us that they had priorities about picking up bodies. "You get the ones in public places first." I forget what came second; private homes were third, which is why we waited so long. It was a nice night, though, and I think everyone was glad for a reason to stay together and talk.

There are a million more things I could describe, from the way I cried when I met Eric's brother, who looked just like him, to the memorial service in Prospect Park where Steve poured all of Eric's pee out into the grass, to me going back to my parents' house wearing a "Men: Use Condoms or Beat It" button and being dumbfounded when, after telling my righteous, religious brother that Eric had died, he said, "Good."

The other day I went to a gallery opening wearing a pair of Eric's shoes. They're the most comfortable shoes I own, just beat-up black oxfords, but they're so well made that the shoe repair guys always compliment me on them. At the gallery opening a nice gay man said, "I like your Annie Hall shoes." I thought about saying, "Oh, they're my dead roommate Eric's shoes." I've done that once or twice, I'm sorry to say. Instead I just said, "Thank you," and I thought about Eric again, how he was learning to speak Italian, how we wouldn't let his mother take his Buffalo China away, and how I never mind doing the dishes anymore, no matter who made the mess.