Saturday, December 11, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Grandparents: A Remembrance and Elegy

My grandfather died fourteen years ago, my grandmother died three days ago, and thus comes to an end the long love affair that my grandparents had for some 54+ years. You'd never know it was a love affair; they were of that generation that grew to maturity in the midst of the Depression, and reflected those values of uncomplaining stoicism and hard work that are so rare in these modern times. But it was a love affair nonetheless, and the more I examine and think about their relationship, the more I come to view it as a model for what Love is all about.

* * * *

As a little boy, it was always an adventure when we would go to visit my grandparents. We'd pack the car up, dump me and my sister into the back seat of those enormous '70s cars, and head out up to Warwick. It's about a twenty-minute drive, but to our little bodies packed with youthful energy, it might as well have been twenty hours. We'd fight and scream and punch and make driving a scary mess for Dad, and Mom would try and devise games to keep us otherwise occupied and preserve their sanity.

But eventually we'd start seeing landmarks and know we were almost there. "Al-most home to Na-na's house," they'd chant in sing-song. And we'd pull onto Hillard Ave. and I'd stand up on the seat with my hand on the door handle.

And as soon as the car stopped I'd be out like a shot! Around the garage and into the backyard and leaping onto the swingset that my grandfather had built out of heavy metal piping and heavy chains supporting a heavy oak plank for the seat. The thing was a death trap in the best tradition of '70s-style toys, but it was a different time then, when people played with lawn jarts and let their kids roam the neighborhood from dawn to dusk with nary a thought of the ten million things that hurt kids nowadays.

But I loved that heavy old swingset, because all that weight let you get an enormous arc going -- little legs pumping and pumping; before you knew it your toes were just scraping those puffy white clouds high high up in the bluest sky. And just as you couldn't get any higher without wrapping completely around the cross beam, you let go the swing at the apex of the arc and shoot like a cannon ball out into space, free falling like superman until you crashed into the ground on both feet, absorbing an impact that would shatter your ankles in your now-middle-aged body. And you ran back to do it all over again, again and again, reveling in the feel of flying and freedom.

But eventually your Grandmother would call to you from the open window, "Gregory! Come in right now and have some cookies!" And you knew it was a ruse to get you inside, but you suddenly realized you were starving and maybe it wouldn't be so bad to go inside if there were cookies involved, so again like a shot you're off the swing and racing inside.

And these are your first clear memories of your grandmother, she the gatekeeper of all the delicious treats. The kitchen was her domain, all spotlessly white linoleum and formica, and a clankety old red metal folding step stool that allowed you access to the countertops and upper cabinets if you were willing to risk standing tippy-toe on the top step -- and you were willing.

For up there was the holy grail -- the clear glass cookie jar filled chock to bursting with cookies; a different kind every visit. But your favorite was the iced oatmeal with raisin, and they were there today! You grab a handful and start munching, and patiently suffer through Nana's kisses -- you're too young, unfortunately, to understand the unconditional love being showered on you, you just take it as your due and move on to the next part of the adventure...

...which is the small den in the back of the house where Gramp is. It's Grampa's room, there's no doubt -- he's sitting in his comfy chair, and he's got the ball game on the old AM radio while leisurely doing the crosswords. He's got a bowl of peanuts on the end-table, and he contentedly munches whilst occasionally hurling good-natured insults at his beloved Red Sox, like "Come on ya bums!"

And I sit for a while, and help Gramp with the Crossword, and munch a few peanuts myself along with the cookies, and listen to Fisk and Yaz and Burleson and Petrocelli as they once again lose by the skin of their teeth. But you're a little kid, and you've got far too much energy to sit around too long, so once again you're off to something else -- and you won't realize it for many many years to come, but those brief times with your Grampa in that little den listening to the Sox and eating peanuts and doing crosswords and just being with him, will be some of the most long-lasting and happy memories of your childhood, and you hope that Gramp knew it at the time and felt the same.

But for now you're off, and headed down to the finished basement. You're scared by the darkness at the bottom of the stairwell, so you make sure the light is on first before you descend the stairs. But once you're down it's like your own private wonderland. You first stop off in the laundry room where the old white Kelvinator sits, and you grab a juice container from within and sip contentedly. There's the TV room too, with the giant old black and white television mounted in a huge slab of furniture, and although the picture is grainy and faded by today's standards, it suits you just fine as you lay on your stomach on the giant braided rug and watch Davey and Goliath or some Sunday morning cartoons if you're lucky to find some.

But eventually you make your way back to the Holy Grail of the house: Grampa's workroom. At the time you don't know that Gramp was a carpenter, you just know that the room is filled with every manner of tool under the sun -- tools whose names you know, like hammers and chisels and saws; and tools whose names you don't know, and those outnumber the others by ten to one. You wander from cubby to cubby, running your hands over the strange shapes and wondering for what strange purpose they could be put to. It's a wonderland as much for the scent of it -- the pungent aroma of lubricating oils, and old sawdust, and the cool damp of basements.

And these are the memories of your grandparents and childhood, of adventure and juice and cookies and peanuts and baseball and people who had the time and inclination to cater to your every childhood whim.

* * * *

My grandparents were never very demonstrative to each other, at least that I could see. They were rocks that were always there for me, and I never gave much thought to the nature of their relationship. They were together obviously, and loved each other, but it was not in the manner of Harlequin romances or Hollywood rom coms.

Time passed as it always must, and my grandfather took ill, and ended up in the hospital, suffering a series of small seizures that left him in a coma-like state and unresponsive. He was not expected to last much longer, and the hospital made him as comfortable as possible, with regular doses of morphine so that he would feel no pain.

On one of my last visits to the hospital my Mom said that I should go in and say my goodbyes, and as I approached the room I saw that my grandmother was in there with him. She was sitting on the side of the bed, leaning over him, crying gently, and she was saying, "It's OK Tommy, you can go. It's alright, you don't have to fight anymore."

I silently backed out of the room and left them to their private moment, and have never mentioned that scene until now, fourteen years later. But I have often thought of that moment over the years, both as the first true glimpse of my grandparents' love for each other, and also for what love is all about. For my grandmother dearly loved my grandfather, had been with him for almost sixty years, and was making that ultimate sacrifice in letting him go despite how bereft and alone it would leave her.

Love is many things, and they have been enumerated over the years, but I think that Love is mainly that condition when another person's welfare is more important to you than your own. And letting a loved one go despite the enormity of your need for them is maybe one of the hardest and truest things that a person can do in their life.

* * * *

My grandmother had been poorly for the last couple of years, suffering several falls that broke bones and imposed a toll on her body and mind that eventually she would not recover from.

Last weekend she took a fall and fractured her pelvis. She was in severe pain and was taken to the hospital, and given morphine for the pain. No heroic measures were taken; she was 92, and it seemed better to make that extremely hard sacrifice and let her go rather than drag her life on beyond the point where there was any sort of quality left. And in some fashion she herself or her body decided that there was no more going forward. She no longer had that fighting spirit that kept her alive despite loss and physical deterioration. She refused food and water and, if not giving up, then decided to take that ride into the great unknown that eventually we all must take.

I went to visit her that Sunday, and my mom woke her up, saying "Mom, Greg's here...". I stood over her, and her eyes briefly focused on me, and her face lit up in a great big smile. She whispered, "Gregory...", and I smiled at her. I said, "You look tired Nana," and she got an understanding look on her face and she whispered back, "I am tired...". And I said to her, "Well you just go back to sleep and get some rest", but what I was really saying to her in my mind was, 'You go ahead Nana, it's OK. You don't need to fight anymore'.

And she went to sleep and I never saw her alive again.

I'd love to believe that they're together again, somewhere, in some fashion -- that Love like that doesn't end, but simply goes on in some different form. If anyone deserves it, they do.

And if you don't think tears are streaming down my face as I write this, then you're completely wrong. I miss them both terribly.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Be Yourself: Petey Greene and the Art of Eating Watermelon

Petey Greene, in the video clip that has become an internet sensation, dispenses some sage advice on just being yourself. The message is somewhat disguised by the humorous delivery, the exaggerated poor black southern vernacular -- but Petey was no fool, and could tailor his speech to his target audience, the largely poor black neighborhoods of his native Washington, D.C. And furthermore, Petey was simply taking his own advice, by being true to who he was: a humorous prophet, a man of the people, trying to effect some change, be it large or small, in his community.

The video clip is a 5-minute paean to the joy and pleasure of eating a watermelon, sweet like honey and ripe from the vine. But Petey quickly becomes agitated and incensed at what he perceives as improper attitudes towards melon eating.

Petey makes the argument that the only proper way to eat a melon is to simply cut a hunk away from the hull, pick it up in your hands, and plunge your face into it. Sure, lay some newspaper down to protect the furniture, have a towel nearby to clean yourself with, but don't fancify the act of eating a melon. Don't put on airs when you're about to partake in God's great bounty. Eating a melon is an elemental act, it's a way of communing with Nature, and there's no need to sully that communing by putting man-made barriers between you and its goodness.

His first point is how mad he gets when he sees people take a perfectly good watermelon, cut the insides out of it, mix it with other fruits, and then put the resulting mix back into the melon's hull. Some of them even put liquor in it! Petey is not a fan of the fruit cocktail.

His second point is that it is not necessary to drown a watermelon in salt. Just a twang of salt is sufficient to bring out the natural accent and flavour of that sweet flesh.

I think, though, that Petey's art of watermelon eating can be sufficiently seen as a metaphor for a proper approach to living life in this degenerate age.

For one should truly just be yourself. There's no need to jump on the bandwagon of popular sentiment. There's no need to slavishly follow prevailing trends in haute couture. There's no need to dilute the simple pleasures in life with pretentious manipulation.

If you're one of those rare few people that is an individual, that is different, that marches to your own tune, that has some sense of originality and is not one of the faceless sheep in the herd, then embrace that quality and be yourself. As Heinlein put it, it is that creative 1/10th of 1 percent that drives a culture, and we'd all be poorer without the likes of a man like Petey Greene.

"I'll tell it to the hot,
I'll tell it to the cold,
I'll tell it the young,
I'll tell it to the old.
I don't want no laughin',
I don't want no cryin',
And most of all,
No signifyin'."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Emetic Sage Credo

- I believe in the peace of solitude and wide open spaces.

- I believe in roads with no speed limits.

- I believe that the wearing of seat belts and motorcycle helmets is a matter of personal choice.

- I believe in the objectification of women, without abrogating their rights.

- I believe that women are incomprehensibly both the most gloriously beautiful creatures as well as the most coldly cruel.

- I believe that I cannot trust a man who smiles too loud and often, whose hair does not move in the breeze, whose teeth are too polished, and whose fingernails are too clean.

- I believe in the expansion of consciousness through experimentation with drugs; ergo, all drugs should be legal.

- I believe that the buying, and selling, of sexual favours is not a criminal activity.

- I believe that no man, or government, has the right to tell me what is best for me.

- I believe that a house lot without trees is a sterile box broiling in the sun -- your brain along with it.

- I believe that housing complexes, traffic jams, supermarket checkouts, television commercials, and middle management will wither the soul.

- I believe that, relatively speaking, there have been very few individuals throughout history; conformity is a lot easier than being unique.

- I believe that organized religion has been, and still is, the single greatest limiter to the intellectual growth of Mankind as a species.

- I believe that laziness, not necessity, has been the single greatest mother of invention.

- I believe that the scientific method will eventually unlock all that is possible to know.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Being Jaded and the Gentle Swell of Bosoms

I last wrote about Irish pubs, nosh and pints, hags and Hag-O-Meters, and the Myth of Guinness a little over a year ago, back in April of 2007.

Well, I went out the other night to Ri Ra in lovely downtown Providence with those same mates, Viszlat and Nobby Burton, for some more nosh and a few more pints -- me: Fish and Chips and lager; Viszlat: an Irish Breakfast and Guinness; and Nobby Burton: Bangers and Mash and ale.

The nosh and pints were, of course, delicious, but be damned when the waitress would come by if she wasn't wearing one of those button-down Oxford shirts. And be damned if her bosom's gentle swell didn't force the shirt to open up a little viewing portal between two of the buttons.

Now, a Gentleman, of course, would avert his gaze so as to not visually molest the young lady; I, however, am no gentleman, so let my eyes feast to their heart's content, to malapropriate a purple metaphor. The opening in the waitress' blouse was no more than two or three inches in diametre, but through it I could see the gentle swell of her bosom, contained only by a semi-transparent demi-bra. Again, I briefly feasted on the sight, and when she moved off I began to reflect as is my wont.

Why is the sight of partially, or barely, revealed flesh so intoxicating? Yes, it's the mystery, but why is the mystery so important to the equation? Is it just our curious monkey-brains at work; that something not yet known must be made known?

For once you do, in fact, know -- that is, once you've seen that particular bosom in all its naked glory, the appeal eventually wanes. Once you've seen that person walking around the house naked, like a National Geographic African tribeswoman retrospective; once you've watched that person blow their mucous into shredded kleenex and some gets on their clothes;
once you've seen that person grunting on the toilet; once you've seen that person in all their biologically imperfect glory, the appeal eventually wanes. And you sort of settle into that next level of couplehood whereby romance and desire is substituted for comfort and stability and the satiation of reflexive horniness. Passion and sexual interest become "sparks" that must be worked at to achieve.

Is it so easy, and so inevitable then, that one becomes jaded? I've been around a while. By the time I was twenty-five, I'd fornicated in just about every position imaginable. I've seen just about every deviant fetish the Internet can throw at me. Does it have to come to this in the end, then, that the only way you can get off is to watch two Japanese girls shit into a cup and then vomit on themsleves?

Why does the human mind operate this way? Is it a biological imperative that maximizes the safety of progeny? An initial phase of torrid sexual interest that results in children, and then a waning of that interest that transmutes into feelings of safety and pair-bonding that provides a stable nest for those children? I suspect we're all a lot more complicated than any simple analysis could elucidate.

And yet, somehow, despite the most jaded personality, all it takes is that little glimpse of unseen and forbidden flesh to set off those little chemical transmitters all over again. Am I just a plaything of my gentic code, or do I have some say in the matter?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ode To Angie

O Angie,
you are like an angel
named Angelica,
angelic in your ethereal beauty,
come down from Heaven
to taunt me with your
argentine presence.

It is ever thus the nature of things
that beauty likens,
with charismatic precision,
to beauty;
and those that are not beautiful
are forever denied its
soothing caress.

And so I,
in the middle of my years,
am forced to confront reality
as it was so gleefully put:
"You don't have a chance in Hell --
she's way out of your league;
the reason being:
some unappetizing
combination of male pattern baldness,
and ambitions deferred,
and the overwhelming tendency
of your body to avoirdupoisity."

And yet,
when you on a bet,
made my testicles jiggle,
I could not help but wonder if
for one dollar more,
you wouldn't revisit
my package and tickle --
for one dollar more --
yes, again tickle my balls,
for one dollar more.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Greg D'Agostino Interviews Greg D'Agostino about Greg D'Agostino

Greg D'Agostino: First of all, Mr. D'Agostino, I just wanted to thank you for doing this interview. I know you're a busy man, and the last thing you probably want to be doing is to sit and answer questions about yourself.

greg d'agostino: Not at all, it's my pleasure.

GD: Well, either way, you're well come. Now, where to begin?

gd: Why not at the beginning?

GD: Yes, well, why not? as you say. Unfortunately, I'm afraid, we only have a scant few minutes in which to chat, leaving precious little time in which to properly delve into your full and, no doubt, fascinating life. Why don't we start, instead, with some of the criticism that's been levied at you of late?

gd: Well, no man is enamoured of critical examination, e'en at the best of times, but I suppose it would be an opportunity to address some of the more outlandish stories that have been circulating.

GD: Quite right. Well, Sir, how do you address the accusation that your writings and soliloquies are largely self-congratulatory, monuments to an overly large sense of egotism that is rarely in sync with a more accurate portrayal of reality? That is to say, any objective examination of your works inevitably shows an unhealthy tropism with your very own self; a tendency to obfuscate and dance 'round the point by using five dollar words and cheap philosophy disguised as dedicated scholarship; pathetic showmanship and bravura masking deep-seated insecurity and fantastical wish-fulfillment...

gd: Mm hhmm, excuse me, Sir, I believe I've grasped the point you're trying to make -- and no doubt you yourself could benefit from turning that high-powered lens of critique back on your own person.

GD: Ah, yes, well... Apologies, I may have gotten a bit carried away.

gd: Yes, well, be that as it may, I believe the main impetus behind these critiques of myself lie in quite banal reasoning. You see, I believe that at a most basic level, people are quite simply jealous of me.

GD: You don't say?

gd: Oh, indeed, I do, Sir. You see, I hate to say it, but most people live lives of common mediocrity and quiet desperation. They rarely think for themselves, much preferring to suckle at the glass teat of their television screen the stories that others make up for them. Any philosophy of life that they espouse comes either from the ranks of Oprah's latest book recommendations, or the ramblings of some demented paedophile priesthood which teaches that all will be forgiven if one tithes enough cash and kills any heretics in sight.

GD: And you say this engenders feelings of jealousy in the populace?

gd: How could it not? Whilst this proletariat may be masters of deluding themselves, nevertheless there lies deep in the fatty cockles of their hearts and deep in the vasty layers of their collective unconcious, a glimmer of awareness that they in fact do not and cannot measure up to someone such as myself.

GD: A weighty, and might I say, unprovable, assertion?

gd: And might I say, in rejoinder, "res ipsa loquitor"?

GD: And might I then respond, to which ipsa are you referring? For in order to prove your assertion, you must first demonstrate that the affected person knows you, and knows of your learning and erudition, and your deeds, and your classic good looks and swarthy charm, and that there is then some demonstrable response that clearly shows jealousy. It is nigh impossible to know what lurks unseen in the mind of Man, and for someone to make assertions such as you yourself do might indicate what is commonly referred to in the business as delusions of grandeur.

gd: Sir, I must take exception to both your thesis and your tone...

GD: May I point out, good Sir, that not only are you being interviewed by yourself, but you are in fact writing the self-same interview I just mentioned.

gd: Preposterous!

GD: The tile of this piece is Greg D'Agostino Interviews Greg D'Agostino about Greg D'Agostino, but it should more accurately be entitled Greg D'Agostino Writes an Interview about
Greg D'Agostino Interviewing Greg D'Agostino about Greg D'Agostino.

gd: That's quite a mouthful.

GD: Indeed.