Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

IMG_7617My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.

Dad passed away the morning of  Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away.  Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.

Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.

I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.

God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.

It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.

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I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.

Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:

“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”

And it does…

A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr. 

IMG_2403When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.

I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.

My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.

With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.

My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.

Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.

My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.

Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.

As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.

We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.

**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view. 

***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:

Alzheimer’s Los Angeles: https://www.alzheimersla.org

Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/

Hilarity for Charity: https://hilarityforcharity.org/

“50”

“50”

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age. – Victor Hugo

Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. – Coco Chanel

Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed. – Charles M. Schulz

“Youth has many glories, but judgment is not one of them and no amount of electronic amplification can turn a belch into an aria.” — Alan Jay Lerner, “The Street Where I Live”

Age ain’t nothing but a number – Aaliyah

Todo lo he hecho a sabiendas y no me arrepiento de nada. Ni de lo bueno ni de lo mano ni de los momentos felices ni de las tristezas. Al final, tengo el alma llena de paz y de tranquilidad.  — Chavela Vargas

Holy fu*k! I’m 50! – Everyone else

I turned 50 today. I figure all that’s left for me now is getting an AARP membership and let those discounts begin! Hahaha. Nah. That’s not how I started my countdown to turning 50 earlier this week. It began by my pondering how I would look with the new Chanel Gabrielle bag in black lambskin. I mean, if it works for Pharrell Williams, who is an elder fashionista statesman of 44, it should look amazing on me!

 

Masculine. Feminine. It doesn’t matter anymore to me. I am finally settling into loving me as I am today after years of thinking happiness could only be found in constant reinvention or letting perception dictate who I was as a man. Capes. Open-toed shoes. Painted toenails. And that’s just cosmetics, an expression of my evolving style. It’s on the inside where I am discovering where real beauty lies and I think I can safely say “I am beautiful” now. Maybe not at the top of my lungs, but I can say it, dammit.

Helen says this classic ad for the fragrance named Charlie, starring that golden blonde Shelley Hack and New York cafe society crooner Bobby Short, summed up my 40s. I’d have to concur. It was a decade filled with high-end glamor and high street drama. As I venture into the next 10 years, I think I’m gonna favor a life like a Chavela Vargas song.

I think about where I was 10 years ago. I was preparing for my 40th birthday party in my patio, complete with taco cart, a wide assortment of boozy drinks and a lot of fun people, family, friends, co-workers. I’d reached a personal peak. I was vice president of a content agency. I had a boyfriend that I loved so much. My duplex apartment was the first dwelling of mine to feel like home. The night of the party was soupy warm and full of expectations for the decade ahead. My worlds were colliding again, but I felt confident that it would be a night to remember. And it was.

That was 2007.

It is 2017. The company I worked for at that time went bankrupt, leading its charismatic owners to an acrimonious and shocking divorce. Most of that crew went their separate ways, starting families, moving abroad or across the country. I love that they are all living exciting new lives today.

I broke up – twice — with my musician BF. In 2010, we stayed apart for good. While communication between us is now sporadic, it is still better than it was during the volatile early years of our split. However, I have yet to be able to call anyone a partner since, much less a steady date.

My duplex remains my chosen sanctuary, complete with pictures on the wall and other examples of a life less ordinary. The occasional screech of wild parrots still makes me smile as they break through the tree-lined quiet that makes this stretch of South Pasadena wonderful.

My family remains a unified front, even though some of us are starting to rebel as we finally make awkward attempts to curate lives on our own. Dad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s has run its inevitable course. While he is still very much with us, the realities of his age (92) and the illness have shrunk his capacity to stay in the moment. His dependency on my mom and sister is at a critical mass and I wonder how much more they can endure. Now I am starting to think about what will THEY need once he longer requires their selfless care.

I am three years in with the most extraordinary – and award-winning – agency. Career remains at a peak and I am surrounded by a constant source of creativity and inspiration. Yes, my political incorrectness does get me into trouble from time to time. However, is altering my unique voice a good thing or is it a means of being oppressed by those who can’t dominate me? Either way, the struggle keeps me alive and bristling with an energy I still possess, no matter how hard I try to obfuscate it.

But the journey since 40 has not been easy and I worked hard at making it unnecessarily complicated, which may be my biggest achievement today. It can’t be explained away through depression, family loss and a voracious need to be liked anymore, although I continue a mighty battle with them all. What I discovered in the last decade is that I am my own worst enemy and we have reached a moment of “high noon.”

I gave turning 50 a lot of thought and my taking this milestone to Mexico City was the answer. I wanted to step away from all that has given me pause these last few years. I wanted not to worry about my weight, my lack of romantic pursuits, my stagnating friendships, the visits to the nutritionist, the shrink, the anti-depressants, the meds for diabetes and high blood pressure, all of it. I wanted to pay homage to my identity as an American born of Mexican parents. That I remain proud to be parte del mundo hispanohablante. I wanted my parents to know I owed all that I was, more, I wouldn’t be able to even stand before them if it wasn’t for their bringing me into this world. I wanted my siblings to know that they mattered, despite this surprise round of growing pains we are experiencing now.

2017 has been a watershed year for friends. Weeks on the road brought the most wonderful energy to my life, taking me out of my self-imposed inertia because of my forging these new friendships. And the effects, which started out as confusing and frustrating, have evolved into a refreshed perspective on the roles my close circle of friends plays in my life. Loyalty was never an issue here. They are the epitome of tough love and I need them for that alone. More, it was high time for them to know how they still make me try to BE a better person. Period.

The weekend’s wine-soaked dinners, and there were two, truly became the stuff of a dream. The theme of “Details of Diego and Frida” that was taken too literally by my cousins who drove three hours from Tlalnepantla to reach the first dinner. The all-female salsa band that played a theme as I entered the antro at the Sheraton María Isabel. The post-dinner mariachi performance as the “final-final.”

Perhaps the greatest moment was seeing Dad literally bolt from his seat at the table at Balcón when he laid eyes on his nieces, that sonorous blast of color and love I’ve grown to cherish so much more in the last decade. Dad KNEW who they were in an instant, Alzheimer’s be damned. The hugs and kisses and tears were a harbinger of things to come, too. Annie G captured the moment, broken ankle y todo, the sweetest gift preserved by one of my best friends, herself a purveyor of honest sentiment and great care.

At each stop that weekend, I offered my thanks to everyone, triggering a series of testimonials that were better than any AFI tribute I’d ever seen. As I faced my family, my friends at the Saturday night dinner at Rosetta in the colonia Roma, I was overcome with such emotion. I felt nothing when we dined at the Balcón del Zócalo on Friday night. I was too worried about having enough seats for everyone. Yet, after a day’s cultural excursion to the Museum of Anthropology and the visit to see the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, I was in a fight to keep the buzz of happy from dissipated too soon. It was all going so fast! I just let the emotion take over. I couldn’t keep it in and I didn’t want to anyway. The hot tears I let fall were wonderful on my skin.

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This was the unification of the two Jorges, the American and the Mexican, and it was ultimately an out of body experience. I looked around the family-style dinner table at this grouping of family, friends, co-workers and more. I could see and feel the presence of those family members and friends no longer with us. Tío Ernesto and Tía Tayde. Aunt Susanna. Melissa Duke. I know they enjoyed a trago conmigo, that was the source of my emotion.

I was reunited with esteemed Mexican film journalist Daniela Michel, herself now a major figure in world cinema. It may have been an absence of 10 years, but the distance in time was quickly shored up the minute I saw her. We spoke at length that night, sharing the details of our lives in the effortless manner that belied the reason we became friends in the first place. Her influence on my life goes without compare and how I’ve missed our epic conversations. She’s a lot like Alan in that she brings out the best in people she trusts in friendship. Walking her through the colonia Roma streets, sitting down with her husband Jim and friends for a quick drink after the dinner encapsulated what I envisioned my life to be as I enter this fifth decade.  It’s about the power of community, of creating a family that is made of strong ideals, true conversation, and absolute joy.

The next Sunday morning, we staggered through Reforma for an oh-so-necessary pozole brunch at La Casa de Toño in the Zona Rosa, I was determined not to cry again. I had to keep some sense of strength and avoid the calling of the chillón. But then I looked over at my Dad, and his face was one of such love that his tears gave the order to allow for my own to march again. I’ll never forget that image, swiftly banishing all that we said and did so wrong to each other as father and son when I was growing up. In it is place was a recharged soul, one that I had let become airless and dull. My father. My mother. My family. My friends. They all brought me back to life. Having them in Mexico City was an affirmation of the following:

I am alive.

I am getting better.

I am looking forward, even as things change anew.

I wanted to wax lyrical in this post. Perhaps the flourish is steeped in the hyperbole that is the curse of being a former publicist, yet it’s something I’ve done since I first penned my first paragraph. Ego dictated that I write the sort of essay that gets quoted and/or added to some basic DIY Pinterest wall with a deep thoughts pic. Instead, I am happier with keeping 50 closer to my heart. The intimacy and emotion of the entire weekend were the culmination of a journey that’s never failed me, even as I failed myself in the process. What I’ve discovered as I start this chapter is that everything changes for the better in an instant when you finally let love take its rightful place within yourself. Once people see that emanate forth, nothing will stop another person’s love from being returned in kind. That’s the gift we are so lacking these days of acrimony and confusion. And we need to fight like hell to restore its place in us all.

“Everything changes
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
Everything changes
What I thought was so permanent fades”

— From “Watiress,” score written by Sara Bareilles

The gifted singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is the Carole King of our moment. I am drawn to her music for its honesty and poignancy. Like Ms. King, she is so cognizant of the universal emotions we experience at any age, at any moment, in life and in love. Her score for the musical adaptation of the film “Waitress” represents some of her best work as a songwriter. Near the end of the second act, the character of Jenna sings about how her view on life has changed because of the birth of her daughter, Lulu. That song, titled “Everything Changes,” resonated like a thunderbolt as I penned this essay. I may not never know the wonderful sense of achievement of being a parent. However, I do understand the importance of being reborn when we begin to shake loose from the torpor of our discontent and fear. Because, as Bareilles writes:

“Everything changes. My heart’s at the wheel now and all my mistakes, they make sense when I turn them around. Everything changes. What I thought was so permanent fades.”

I don’t want my past mistakes to fade, but I know they will not represent me, either. And if it takes another half-century to right these many wrongs, so be it. Most people forget you 10 minutes after you’ve gone. We don’t own this time on Earth, we pay rent. Don’t you want it to count, to know you were the best you could possibly be while you’re here? Don’t you want to cast aside the standard of mediocrity and narcissism we’ve let define our time? We need to deserve each other again so when the time comes for our departures, all that remains is what was felt with truth and love. That’s my goal for the next 50 years or however many years are left in my narrative.

And I have a whole lot of writing to do…

 

 

 

“Better health through chemistry?”– A Prologue

“Better health through chemistry?”– A Prologue

“For a while she had a vague longing to be a psychologist. “Talking therapy is dead,” Gary said when she raised the idea. “It’s all pills now.”
Rafael Yglesias, The Wisdom of Perversity

Better health through chemistry. I’m taking Lexapro because I have brought myself to a standstill.

Active ingredients are: escitalopram oxalate Inactive ingredients: talc, croscarmellose sodium, microcrystalline cellulose/colloidal silicon dioxide, and magnesium stearate. The film coating contains hypromellose, titanium dioxide, and polyethylene glycol.

According to a Google search, my depression can be be attributed to:

“…a combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress. Increasingly, research suggests these factors may cause problems in brain function, including abnormal activity of certain neural circuits in the brain.

The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide.

The mainstay of treatment is usually medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Increasingly, research suggests these treatments may normalize brain function associated with depression.”

Is this the Magic Bullet that will blast me out of this cycle of self-harm and despondency about myself, about the world I inhabit?  We shall see. One tablet a day at a low dose. Then, a higher dose after seven days  A Hail, Mary pass if there ever was one.

A new journey begins and while I don’t like the fact that several chemicals are coursing through my veins to keep me from falling into the mortal abyss, I do think this may finally restore my “Want.” That is my want to change, to my want to be healthy. My want to live.

Let us give thanks, indeed.

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“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

Happiness is NOT a warm gun…

Happiness is NOT a warm gun…

Happiness is a warm gun (Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, mama (Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
When I hold you in my arms (Oo-oo oh yeah)
And I feel my finger on your trigger (Oo-oo oh yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm (Oo-oo oh yeah)

I am crushed. I am angry. I am fearful. I am sick and tired. Words are hard to control right now. A lockdown at my alma mater, El Rancho High School, was issued when a student reportedly tweeted his plan to implement a wave of murderous violence. Conflicting reports say he was found in a classroom with a gun and/or a bomb was intended to be detonated in the stadium. However, as the day wore on, details became clearer.

The student who allegedly tweeted his desire to attack the school was only joking. Yet security protocols monitoring student activity on social media flagged words that triggered a call to the local sheriffs They mobilized, armed in riot gear, arresting the student. He wasn’t armed and the terrified student was reduced to tears, learning a tough lesson in consequence. But, it didn’t end with him. The rumor mill went into hyperdrive and another incident occurred parallel to the first. Word soon spread that other students were on campus with guns, something that has not been confirmed or denied at this time. Regardless, the damage was done and a new era was ushered into ERHS, one that will have long term effects on the school’s culture as it begins to redefine how it can keep its students and faculty safe.

My sister is an educator at ERHS. She should not have to fear for her life, nor should any of her students. The solution is NOT to arm teachers, a betrayal of their true purpose.

This epidemic of gun violence is claiming too many lives. More, it is eroding any civility and optimism for a safe and sane reality. These events should not be “the new normal” for our children.

What’s wrong with us? Why aren’t we all being proactive to stop the NRA and its supporters from killing us all with their myopic and outdated interpretation of an amendment? Why aren’t we mad at the media for turning the disenfranchised and sick into martyrs and pop culture heroes with their rage?

Why aren’t we mad at ourselves? Why aren’t we mad at generations of disconnected parenting, where too many have opted for a quick fix. Take a pill. Take 28 days. These three letters are what is wrong with you. Here, look at your iPad. Watch this movie in your car because I don’t want to talk to you. Excuses. Band aids. No solutions.

Finality exists at the end of a gun barrel. Are years of being desensitized to violence finally reaping its horrible, intractable reward? We aren’t safe anywhere and the dream of being a haven against the woes of the world is now impossible to uphold.

I am proud of my Latino heritage. I am proud to be from Pico Rivera. I am proud to have graduated from El Rancho High School. However, as an American, I am not proud how we are propagating fear, intolerance and racism as a means of creating an “Other” to fear based on religion, sexual orientation and cultural backgrounds. You can’t shame and blame other for what ails this country anymore. We ALL carry the brunt as to why things feel out of control. Indifference and apathy are just as evil as racism and hate.

I will not stand by and let this event debilitate and diminish what I still feel is a great community — and country.

People, what else do we need to have happen in this world to wake us up from the ennui of status quo? SPEAK UP! Reach out to our leaders. Do something. Please, before we turn ourselves into a paranoid state of permanent fear.

From Fatboy to Slim…Week 1

From Fatboy to Slim…Week 1

“I’m not sure I want to let you leave here…”

That’s what the nurse practitioner said to me this AM, not the hot lover I’d rather envision on this day of reckoning. Today, I went to the Lindora Weight Loss Clinic to review the results of my blood work. Short version: I am in not so very good shape.

My triglyceride count is 1,539. Normal is 150

My cholesterol is 271. Normal is 135-200

My CRP is 16.40. Normal is 1.0

My glucose is 293. Normal is 65-99

My blood pressure is 210/122.

I could have a stroke.

My type 2 diabetes is back.

I am developing a fatty liver.

I weigh 257 lbs.

I am 48 and I am slowly killing myself.

The nurse practitioner was calm in delivering this news to me. I was rather chatty going into her office this AM. I said precious few words once she ticked off the list of damage I was causing myself. My blood pressure worried her so much, she wrote me a prescription for meds on the spot and demanded I headed to a pharmacy after I left. (Yes, I did follow her instructions.)

Emotions dictate why I eat. And if you run a quick scan of this blog’s archive, emotion dictates a lot of my writing. I’ve been this way since I was a kid. And the hyperbole driven career I’ve chosen has only added to the 72 pt. headlines I often use to express myself.

In the year since my bohemian sabbatical, I’ve gone from a clear-eyed realist in good shape to a bleary-eyed depressed bowl of pudding. But it is more than depression. It is anger. It is disappointment. It is defeat.

A lot has happened to me and my family in the last year. Still, at some point you have to say, “Enough of this shit!” That moment arrived today. I don’t want to be Sick Guy. I don’t want to be Fat Guy.

I don’t want to die.

It’s not just about going from fat to fit to appease my vanity or turn the head of a former love. It really is about making a definitive life choice to ensure I continue to participate in life as a healthy man of a certain age.

I know I’m not alone in this. If you do find yourself reading along, I hope you share your own wellness stories with me. Support is essential in conquering addictions and I am a food addict. As I continue this journey, I will explore that theme a bit more as I explore the reasons for why I eat what I eat. Food addiction is as real as any other form. It is not just a cultural ism of being Latino, where food is used as a reward or a consoling gesture. My addiction to certain foods is probably my longest running relationship.

Time to break up with a really bad boyfriend.

I started the Lindora Program today and it will run for 10 weeks. Stick around. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride, but the outcome is so worth it.

#forwardmotion

#chooselife

J.

PS — Some might be surprised by the photo that is the key image of this entry. It was a selfie I took in June 2014, just before I left for Spain. That was me at my leanest in my adult life. It’s a reminder of what was possible then…and now. When you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to lose.

“Christmas wrapping…” — #bahhumbug

“Bah, humbug” no, that’s too strong
‘Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur
Don’t think I have the energy

To add to my already mad rush
Just ’cause it’s ’tis the season
The perfect gift for me would be
Completions and connections left from

Last year, ski shoppin’
Encounter, most interestingimage
Had his number but never the time
Most of ’81 passed along those lines

So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cup’s of Christmas cheer
I just need to catch my breath
Christmas by myself this year

Calendar picture, frozen landscape
Chilled this room for twenty-four days
Evergreens, sparkling snow
Get this winter over with

Flashback to springtime, saw him again
Would’ve been good to go for lunch
Couldn’t agree when we were both free
We tried, we said we’d keep in touch

Didn’t, of course, ’til summertime
Out to the beach to his boat could I join him?
No, this time it was me
Sunburn in the third degree

Now the calendar’s just one page
And, of course, I am excited
Tonight’s the night, but I’ve set my mind
Not to do too much about it

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
But I think, I’ll miss this one this year
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
But I think, I’ll miss this one this year

Hardly dashing through the snow
‘Cause I bundled up too tight
Last minute have to do
A few cards a few calls

‘Cause it’s “RSVP”
No thanks, no party lights
It’s Christmas eve, gonna relax
Turned down all of my invites

Last fall I had a night to myself
Same guy called, Halloween party
Waited all night for him to show
This time his car wouldn’t go

Forget it, it’s cold, it’s getting late
Trudge on home to celebrate
In a quiet way, unwind
Doing Christmas right this time.

“A&P” has its provided me
With the world’s smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?

So on, with the boots, back out in the snow
To the only all-night grocery
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
In the line is that guy I’ve been chasing all year

“I’m spending this one alone,” he said
“Need a break, this year’s been crazy”
I said, “Me too, but why are you?
You mean you forgot cranberries too?”

Then suddenly we laughed and laughed
Caught on to what was happening
That Christmas magic’s brought this tale
To a very happy ending

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
Couldn’t miss this one this year
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas
Couldn’t miss this one this year

 http://youtu.be/nud2TQNahaU