then you aren’t talking about the mystery of life.
“Butch”, up the street is sixty-one. His orange house has been in foreclosure for a while now. Since he spent ninety days in jail for a third DUI. “One beer, Mike. One beer.” He had already lost the chicken farm after his wife died. “You got to wake up at two in the morning to feed a hundred thousand chickens, Mike. Can’t sleep anyway. You think a hundred thousand chickens is quiet?”
I bother them about smoking and drinking the beers. “That shit’s gonna kill you, man.” Lester goes, “We don’t wanna hear that, man. We know it’s bad for us. We know we should quit.”
Butch drove trucks for a while. Drove his own birds down to Miami to the slaughterhouse and got ripped off. Truck broke down on the way back. Twenty-grand in repairs or some shit. For a while he drove a cement truck. A master driver. Driving down into construction sites and angles no one else would consider. “You got to keep that barrel turning, Mike. If the cement dries out in there, you got to clean it out. Get in there and scrape that shit clean. Wouldn’t make that mistake twice. They fire you. After you clean it out.”
In jail you don’t earn an income. Your friends move into your house and don’t pay the bills. They pawn your shit. Bank sends letters. Finally get out. Owe a lawyer twenty grand. Cost you three thousand dollars cash to get your car insurance reinstated. Not to mention truck license. Cement company can’t let you drive ‘cause of the drunk driving. Plenty of people would say that makes sense. Drunk driving is some fucked up shit.
Did you guess that Butch is black?
We’ve been doing West African Dance and Drum camp. And attending Ifa/Orisha services hosted by an 87 year old priestess, Iya Monifay. She’s from the Bronx. Her and her previous husband were the first blacks in New York state to own a liquor license. In the 1970’s. She had plenty of money. Had a gold record (showed it to us – dust-covered, leaning behind the couch or something.) Left it all to pursue the calling. Lived in a hotel in California with her Nigerian partner ‘till the money ran out and they were cleaning rooms to pay for their board.
Ogun, Oshun, Elegba, Yemaya, Oya, Obatala… Old friends.
A science, Ola Olun says. Ola Olun is the seventh of nine kids, like Rivka. Parents were founders of this village in South Carolina called Oyatunji. There is word it is a “sovereign African nation”. Ola Olun goes, “sure, ‘till the government wants something.”
I teach a bhakti yoga class on Friday mornings now. Bhakti is the yoga of devotion. Chanting, praying. Ninety minutes. There are a dozen or so wild chickens Rivka wants dead. A new community center in the works, and beginnings of a Community Organization, Historic Brownsville Community. I chair it. How rock and roll? Rivka has come out as Transgender. They are identifying as gender fluid. The wispy beard is quite subtle at this point.
Dear Maka is non-gender. Do I identify as male?
Been oil-pulling every morning for years now. Seems to at least be keeping the dead-tooth infections at bay. Natalie had tracked the gum recession and apparently there’s been some regeneration!
The problem is that if ALL LIVES MATTER had been successful, it would have marginalized if not killed BLACK LIVES MATTER. And the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement is not a result of only the recent occurrences. My dad, who was a Civil Rights worker with Beth Hines Kilmer, used to talk about how back in the 1940’s, there was a phrase, “BLANK killings” which basically meant, “whatever”! In many ways our society considers a black person being killed to be par for the course. The difference is that NOW there is a movement to bring attention the a systematic problem. As far as I see it, there is practically NO representation of the Pensacola Yogic Community in ANY of the VERY IMPORTANT local activism. I have seen Nancy LaNasa out once or twice. She knows that Yogis need to be activists. She teaches it. But from a practical standpoint, the Yogi’s of Pensacola have more important things to do than participate in working for justice for Black People.
I have never seen a poster at any of the local studios for an issue for Black, Mexican or Asian lives and if there’s ever been one for LGBTQ, it isn’t the usual. I do see TRUMP bumper stickers in the parking lots, which tells me that people who want to promote someone that says, “they send us their rapists” when referring to local Mexicans feel comfortable and welcome to not only join us, but to proudly promote their racist choices. So we need to either make some REAL SACRIFICES and SHOW UP to support blacks, or continue to allow the injustice. AHIMSA means non-stealing. So if you listen to music with it’s roots in black culture: rock, rap, reggae, jazz, bluegrass, funk, house, disco, etc without PAYING the culture for it, we are stealing. You are one of a handful of leaders in the local Yoga community. I’m racist and sexist too. We all are. We are part of this society. Homophobic. We are either working on it, in denial or finding it acceptable.
The leaders I think of are Nancy LaNasa, Rebecca Sathre, Krista, Stacy, Michael Brant DeMaria, Ric Kindle. We have AT LEAST one LGBTQ friend who moved away because he was continually attacked by a citizenry that we are not challenging. If we prioritize activism we WILL CHANGE THE WORLD. Pensacola will become more tolerant. And it needs to. Actually the change will happen either way. The question is Will we have been a part of it?
Played two nights at a wonderfully funky theater in New Orleans called Happyland. It’s an old movie theater that someone used as a lumber storage facility for many years and than sold to a cat named Jeff Mattson who proceeded to add his own eclectic collection of salvaged items from mechanical scrap to pipe organs to the building’s contents.
When we arrived the place had recently been cleared out of everything but a nearly integrated layer of dust. The audience was accommodated by an assortment of chairs, some very rustic looking benches made out of old floor joists, and a port-o-potty. MC Trachiotomy AKA J Poggi had given Jeff some PA speakers. The places sounds and feels wonderful. Like CBGB’s, the stage is at the back of the room, floor slightly slanted toward the stage, and there’s a long bar on the right, with a sort of awning over top of it. Also like CBGB’s, this is the kind of place where every honest musical endeavor will sound and feel perfect.
Mad haPPy were performing a version of our R We Done Yet show as part of the InFringeFest, which is an attempt at reinvigorating the New Orleans In Fringe Fest that our dear and nutty friend Michael Martin has, along with a team of artists and technical volunteers, put a good deal of sweat, heart and faith into. We were booked as as “headline” act of sorts, which I suggested was probably not a great idea as we haven’t been in New Orleans or very active in years and we didn’t expect to be much of a “draw”. We weren’t. But the performances went well and I’m really excited about being connected with Jeff Mattson, as he is one of the original members of Crash Worship, one of who’s events Zef and I attended in the early nineties and which pretty much set the bar for what a musical event could be in terms of ritualistic transformation. The music seemed to combine hypnotic tribal rhythms, industrial noise and distorted vocals and the place was full of heavily tattooed and pierced people in various states of nakedness. There were fires burning on the floor and bags of wine were passed around. We were around twenty-one. It was unforgettable.
This was the first Mad haPPy trip without kids, who stayed with mom for a night and a half. We crashed at Otter’s house, which she practically lost a few years ago after the recession and a serious car accident leading to three years without making a mortgage payment. At one point we had done a run of Joys of Armageddon shows there when she had the Backyard Ballroom open, which is how we were originally connected with Michael Martin, who played Macon’s drag queen father in the show. Now Otter is living in the theater space and supporting herself by using the house as a full time AirB&B, with four room/suites in the house and a four or six bunk bus in the yard. It looks and feels awesome.
She’s been studying Santeria for many years now and has altars and botanical plants all over the place. We spent the daytime Friday with her, sharing stories. And damn are there stories. When I first started hanging with Otter back in the early nineties she had permanent fangs and regularly did a “vampire wanking” routine where she would cut herself and drink her blood – significant amounts of it. We were doing these parties at a dungeon called Paradise Lost where we’d be in various states of clothing, heroin and crack highs, piercing, sex and mystical exploration. I remember one time sitting in a hallway with an erection, Otter’s fanged mouth on my penis while simultaneously piercing my nipples, and me thinking this is really amazing, but I’m feeling completely lost and depressed.
My favorite quote of the weekend was Otter’s, “One foot on the other side and the other on a banana peel.” Some how a bunch of us are still alive. Wisdom is the final goal of every action.
A few weeks ago on December 17th, after about three weeks in Intensive Care, first at Baptist and then at the long-term Select Specialty Hospital, Daddy coughed – or threw – up some black stuff and “passed”, as the nurse put it. Mom was, by a miracle, with him and had him in her arms up until running out to fetch help. She had returned from running errands minutes earlier. Wonderful the way we seem to be able to time our deaths. December 17th was the date when Mom’s dad died as well.
I drove up to the hospital immediately and brought this twisty wooden scepter that mom and I had come up with as a hand-made Christmas gift for Dad. Mom put it in his hand, resting across his chest and over his heart. The body was still quite warm. It was beautiful. We hung out with him for a couple of hours. The hospital chaplain tried to push his friend’s funeral home on us, going as far as telling us we shouldn’t call our funeral home in New Jersey. Sleazy. Mom laid down with Daddy, “one last time”.
Called all the other children, Mom’s two siblings and Dad’s closest brother. His body cooled down slowly. The hands that hardly worked any more and required “gauntlets” to keep the wrists from reaching ninety degree angles at night would no longer frustrate him. Last Christmas we tried hard to convince him they could still be used to draw, but he could do little more than spread batches of color with the pastels and opted out of that endeavor. There may have been a moment or two throughout the year.
Finally and end to dialysis. An end to the constant task of determining what he could eat, or if he could eat, and preparing it. Pulverized everything. We broke the no food rule in that last week and snuck him some vanilla pudding with a hit of Captain Morgan’s in it. Rum. Yum. Mom talked about Daddy licking his lips enthusiastically with every bite those last days.
He and I had some tender moments. He was like a baby. Hardly able to speak and barely understanding where he was or what was happening. We told him he would be home for Christmas. I asked him if there was anything he could tell me that would be good for me to know after he died. He said, “I want to be buried”. You will, Dad. He was.
Dad was flown up to New Jersey for a “green burial”. He was buried, naked, wrapped in a shroud, in the cardboard container he was shipped in. We said the only thing that would have been more Hugh Kilmer would be if the coffin was made from used liquor store boxes. The funeral cost over eleven thousand dollars.
I’ve been telling people that Daddy is not gone and certainly not to me, as he’s in me and I’m made of him. As with Doris, his spirit is simply magnificent and in ways more so minus the decrepit body. Dad’s like, “oh, did my body die?”.
There’s a vacancy, but it is a vacancy that began nearly a decade ago, if not more. Daddy used to say that he began dying at age eleven when he first got diabetes. He suffered from depression, by his own explanation. Some people considered him an alcoholic. If anyone considers you an alcoholic you probably are, dude. I think of him when I swig in the say time.
People at the “send off” said things like, “your mom and dad were Hoboken when I first came here”. One young artist said, “they were my first music teachers”. There was an article published about him in the Star Ledger.
Now we, his children, in the ways that we were like him, we kind of are him now. He’s now an ancestor. He’s in the realm of ancestry. The chain of living beings who emote the radicalism, truth, love, passion, trust, faith, frustration, worry that came to us through and from him, ends with us now. Used to wonder how it would feel to be at the end of the chain, rather at the top of the chain as opposed to the bottom or middle of it. At one point I had hoped to have children before Daddy died – so he would be pleased. He was. Check. I wanted to be artistically successful and I think he finally saw us that way. He certainly didn’t see financial stability.
Recently learned that, had he been single, his Social Security income would have been less than eight hundred dollars a month. That’s supposed to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing and anything else a person desires. Know what’s classic? Florida is one of the states that opted not to expand medicare. Our “medically needy” “share of cost” went from like a hundred something dollars a month to over a thousand to over two thousand a month, each. Rivka ended up at Baptist back in October and in December a bill finally came. It had been like twenty nine hundred, which would trigger the “share of cost” and cover the whole thing, but apparently we are in the uninsured category so Baptist knocked like eight hundred dollars off the bill, putting it just about a hundred dollars below “share of cost” so we are busily scraping together the other medical bills for October to see if it reaches $2175.00. As Scott Satterwhite says, “or you can do what my mom does in Texas, which if you can believe it has a worse system than Florida, and pay five dollars a month for ever”.
What would Daddy do? “We’ll do what we can, Michael.” “Bills, bills, bills”, was something he complained once. And one time I remember, probably naked in the sixty degree morning, “never enough money”. These are aspects I need to fucking exorcise. But he always found reason to celebrate, life and everyone in it. And that is to cultivate.
Dad can’t sit up by himself. Nor can he read or write any more. Often needs help eating, and most of his food needs to be within a very narrow consistency and range of ingredient. He spends 18 hours a day in bed and is at constant risk for bed sores.
He has requested to be resuscitate if his heart stops, the wisdom of which I questioned.
The other day on the way home from dialysis, I asked him if there were any periods of his life that were particularly challenging. His responses are often quite brief and belabored. He replied, “No. I’ve had a pretty good life so far.”
Two nights ago he said to mom, “You know, me and you are getting pretty old to still be alive. Especially me. Wanna have a drink together?”
To which the answer was of course, “yes”.
Rivka’s reminding me about that video where some women are having tea and out in the front yard the kids are playing sword fight and they are using “all of her dildos”, and Rinah goes, “Oliver Dildos?! What are oliver dildoes?” Rivka is so smart, she start by saying, “it’s a grown-up thing, let me think about how to explain it to you for a couple of days.” Then shortly afterward she had some explanation that involved when she had explained how sex is when semen comes out of the man’s penis and goes into the woman’s vagina.
When they had had that discussion was like, “I wanna see that! Can I watch next time you and daddy are doing that?”
So the kids are six and three now.
When we were young we talked about how things were “on TV”. Rinah talks about how things are “on shows”, because the object upon which they are watched now has multiple purposes including “home school”. So in a way school and TV are the same.
A couple of weeks before Rinah’s sixth b-day there was this wooden (real wood, not composite) child’s desk – the kind with slanted top that opens – displayed in front of the lo-fi thrift store located in a garage by the (ancient) Army Navy store and one of the Vietnamese bodegas. There’s still a few of these old-ass stores in this neighborhood that have been there since long before white flight a few decades ago, and you’re like, the only reason this place can still be in business is because there’s no rent, hardly any employees (like the owner and their two sixty year old cousins) who are probably getting food stamps or social security.
It was one of those things where you think you see the thing driving by, consider it for two blocks: “was that a wooden child’s desk?”, “do we want a wooden child’s desk?”, “do I have time for this?”. And then you go back and it IS a wooden child’s desk. Real wood (not composite crap). With a little bench. Pencil ditch at the top. It’s quite wobbly.
“What are you selling this for?” Twenty-five bucks.
“Do you wanna sell it for fourteen? I’ve got fourteen bucks on me.”
“Sure”, says one of three thick, weathered sitters of junk chairs, “I can do that.”
David Alley helped make it magnificent. Hurray for awesome neighbors and close friends.
Anyway, Rinah goes, “Ya know how super-heroes on shows – Ya know how like, lotsa super heroes on shows are like, really big and muscular up here with square heads – no with little round heads”, she gesticulates a round top with square chin, “and like really tiny legs?”
It was leaking at the top where the water comes out. The first set of “fuck”s was when I couldn’t tell what kind of instrument was needed to loosen the handle – ’cause it’s a tiny little hole up behind the handle itself. I’m there with a flashlight, trying various size allen wrenches and screwdrivers. Sprayed some WD40 to loosen up the connection. Fuck. Now I really can’t see in there – or get the liquid out! Ya don’t wanna strip it!
Finally I google it and they tell you (what $42 part you’ll be replacing and that) it’s an allen wrench, but not what size! Trip to Lowes (actually I call it LowesTwice) number one. Hoping my man Dan in plumbing would be there. He’s not. (He’s awesome.) They don’t even know what size, but we open another box (Shane was the sales guy’s name, Geraldine), take it to the tools dept and find an allen wrench that fits. Also get some drill bits in case it needs to be drilled out.
Back to the cottage and lo and behold it works – turning the allen wrench hard with needle nose pliers. Next step is to remove a collar – by hand or with Channel Locks if necessary. It was necessary, but do you think either of the two standard size channel locks I have were big enough? No. The kept slipping off. “fuck”. Let’s try wrapping a rubber jar opener around the collar. “fuck”. Let’s see if David Alley has a bigger pair at the shop. Hmmm. Maybe this clamp thing will work. “Fuck”. Trip to LowesTwice number two for the monster-fucking-channel-locks (made in America, baby) and THOSE did the trick. Bam!
Of course the whole thing started with Mom going to church and I’m like – ah – I’ll get some reading/writing done while staying with Dad and mom’s like, “I really need to call a plumber to deal with this leak in the shower.” “Fuck”.
(Shane referred me to his man, Jeff at Gorman Plumbing on Michigan and W if the handle ends up needing to be replaced – ’cause of course Lowes doesn’t carry them.)