My Essay Go Home and Die published in Perceptions Literary Magazine

My Story in Perceptions Magazine

My Story in Perceptions Magazine

Cover of Perceptions

Cover of Perceptions

GO HOME AND DIE

I remember seeing my dad leaning into the sink counter in his bathroom on an early July evening. His hands resting on the edge of the counter as his head hung between his arms. His weeping was audible from the hallway, even though it was clear he didn’t want to be heard. I peeked my head in the door and caught him. I’ve always been poking my head in where it didn’t belong.

I sat and watched him weep, his tears falling straight down onto the carpet. His hands gripped the maroon tile, holding up his quickly weakening body. His body that had played football, basketball and baseball all through school. His body that earned him a full-ride baseball scholarship to Washington State University. His body that had helped to create my body, and the body of my sister. His body that had always frightened me because of its massive strength, and the harsh words that came out of it anytime I did wrong. That body was now withering. It had become a shell of what it was at its peak, but at forty-seven years of age, his body was starting to quit.

It was just a few weeks before that night, on June 24th when he sat my sister and I down.  I was twenty-one and had recently finished my junior year at the University of Washington and was staying at home for the summer.

“I want you guys to come out here,” he said in a strong and certain tone. “So I’m fucked. Go home and fucking die is what they told me.”

My dad wasn’t known to mince words, but it sure seemed like an appropriate time to maybe add a little bit of fluff in delivering those lines to your two college-aged kids. We knew that the radiation and chemo hadn’t worked and that he was doing some experimental treatment at this point, but the words still felt like a kick in the cookies.

“Say something you guys,” he commanded. I think he just wanted the air filled with something other than the cold silence of his impending death.

“Well this sucks,” I muttered. My sister just remained silent.

“I hope you guys know that what I’m most proud of is you two,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit. I honestly remember him telling me he was proud of me one other time. I was probably nine and I was the best hitter in our little league. After a game where I had four hits, including a home run, he spent the whole car ride home telling me how good of a hitter I was, and how the ball just flew off my bat and how proud of me he was. I tried to bottle up that praise and store it inside of me, banking it like pennies in a piggy bank. I spent every day after that searching for that same praise, that same approval that would make that feeling come back. It was like a drug.

The few weeks after that final diagnosis seem like kind of a blur. A hospice nurse became our fourth housemate at some point and she took over doing all the bandage changings that had become a constant and painful struggle for my dad. I remember staying with dad at the house as the nodules of cancer spread through his lymph system and eventually all throughout his body. We would stay in and watch the Seattle Mariners games almost every night on television. This was 2001, and they were in the middle of the best season in team history.

Baseball was our bond. The final game we ever watched together was in Seattle, when the Mariners took on the Boston Red Sox and Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the best pitcher of that generation and my dad and I watched the entire game from right behind home plate in my mom’s season ticket seats. My parents had hardly spoken since their divorce three years earlier and my dad bitched about having to use her seats, but he finally acquiesced and decided to go to the game with me.

The game went on and Pedro Martinez was masterful. I’d love to tell you that it was a perfect night and I got to sit with my dad, who knew more about baseball than anyone I’ve ever known, and we had an amazing time. But the sad fact of cancer is that it hurts and it’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t really ever go away, even when you’re doing something that should be fun. The cancer may as well have filled that entire stadium. Every time the kid next to us would get up to pee and my dad would have to adjust, he would wince in pain.

The one highlight of that night came when Manny Ramirez came up to bat for Boston. Ramirez had just been gifted one of the biggest contracts in baseball that year and deservedly so. A fan behind us started to heckle Ramirez as he dug in and after a few expletive-laced shouts, he directed for Mariners pitcher John Halama to “stick a fastball in his ear!”

My dad tilted his head back ever so slightly and retorted to the angry guy, saying “Ramirez could catch Halama’s fastball in his fucking teeth and spit it back at him.”

The guy didn’t hesitate.

“I’ll bet you five bucks Halama gets him out!” the guy said.

“You’re on,” my dad screamed above the buzz of the crowd.

Ramirez proceeded to drill a hanging curveball into left-field for a double and my dad calmly and quietly stuck his hand back over his shoulder, creating a perfect platform for the guy behind us to gently lay down a wrinkly five dollar-bill. My dad didn’t say a word, didn’t look at the guy, just sat there content with his winning prognostication. When he went to pocket the five, he looked casually over at me and gave me a little wink. Cancer could take away every living cell in his body, but at that point, it hadn’t yet taken away his charm, no matter how buried he usually kept it.

It was that night, after the baseball game that I caught him leaning into the sink counter crying. I finally did go in and approach him. He must have heard me before I got to him, because when I placed my hand on his right shoulder, he didn’t even flinch.

“I’m fucking scared,” he said.

“I know dad, I am too,” I said, starting to cry myself.

He stood up and he hugged me and cried into my shoulder. I was 21 and had grown taller than him. It was a strange role-reversal of nature. Here I was having to hold my dad and tell him it was going to be ok.   He was the toughest and meanest guy I knew. Every birthday from the age of twelve onward he would tell me that this birthday was the one where it was finally legal for him to kick the shit out of me. He must have threatened to kick my ass a thousand times. Every time I smarted off he would say “do you want me to come over there and pop you?” He never hit me once in his life.

The cancer had coated his lungs as we entered the second half of July and he told me that he was worried that the tumors would start to bleed in his lungs and he’d choke to death. He was terrified that was how he was going to go.

I had gone fishing on the morning of July 23rd with my cousin and got a phone call from my aunt. She said he had a bad night and wasn’t doing too well and that I might want to come home. I remember thinking the entire two-hour drive home that when I pulled up I didn’t want to see a bunch of people there. If everyone was at the house that would have meant he had passed while I was in transit. I cried nearly the whole drive home and when I pulled up our street and got to the four-way stop near our house, I saw what looked like every one of my relatives cars in the driveway. My heart stopped. I got out of the car and I think my aunt Barbara could tell what I was thinking and immediately said, “He’s ok honey.”

We sat on the front porch that night, my dad, his older brother, my uncle Gary, and myself. We ate burgers and Blizzards from Dairy Queen in what became called by my uncle “the last supper.” My dad sat in his smoking chair, the one he’d sat and smoked cigarettes in since we moved to that house a decade earlier, with his oxygen tank in his nose. He wasn’t smoking anymore, instead he spent that precious time on the porch to get in one last fat joke on me.

“Your back is so wide they could show a western at the drive-in on it,” he said to me as I sat on that step just in front of him. I know he was trying to be funny, but it still stung. My dad hated the fact that I was fat. I think he took it as a reflection on him as a parent. Like my fatness was his fault.

We stayed up late that night, as he had been sleeping terribly for the last couple days. Finally at about three in the morning, I walked over and said goodnight to him. He was laid back in his lazy boy, in a haze somewhere between sleep and morphine high, and just made a noise acknowledging that he heard me.

I said goodnight to the hospice nurse who was there with him and went to my bedroom. I don’t really believe in God, but I finally out loud just muttered “Just let him fall asleep and not wake up.” Maybe it was selfish of me to say that, but even I had grown tired of his illness. I think I just assumed that he was ready and wanted to go as much as I wanted him to go and be finally released of his pain.

I slept until eleven and when I walked out there he was still asleep, laid back in his recliner.

“Did he sleep all night?” I asked the nurse.

“He got up for a couple minutes at seven and got some water, but other than that he was out like a light,” she whispered.

The nurse headed out at the same time that my uncle Gary arrived. We all talked in the front entryway for a few minutes and when she left, he and I sat on the couch, just across the room from my dad. His breath was quiet and as my uncle and I talked I’d occasionally glance over at him. I had spent the last few weeks coming out each night and standing behind the entry to the living room, just listening to hear his breath or his snore, just to make sure he was still going.

I looked at him as I saw his stomach gently go up, and just as gently go back down. Then finally, it didn’t go back up. A few seconds passed as I kept my eye on him, listening to my uncle talk about whatever he was talking about. His stomach rose just a touch once more and then finally settled down at rest. There was no noise. There was no real movement. There was no choking on blood. There was just peace and death. It was just pure and simple death in its most quiet form. I was immediately comforted that his transition was so much more peaceful than any of the days of his illness had been. There was a big part of me that selfishly was glad that it was all over. I probably should feel guilty for that, but I don’t.

I didn’t cry in that moment or the rest of that day. I think I was partly in shock and partly I think I was just filled with such gratitude that his suffering was over.   One thing I do remember is that after calling emergency services to come pick up his body I had to start calling people. I had to call my mom and tell her that her ex-husband, the father of her two children, had died. They didn’t talk in those final years and I know it was hard for both of them. My dad could never put his pride down enough to ever let her back in. My uncle called my Grandmother to tell her that her second born child was gone.

After they took away his body, my uncle, my mom, my sister and I sat around and talked for a while. The strange thing is, after waiting for his passing for so long and expecting it to be this monumental moment, I just kind of felt numb and life kind of just went on. I spent most of the rest of that day just hanging out with friends and shooting pool. Turns out that monumental pain didn’t really start for a few months.

Author Interview with Emily Belden (Lange)

Author Emily Belden

Author Emily Belden

I remember hearing buzz about author Emily Belden’s debut memoir “Eightysixed” and had the thought “why do I care about a memoir of someone I’ve never heard of?”  Well the answer after reading it was I did care.  Eightysixed is funny, sharp, witty and full of things we all go through.  I was fortunate to catch up with Emily to ask her about her book!

You can buy her book Eightysixed by CLICKING HERE

1. Your book Eightysixed has been out for a couple of months, how has it been so far talking with readers who have had such an inside look into your life?

EB–It’s pretty incredible and weird. I have visited a number of book clubs and when I open the floor for Q&A, I’m reminded just how much I put myself out there. People want more details on the juicy stories…and I don’t blame them!

2. Trent. I think everyone I know has had a “Trent” in their life. I think if anything should come from your book into society at large it should be people using “Trent” to describe a former partner. How much did that relationship effect not only how you looked at dating and life, but the attitude of the book?

EB–It’s funny you say that, because almost everyone I talk to about the book admits Trent “sounds just like the guy I’m dating.” Why is Trent an epidemic? Anyhow, when I decided to leave Trent, I asked myself: is it possible that I could find another guy who is good looking like him? (Yes.). Is it possible I could find a guy who makes me laugh – in between the tears – like him? (Yes.). Is it possible that I could find someone with those basic qualities, BUT who wants to not avoid me on weekends? Not drink to excess? Not be a total self-centered pig? (YES. YES. YES!). So with that as my mantra, I set forth to find who I really was meant to be with. That’s not to say that Trent did leave me insanely angry and bitter, which you can certainly feel the effects of in the first parts of Eightysixed.

3. Food and Chicago are big characters in Eightysixed. I’ve been to Chicago a few times and other than Lou Malnati’s and Harold’s Chicken, We didn’t eat out much. If I was there for a weekend, where are the must go restaurants you’re sending me to?

EB–You cannot go wrong with Lou’s. It’s my favorite pizza on the planet. But should you desire something more than deep dish, my next favorite is a little hot-dog and hamburger joint called Portillo’s. It’s a total calorie fest, but who can deny their cheese fries and chocolate cake shake?

4. There are tons of laugh out loud moments in Eightysixed. Writing humor I think is one of the most challenging things to write. Did you spend a lot of time going back over material and tweeking to get the wording just right or did you just kinda let it flow?

EB–Eightysixed was all about the flow. The funny thing about the book is that it’s special for being…not special at all. It’s just that the routine things that happen (breakups, dating mishaps, etc.) are told in a certain way that makes them funny and alluring. I tell you, replicating this natural storytelling for writing fiction has NOT been easy. I don’t know how you do it.

5. The post script of the book could be that you just got married! Congrats by the way! How weird is it having a new last name now? That would drive me insane.

EB–It’s super weird. The best is that for as simple as it is (Lange), people can’t pronounce it. They try to rhyme it with the word “Range” or they make it sound very fancy by doing a soft “a” and “j” (Lahnjah). Someone even called me “Langhee” and asked if I was Asian. Oh, the joys of married life.

6. Have you been writing at all during this massively busy time in your life…I mean who has a book published and plans a wedding all at the same time!

EB–I’ve certainly been trying to. But between family drama that would put the Osbourne’s to shame (all thanks to the wedding), and buying a new house, I haven’t had the “me time” you need in order to crank out a few thousand words!

Thanks Emily!

Some Twitter To-Do’s in real life!

I think twitter is overall pretty fun.  It’s a great way to meet and contact people you never otherwise would never meet or know.  Many of the people I interact with the most, I’ve never met face to face or even talked to on the phone.  Many people have different careers or interests and I think it would be cool to do the following activities with some of these folks from twitter.  Check them out if you’re on twitter, they are good folks!

I want to go to Los Alamitos with @losponies

Jose Contreras or as he’s known @losponies has a passion for horse racing that’s pretty darn infectious.  I will be the first to admit that I often like to leave horse racing at work and get away from it when I’m home and on my couch watching baseball.  But @losponies is talking racing 24/7 and is at the track it seems five days a week.  So I want to go hang out at Los Alamitos with @losponies.  I want to go visit the guys from the Quarters on TVG and do a segment, then go sit in the paddock and talk QH Racing.  Then go up to the Vessels Club where we meet @mrslosponies, @tony_pk4 and @thelosaledge and have dinner and watch the races.

I want to have beers at Hawthorne with the Chicago twitter folks

There’s a great group of twitters in and around the Chicago area and I think it would be fun to have beers with them while watching racing at Hawthorne.  I don’t even drink and I want to have beers with them.  Now why not Arlington you say?  I don’t know why….Arlington seems more like the kind of place I’d bring a girl I like and try to impress her cause I know @johngdooley.  I’d call up @zweber, @rogueclown, @laoncamps and a few others and we’d sit and handicap and have fun and eat pizza.  If we’re lucky we’d get @striblove to drive down!

Hang out with @bombsawaybob at 3am East Coast time and play Australia races

I see @bombsawaybob playing races that are late on the west coast…and dude lives on the east coast!  I picture him in a tiny little room, lights down low and like 8 ADW’s open on different computers and TVG on the TV.  And when he gets snapped off at the wire he can’t yell because his wife and kids are asleep.  I just want to watch one of the handicapping/betting legends of twitter at work.

Watch a Habs/Leafs Game 7 with @barbaro1420

So this guy Josh @barbaro1420 is liable to fly off the handle at any time, which makes his twitter account all the more entertaining.  Whether it’s annoying liberals, championing takeout increases or telling Boston Bruin fans they’re worse than Al-Queda.  But if I wanted to hang out with Josh at any moment…it would be a game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Habs and Leafs.  I think it would be beyond entertaining, educational, and potentially homicidal.  Sounds like a winning night for me!

Sit and watch The Breeders’ Cup with @NjDerek

I feel like instead of handicapping we’d spent the entire broadcast mocking 95% of the people on the television and send out a litany of slightly above average funny tweets with one or two gems in there!

 

Why We Love Tom Durkin

I’ve never met Tom Durkin and I likely won’t ever meet Tom Durkin.  He’s the announcer at the New York tracks and is retiring at the end of August after a magnificent career.  One thing you’ll notice on chat boards, twitter etc…is that racing fans love talking and debating about announcers.  Go to any chat board and you’re likely to find an announcer thread near the top of the forum with thousands of posts.  I’ve always said “Announcer’s are like Ice Cream Flavors…everyone likes something different”.  Some folks like a boisterous and exciting call…..some people like quiet, accurate and timely…..and some people like the mute button (yes I’m talking to you Marcus Hersch!).   But I think the reason people like to talk about announcers…is because when watching a race…particularly on television…the announcer is your main connection to that track.  Watching Tom Durkin call a race in New York has a way of bringing you to New York.

Another reason we love Tom Durkin is because he’s called so many of our favorite horses and races.  There’s an old adage that great horses and great races make for great racecalls.  There’s some truth in that.  It’s hard to make a $5,000 claimer anymore exciting than it can be.  However, Tom Durkin rose to the big stage on such a regular basis it’s staggering. Right now on twitter people are debating what their favorite Durkin call is.  And it could be one of literally a thousand races.  There will be hundreds of different replies today and in the coming days as what is his best race call.  Of course the Smarty Jones calls, the Real Quiet calls etc will be a majority of the nominations, but some people will nominate Derby calls…or Preakness calls…or Arrrrrrrr calls or Yuka duck haka dola calls…..or even no calls (Commentator).

One memory I’ll always have of Tom Durkin was a couple years ago watching Saratoga and listening to him doing the changes.  I could hear he was very emotional…almost in tears and fighting to get through giving out the information.  Then all of a sudden he wasn’t calling the races a few minutes later.  I was worried for him and turns out a close friend of his had passed away.  Tom’s emotion is one of the reason I think people connected with him.  His humor another.  His class another.

We connect with people who we respect.  We connect with people who are passionate.  We connect with people who we share moments and memories with.  Tom Durkin’s voice is littered across so many memories horse racing fans have.  I don’t know the man.  I’ll probably never know the man.  But his voice is part of my life.  And if you’re reading this.  It’s probably part of yours too.

Kentucky Derby Preview

I’ve never picked a Kentucky Derby winner on top.  I mean I’ve hit the exacta once or twice, but my top pick has never won and only once have they even finished second (Ice Box).  So here’s my look at all the horses in the 2014 Run for the Roses.  It really is a great day and hope everyone has fun!

Vicars in Trouble—Home dude is in trouble because drawing the rail in the Kentucky Derby is not fun.  Imagine running with a little piece of wood to your inside and 19 horses and 150k to your outside.  I’d go into total panic attack mode.  Maybe they just gun him early on and try to go as far as they can, which will probably be a mile.  #RideWithRosie #DontBetOnRosie

Harry’s Holiday–First of all, this is a terrible name for a Derby horse.  A Derby winner needs to have somewhat of a majestic or cool sounding name.  I mean how do you make a dramatic race-call with a horse named Harry’s Holiday? Reason enough not to like this horse.  The fact that he was 13th beaten 28 lengths doesn’t help.  But the name’s the real reason to play against.

Uncle Sigh–Just because the owners are awesome and donate a chunk of earnings to Wounded Soldiers charities is reason enough to root for this horse, but he’s a pretty honest sort that might not be a bad long shot play.

Danza–You know NBC producers were licking their chops at a chance to have a horse connected to 80’s icon Tony Danza.  I mean, it was a 100% certainty Tony was gonna show at the Derby once this horse got in.  All that potential TV corniness aside, he ran big and he goes for good connections.

California Chrome–I’m an unapologetic West Coast honk.  I mean, it’s just better over here.  Less crowded, don’t have humidity like back east and no bugs like the midwest.  Our mountains are real mountains, not those Adirondack things.  So I’m rooting for this horse.  He’s awesome.  I love the way Trevor Denman says his name, which is important.  If a name doesn’t sound cool out of Trevor’s mouth, the horse can’t win the Derby.  CaluhhhhFornnneeeyuuhh Chrrrrrome.

Samraat—Terrible name, so that’s a few points against him.  But he has heart and always runs his race, so I think he’s a totally possible underneath horse.

We Miss Artie–If this horse was named after them missing Artie Lange the comedian who tried to kill himself and is no longer on the Howard Stern show I’d root for him like nobody else (Baba Booey to you all).  But it’s a Ramsey horse who’s named after (shockingly) a stallion.  So nobody should root for this horse.

General A Rod–I’m one of those crazies who likes A Rod, juice and all.  This A Rod, the General, is a pretty honest sort and those are my favorite types.  Have a feeling he might run well, but won’t win.

Vinceremos–This sounds like a bad italian restaurant you’d find in the suburbs of a city not known for it’s Italian food.  “Hey mom what’s for dinner?  Oh your father is stopping by Vinceremos for lasagna.”  Kids: “ugggh”.

Wildcat Red–Another speedy type, but man he shows some heart each race.  Just wondering if he has Florida heart and not rest of the country heart.  I mean…when I think heart, tough gritty folks…I don’t think South Beach.

Hoppertunity–Scratched.  Boy, feel terrible for Bob.

Dance with Fate–My biggest fear here is that this horse will win and the 4 people in the USA who like synthetic tracks will start singing the praises of that surface and Keeneland will put it back in.  It’s best for all of us if this horse runs 12th or worse.

Chitu–I’m conflicted on this horse.  I never really root for Baffert but I always root for the Sunland horse just because Robert Geller announcers there and he’s the coolest guy in horse racing.  So I’ll root for this one, cause Robert’s coolness far outweighs Bob’s not coolness.

Medal Count–A closer which could be a good thing as there are lots of like to be up close types.  He does smell a little bit like Wise Guy horse, which isn’t a good thing.

Tapiture–I picked him in the Arkansas Derby and he looked loaded on the turn and then hung like Ron Jeremy down the lane.  He looks to me like he’s a little pooped an not wanting to go further.

Intense Holiday–Another horse getting Wise Guy attention, and gets John Velazquez so that helps.  I could actually see him winning.

Commanding Curve—I’m getting tired, so the rest of these will be short.  This is the kind of annoying horse that comes up and snaps off your Superfecta cause he closes in and hits the board.  Dallas Stewart has an annoying habit of doing that.

Candy Boy—Ridden by 1982/83 Portland Meadows riding champion Gary Stevens is reason enough to root for this horse.  In fact, it’s the only reason to root for this horse.  California Chrome waxed him last time.

Ride on Curlin–This horse seems to be a darling of many twitter folks, but I don’t get it.  To me he seems like a horse that wasn’t fast enough to win on one of the weaker prep circuits this spring.  But that’s just me.  Maybe he’s pretty?

Wicked Strong–I always leave the Wood Memorial winner out (except last year when I picked Verrazano and he crapped the bed) (wait a minute, i picked Gemologist too and he crapped the bed).  Ok, so the Wood screwed me the last two years. Fool me once..shame on me.  Fool me twice…shame on you.  Fool me three times…story of my life.

Pablo Del Monte–If the Also-Eligible draws in and wins…..I’ll eat my Derby program.

Everyone have fun!