Today would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 79th birthday. I don’t make a habit of pointing out things like this, normally. The birthdays of people no longer around to comment on them. I made a post last year, on the tenth anniversary of his death, as a memoriam and a means to show how much I wish he were still around today.
The reason I’m bringing up the good doctor today, now, is because we find ourselves in the middle of an unprecedented clusterfuck of an election season and it’s one that I feel Hunter would relish in. I feel he would haul his 79 year old bones atop the roof of Woody Creek Owl Farm and, bullhorn in hand, shout to the world “I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO.”
I would love to see Hunter on CNN talking about Trump, the now unstoppable Frankenstein’s monster of the GOP, and his orange skin and black heart. Or Hillary Clinton and all of her pantsuit politics and shady behind-closed-doors dealings. The new era of democracy, the choice no one should be forced to make, with people voting to elect a tainted and uncertain future just to fight against the possibility of no future at all.
This is exactly the sort of thing I would love to hear Hunter’s voice on. Maybe he would surprise us all and be a Trump supporter (though not likely), maybe he would back him as a middle finger to politics in general, as a way to tear down the whole damn thing and build it back up fresh again.
Who can say? Hunter is gone, sadly. His voice on matters, old and constant, is always out there in the form of his writing. But new matters, new faces of evil flashing their shimmering eyes from Washington, are beyond his ability to comment. We can only imagine what he’d say.
As a reminder to what fueled Hunter, aside from a passion for life and politics, here’s Hunter’s “daily routine”:
I think I’ll spend today reading The Rum Diary. You celebrate however you see fit.
Marvel Comics has started a bit of hoopla this New Comic Book Day, with the release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1. In this issue, Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, dons the costume once more and sets out to fight the good fight against the forces of evil. But in the closing pages, a huge twist that will have ramifications for the entire Marvel universe is revealed.
I won’t say what that twist is here, I won’t spoil for you a comic that has just come out. Comic Book Resources goes in depth with the spoiler here, if you’d like to be spoiled.
No, this isn’t about the spoiler specifically, or even the reaction to said spoiler, but rather the reaction… to the reaction of the spoiler. I know. My head hurts, too.
People are outraged by this spoiler. People are boycotting Marvel, people are threatening to burn their entire collections of Captain America comics, people are taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice their disgust. These are not the people I’m talking about.
No, the people I’m talking about are those responding to these fans. The people who are saying things like “it’s just a character!” or “it’s just a comic book, he won’t be a [SPOILER] for much longer!” or “stop overreacting!”
Here’s the thing, this particular twist isn’t the run-of-the-mill story twist. It’s not your cookie cutter plot twist that you see coming from a mile away and know in your heart will be retconned in a few issues. This twist is one that stretches all the way back to the conception of Captain America, it tarnishes the very idea of Captain America and what makes him who he is and always has been. It spits in the face of his Jewish creators in a way that is heartbreakingly sad and honestly very hard to deal with. It’s more than a simple change of personality or costume that fans don’t care for, it’s a change of the very definition of the character itself.
I feel the reaction has been justified. I feel like the people calling out fans as “overreacting” and telling them that “it’ll all be different in the next storyline, anyway! comic stories are retconned every month!” don’t get what Captain America truly symbolizes and what he means to, not just Americans in general, but a very specific cross-section of Americans.
Count me in the camp of people who hate this twist, count me among the masses who feel this is a cheap and dirty ploy to grab some media attention away from DC Comics and their big story changes going on right now (“REBIRTH”).
That said, I am willing to see where the story goes. I’m willing to see how they handle this grievous misstep in character management, this colossal misunderstanding of their own flagship character, and where they go from here. I’m a fan of story, after all.
But don’t fool yourself for one second into thinking that Marvel didn’t just do irreparable damage to one of the most beloved, and culturally important, characters in modern mythology.
Current Proof of Life:
Current Auditory Stimulation:
The world outside my window is a swirl of greens dancing on the wind, people mowing their lawns and walking their dogs, the birds taking wing to the sky and the squirrels skittering across branches. A world in motion, as I sit behind this keyboard and think about life.
It’s been almost two months since my father passed and it feels as though it just happened yesterday. They tell you it gets easier, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t found it slightly easier to cope, but what they don’t tell you is that the pain never leaves. It doesn’t get easier in a way you want it to. The ache doesn’t dull, the memory doesn’t fade, the tears don’t sting any less. It gets easier to pry your focus from it, it gets easier to push it into the back of your mind. But the shadow of it, the sheer weight of it, doesn’t leave you.
I still can’t find the strength to refer to him in the past tense. It feels wrong, it feels like I’m pushing him away if I do.
I haven’t truly slept since it happened, certainly not well. I’ve gotten sleep, but it’s been fractured and not restful. When my sleep is deep enough to dream, the dreams shock me awake. In the last week alone, I’ve woken up crying and unable to breathe on two separate nights. Melatonin has been unsuccessful, as have been over the counter sleep aids.
Saturdays have not been the same. I don’t think they ever will be. I’ve found the trick is to have something to look forward to on Saturdays. Yesterday, it was Chinese food for dinner. Last week, I had ice cream after work. The Saturday before that I saw a movie. It doesn’t change anything, but it takes the edge off.
“How are you?” a concerned friend asked recently. My honest answer was “I alternate between tired and sad these days and the two intersect more than I’d like.” It’s the best way to describe where I am right now.
I will live. I will survive. This very same thing has happened to countless other people, many whom I know personally and care deeply for, I am not a special case. It’s a long journey and it is cold and dark, but I will make it to the other side eventually.
Once, when I was very young, I remember watching my dad work. The image of him sawing wood and measuring where that wood would go is clear and vivid in my mind, as though I just saw it yesterday. I don’t remember what prompted it, but I do remember saying
“I want to be just like you.”
He seemed confused by the statement. I suppose because it seemingly came from nowhere. He lit a cigarette. He looked so cool.
“Not just like me. Don’t start smoking these.” he said. I nodded, thinking I probably would anyway. I never did. The occasional cigarillo with my alcohol, but I never became addicted to it.
Road trips were always a fun experience, whether we were going from California to Arizona to visit my sister, or just a couple of hours on the freeway to visit a family friend. The best music blaring from the speakers. Beatles, Clapton, Tom Petty. The windows down, wind blowing through your air as the California sun tried its damnedest to get into your eyes.
I was always in the back seat, which sometimes meant I had the luxury of laying down and taking a nap until we were at our destination. I wish now that I had done that less. That I cherished those moments while I was in them, because looking back now, they are some of my fondest family memories. My father driving, my mother the co-pilot, and me bouncing around in the back seat.
Sometimes we would drive to the woods, just to do it. Just to breathe that air and feel the dirt beneath our feet. Sometimes we would drive to the desert, just to escape the city lights and hustle and bustle. Nothing better than setting off fire works in the sand, with what felt like a whole galaxy of stars laid out above you.
My father always had a story ready. Always had some kind of crazy past adventure that he went on, usually when he was around my age at the time of telling the story. I think this is why I write. I think this is why I love stories to much. Not the countless books I’ve read over the years, or watching narrative play out in TV shows or movies. No, the stories my father told me.
When I was in my teens and discovered marijuana, I didn’t want to try and hide it from my parents. I was always honest with them and felt this should be no different. I would bite the bullet and take whatever came my way. My mother was folding laundry when I first approached her.
“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” I said. She stopped folding the clothes and looked at me, her eyes were afraid.
“I smoke pot.”
She put down the article of clothing she was folding, took a deep breath, and said “Come with me.”
She took me into the bedroom, where my father was watching TV, and told me to repeat what I had told her to him.
“Dad, I smoke pot.” I said. He turned off the TV and exchanged looks with my mother.
“Do you do anything else? Anything stronger than pot?” He finally asked. I shook my head no, and I meant it. I had never had any interest in trying anything stronger than marijuana. I had been to parties where a plethora of drugs were available, but I never even wanted to try any of them.
“That’s good. Pot can be fine, if you’re careful about it. But I better not catch you doing anything else.” He looked at me, concern awash over his face, and I realized he was waiting for me to agree. I nodded. He went back to his TV show and I went out with some friends.
I never did anything stronger than marijuana or alcohol, and I haven’t smoked marijuana since those days.
Religion was a weird thing for me, growing up. Still is, I guess. But going to my grandparent’s house as a kid was always an odd experience, as they were Catholic and my grandmother had a bunch of paintings of Jesus hanging through her house. Not nice ones, where he’s holding a lamb or feeding starving children, but ones during and post crucifixion. Crown of thorns, blood everywhere. Really scary stuff, as a kid.
My grandma always made it her mission to bring me into the Catholic fold, but I still remember something my father said to me.
“Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be. I’m not religious, but I’ve made my peace with God. I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to read the bible. You don’t need to do either of those things, either, if they feel wrong to you. Read about religion and figure it out for yourself, whatever feels right is what’s right.”
That struck a chord with me, even at that young age, and I’ve carried those words with me ever since.
For as far back as I can remember, my father always had long hair and a beard. His appearance was such that a lot of people mistook him for a biker. This happened so often, that he had a stock answer at the ready for when people would ask him “What kinda bike you got?”
That answer was “Schwinn.”
At the end of March, I got a phone call from my mother. She was letting me know that my father was unresponsive. That he was laying in his bed, his eyes would not open, and that his time to go was soon. The nurses and Hospice people all assured us that he could still hear us, that he wasn’t gone yet. My mother held the phone up to my father’s ear. I told him I loved him, I thanked him for all he’d done for me, and I said goodbye. His mouth and eyebrows twitched, so my mother said.
On Saturday, April 2nd 2016, in the early morning hours, my father passed away.
I can say, with absolutely no exaggeration, with no hyperbole, with no dramatics at all, that it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It feels like a piece of my soul has been torn away.
I have since returned to work. I have a pretty good circle of friends who are looking out for me, always checking in and making sure I’m pulling through.
“It gets easier.” they say. “There will be good days and bad days.”
I wonder when the good days will start. I wonder when this horrible weight on my heart will feel lighter. I wonder when the dark will pass and I will feel the light again.
I’m going to end this post with the last picture taken of me and my father. It was during a trip out to California to visit, a mere few weeks before his passing. I am forever grateful that I had the chance to hug my father one last time, to hear his laughter, and to be at a point where I could tell him things and know that, at least on some level, he understood them.
It’s fitting that we’re both laughing in the photo, as I will always remember my father for his compassion and sense of humor.
I love you, Dad.
In January, I received a phone call. That phone call was to let me know that my grandfather did not have much longer to live and that a second phone call would soon come to let me know when he was gone. It was a very difficult and strange stretch of time between those phone calls. My mind raced, my heart felt as though a dagger had been plunged into it, I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate.
Then the second call came. And I grieved. Still am.
Now, once again, I find myself pressed by the weight of the space between two horrible phone calls. On Easter Sunday, I received word that my father has gotten worse. Much worse. When the hospice nurse came to check my father, when she had a moment to go over the hospice handbook with my mother and sister, she turned to one of the last pages in that book. One marked “From Days to Hours”. Another nurse called this stage “a walk through the strawberry field”.
This is where we find ourselves. My mind is again racing, my heart brings pain with every beat, I have barely slept the last two nights and have only eaten when I have been reminded to do so.
I hate this. I hate this so much. I feel lost. I feel numb, though not numb enough.
My father, my hero, my friend. He is half a country away, soon to be further than I or anyone else can reach, and there is nothing I can do.
The tears are blurring this as I type and I need to dress for work. Not even sure why I’ve written this, other than to get it somewhere outside my own head.
Hug your family. Tell them you love them.
A lot has happened in the brief two months since my last post.
The weather has begun its shift from icy winds licking at your skin and the skies tearing open to blanket the world in fresh snow, to assorted peeks at the tans and muted greens of what was once and will again be grass. Shorts, t-shirts, ice cream cones. Signs of Spring show themselves, reminding us that things move forward. Time marches on, ever and ever and without you, whether you wish it to or not.
Over the course of a single week in January, the following events transpired. In order:
1: My father entered hospice care.
2: My grandfather was hospitalized, a total of two times.
3: My grandfather entered hospice care.
And 4: On January 25th, my grandfather, Charles Gustav Kaas, passed away at the age of 96.
It has all felt like a whirlwind from hell and it has all weighed on my soul in ways I never knew were possible.
My father’s health has continued to deteriorate and now we’re simply being told no one knows how much longer he’ll be here.
Through the kindness of both loved ones and people I barely know, Danielle and I are able to fly out to California. This will not be a fun-filled vacation, it will not be catching up and reminiscing with old faces or partying at the old stomping grounds.
This trip, put as simply as I can put it, will be me saying goodbye to my father.
We leave in a few days. This weekend will be devoted to housecleaning and preparing for the trip. We want to make sure Ben is comfortable while he graciously plays housesitter for us. We’ll return one week later and will have a day to process and decompress, both physically and, I’m sure, emotionally. Then it’s a return for what has passed for normalcy in recent time, which disguises itself as my spending afternoons making pizzas.
My grandfather and I had a strained relationship for many years, the reasons for which I will not divulge here. But when I was a very young boy, my grandfather was my best friend. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve spending time with my grandparents. We’d hop into my grandpa’s maroon Oldsmobile and go up to the corner Thrifty drug store to buy scratch-off lottery tickets (I’d pick them out and if he or I won on any of them, I’d get to keep some of the money) and pineapple ice cream cones. We’d watch boxing until it was time to pick up my grandmother from bingo. It really is the simplest things that stand out.
A lot changed in our relationship between those days and where he left us, but I’ve never forgotten how close we were. I’ll never forget pineapple ice cream and scratch-off lottery tickets.
I turned 32 three days ago.
The world is an upside down place that makes little sense.
Well, here it is. The obligatory first blog entry of the new year. 2015 came crashing down around me in spectacular fashion and now 2016 lay, all shiny and new, at my feet. Full of fresh starts and brimming with potential. Will this year be better than the last? Will I be happier and healthier and more at peace with the world?
Right now, I can’t be certain.
So much happened in 2015, but the problem is too much of it felt as though it all happened to me. 2015 attacked me, tore at my heart in ways I’ve never experienced before, and even as I type this I feel a sense of waning numbness.
The biggest attack, the one that has cut me the deepest and wet its claws in almost every aspect of my life, is that my father is not getting better. I might write a post about it, go into it at greater length, when I am able to tackle the situation without it crippling me. Maybe I won’t. Maybe this will be my only mention of it on this blog from here on out. I have a feeling I won’t have any choice but to write about it, in one form or another, for any of it to make something resembling sense.
I don’t want to continue to bring this up, as I don’t want to burden those reading this with the heaviness of the situation, the heaviness I feel inside every time I think of it.
I am here for my mother, as she is understandably closest to ground zero of the slowly burning disaster that is currently at the forefront of the collective mind of my family. I am here for my sister, who is handling all of this as well as one might expect; bravely, compassionately, and with healthy fear and frustration. I love them both and am happy to be their sounding board, their crying shoulder, their helping hand, in all of this going forward.
But one thing must be understood: I am not okay. I’m sure that, with time, I will be. But for now, though I am here, though I am smiling and laughing and putting on my best face for the crowd… I am not okay.
There it is, the line has been reached. Quite enough of such sadness in this post, one that started with such hope and promise. Let us hope the new year in question is not a reflection of how this post has gone so far.
Star Wars. That’s a good thing that happened in 2015, a new Star Wars movie happened and most people agree it was pretty good.
I’m very tired. I think I’ll go get some sleep. A longer, perhaps happier, post will come soon.