While today is our national day of stress and anguish and generalized terrifying anxiety about the results of our presidential election, there’s nothing I can do except wait it out. I voted as soon as early voting began. The election is like a runaway train now- all we can do is ride it to the end. There’s nothing more I can do today, and being a stressball about it will only hurt my own well-being. I’m trying to put the rest of it out of my mind as much as possible until everything settles down.
Instead, I’ll think about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Specifically, I’ll think back to when she was lying in repose at the Supreme Court back in September. Since the Supreme Court is only a few miles away from where I live now, I was able to wander past to pay my respects.
First, I walked past the Capitol building, where the flag was flying at half-mast.
The line of people waiting to walk past RBG’s casket was several hours long. It snaked back and forth between the buildings, then down the street, then down another street, and then down still another street. While I was walking the length of it, I saw people displaying their support in various ways. This mourner’s jacket was awesome. I’d like to think that she wears that jacket all the time.
Ultimately, I chose not to go through the many-hour line, and instead I walked across the street from the front side of the Supreme Court. This is where the media was set up, and I had a clear view straight up the stairs at the front. This was a perfectly acceptable place to have a moment of silence and contemplation for all that RBG did in her lifetime.
I also realized while I was standing there that I missed out on nothing by skipping the two-plus hour line. Even those who waited through the line still didn’t get very close, and my view from across the street was just as clear.
Plus, there was an unexpected benefit to going along the front side of the Supreme Court- the walkway across the street had become absolutely filled with tributes and art and messages of love and hope and gratitude for everything that Justice Ginsburg did. If I had not walked this way, I would never have seen them all.
I’m skipping my traditional end-of-post question, because they all seem trivial and empty on this one. See you all tomorrow.
I realized while going through the remnants of my old blog that it’s been ten years since Chris passed away. I’ve outlived a great many friends and loved ones, and some people leave more of a mark on you than others. Chris was like that- he definitely made an impression.
I first met him in the very early 1990s on an accidental double date. It wasn’t supposed to be a date- Jade, one of my best friends at the time, wanted me to meet her friend Amy and arranged a meet-up at a local pool room. Amy brought Chris along, and we got on brilliantly. After we all left the pool hall, we drove to the Lake Worth Pier. Chris wanted to talk to Jade on the drive over, so when we reached a stoplight, he got out of his car and knocked on my window. A brief car switcheroo commenced, and we each drove the rest of the way to the pier in the other’s car. This was the first of many shenanigans over the span of our friendship.
If you called Chris by his full name, he would say “the Topher is silent.” After Chris died December 28th, 2009, from complications of pneumonia, that sentiment is truer than ever.
Chris and I were thick as thieves through most of the 1990s. We took classes together at PBCC, before it evolved into its current form. In 1994, we got an apartment in Boynton Beach and spent a year as roommates. We worked at Motorola together making the circuit boards for pagers. He stayed on at Motorola when I left to finish my bachelor’s degree in Orlando.
A lot of who I am today was the direct result of my time with him. Being around Chris shaped parts of my personality. Chris is one of the few people I have ever known with a music collection that was larger than mine- we became fiercely competitive about the size of our CD collections. It was all in fun, though- there’s a ton of music in my regular rotation even now that I might never have been exposed to if not for him.
To this day, there are certain things that are indelibly linked to Chris in my mind. There are certain songs, certain places, certain concepts that will always remain linked to him in my mind. Whenever I see a Volkswagen Golf, or drive to South Beach near the former location of his favorite pizza restaurant in Key Biscayne, my mind drifts back to the past.
The memorial service was a traditional funeral mass, and I think Chris would have been terribly amused at how much the British reverend sounded like Rowan Atkinson. I kept waiting for him to say “…and the Holy Spigot.” The only people I knew at the church were his mom, his widow, and my good and dear friend Lorrie. I’ve known Lorrie since middle school, but this was the first time that I’ve seen her in person in over a decade. I noted a few days later how much it bothered me that it took the death of one friend to bring me back into the life of another friend. Lorrie and I never fell out of touch again after that. Even now, she’s a frequent concert-and-convention buddy.
But then, Chris was always a catalyst in my universe. The people from his world and the people from my world tended to get to know one another. And quite a few of them miss him even now.
He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.
That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone. He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them. We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.
My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad. When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.
Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all. When I finally started, I had to force myself to slow down. Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:
My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.
Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.
He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.
When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.
He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.
When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.
For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know. I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids. I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store. (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)
Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course. My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me. We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City. We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.
It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children. I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful. On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.
Damn it, 2016, knock it off already. You’ve already taken Alan Rickman, Prince, Abe Vigoda, George Gaynes, Jerry Doyle, Gene Wilder, and David Bowie. And now I see in the news that you’ve also taken Leonard Cohen from us? This will not stand!
Leonard Cohen was beloved by many of my friends. I loved him too. Leonard has been actively writing and performing music for almost sixty years. Almost everyone knows his work, even if they don’t realize it- he wrote “Hallelujah,” one of the most covered songs ever sung. Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and countless others have done hundreds of versions of this song, but the original is still the best. Leonard Cohen originally wrote around 80 verses for the song, and different artists sometimes choose different verses, which means that almost every version is just a little bit different.
My first exposure to Leonard Cohen was in 1990, when I was seventeen years old. A group of us (including Jade Walker and our good friend Chris Pine, who is now deceased) went to see the Christian Slater movie, “Pump Up The Volume.” During the movie, Christian Slater’s character spun up “Everybody Knows” and “If It Be Your Will.” I was transfixed, and I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen (and the ridiculous number of covers of his work) ever since. Those first two songs are still among my favorite songs of all time.
A recent Rolling Stone article mentions that when he finished his “Grand Tour” in New Zealand on December 21st, 2013, he had been touring for five years and played 387 shows. He came out of that tour with serious physical problems. Leonard Cohen had multiple fractures of the spine, and severe mobility problems. His final album, “You Want It Darker,” was recorded from a makeshift studio in his house. His son set up a Neumann microphone on the dining room table, and set the living room up with recording gear, a laptop running Protools, and a set of speakers. Much of that album was recorded with Leonard in an orthopedic medical chair. “You Want It Darker” was released on October 21st, just a few weeks before Leonard left us.
(Editor’s note: I accidentally acquired a subscription to the Rolling Stone a few months ago. I’m still not entirely sure how this happened, but every once in a while the magazine is really entertaining. If you’re interested in reading this fascinating look at the production of Leonard Cohen’s final album, I scanned the page from the November 17, 2016 Rolling Stone. Here you go. Click the thumbnail on the right to embiggen. )
Leonard was 82 when he died, which means he was about 79 at the end of his final tour. Six months before the Grand Tour ended, I was lucky enough to see him at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany. I was thrilled to finally be able to see him live, and I had no idea that he was on the last tour of his career. Even then, in late June of 2013, he was spry and witty and a master of his craft.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can show you what it was like to see him perform Hallelujah live in Mannheim, Germany, about three and a half years ago.
I’m tired of 2016 taking my musical idols from us. Someone keep an eye on Cyndi Lauper, Martin Gore, Andy Bell, and Vince Clarke, ok?
*If you’re not familiar, “Dance Me to the End of Love” is one of Leonard Cohen’s songs. There’s a live version on the 2009 Live in London recording you can get from Amazon and iTunes.
What’s your favorite Leonard Cohen song?
Editor’s Note: I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers. I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?