Friday, March 02, 2007

My Papa Died

On February 20, 2007 at 11:05AM Sty-a-chin died.

At 7AM the local DJ was assuring everyone that today’s sunrise would be a “ten pointer.”

I was reading the Drudgreport and nursing black coffee when the phone rang.

The Telephone’s Caller ID flashed “Scottsdale Medical Center.” Perhaps the liver transplant consult had been arranged for Papa. The woman on the phone asked, “Is this the son?”


“You better come down. It’s happening.”

Six words but I knew exactly what she meant. I rousted Auntie S, Auntie J, and Cousin M by repeating those same six words. Though, they were still wrapped in their bed sheets, no clarification was necessary. In two minutes, Auntie S and I hopped in the Honda and sped down the 101.

The calm I felt was as big as the sky and scared me. I might be too calm. One phone call shattered the last-ditch hopes we had that Papa was going to “make it.” Shouldn’t I be crushed? Shouldn’t my body be a tangle of inoperative limbs with my gears slipping from grief? I must be gliding across the Plateaus of Denial and the cliff will soon come.

The 101 was jammed up at Cactus Blvd. Traffic was an inconsequential annoyance considering the circumstances; Auntie S and I took evasive measures. Through a series of illegal but carefully maneuvers we made it the Scottsdale Medical Center in minutes.

Auntie S, Auntie J, and I donned the all too familiar yellow smocks. These were the ceremonial garb of the Medical Religion. I eschewed the Laytex gloves. If my father really was dying, I was going to hold his hand with my hand.

My father’s lungs shoveled the air. The color in his face was rosy, like he’d just gotten off the slopes for a quick Irish Coffee in the lodge. His eyes were closed, and the lids were shiny like in the old-time cartoons. I could not believe he was dying.

With my head on his shoulder I cried. The sadness swam up from the dark like a giant manta ray. This was my Papa. A fantasy whispered that my love vibes might work their way into to his subconscious and wake him up, but his eyes did not open. I knew they wouldn’t. When my tears receded I held his hand.

The red splotches and broken capillaries in his wrist were too biomedical to look at. A trickle of blood leaked from where his IV entered his body. The crooked blood trail made his arm look cracked as if it had splintered. It seemed like the kind of thing nightmares were made of, but then I let go of the fear out of respect. I looked at him to know him and honor him. Pain and Death and Separation are the archangels of fear. I would not allow them to prevent me for witnessing the last few moments in the world of my beloved papa.

I wiped the tears from the stems of papa’s eyes and wiped his mouth. My presence and touch would be the last telegraphed messages of love to wherever he was inside. The room flooded with family.

I recounted the Lore of Joe Bowen and his Bountiful Adventures: the “close call” when a gray whale leaped out of the water a hair’s breadth from our boat, the “journey” across the badlands in a VW bus, the strange gravies he ladled over wild rice and forced everyone to eat, paddling a canoe across “S’Klallam Bay,” the great fireworks “debacle” when a box of fireworks fell on its side and pointed right at the house, the infamous wild Indian Ball he held on an island entitled, “Last Chance for Romance.” The laughter surprised me. Even in this grave moment, his adventure’s made others laugh.

The nurses returned and tweaked boxes and tubes like navigators. They were a team. A gay Cambodian named George and Meg was a pregnant tall White woman. They were perfect for their parts because they stayed out of the way and demonstrated the requisite deference. I asked them, “How do you do it? I can’t imagine going through this more than once?”

Meg looked at me and then said, “Well, most of the times the patients get better. And that’s the rewarding part. But it’s also an honor to be here during times like this.” A bright orange poker of Anger stoked my heart and hurtful things to say buzzed around like campfire sparks. The desire to unleash my rage on this nurse blossomed like a gasoline rose. But a deep breath reminded me that this wasn’t about the nurse, she did not kill papa. I set my energy to something more meaningful like memorizing his face.

Papa spoke of his pending death often to me, even when I was young. Even when he didn’t talk about it, his obesity was poignant reminder. He maxed his body out repeatedly and kept asking for more credit. It was just a matter of time before the bill came due. Even giants are made of flesh. We traveled a lot when I was a kid, and that’s when he told me stuff. He dictated to me what would happen to my mind when and if he died. “You’ll forget things. You’ll forget what my face looks like. And then eventually you’ll forget what my voice sounds like. You’ll try to remember but you won’t be able to.”

I was skeptical. At the time I did not know he spoke from his own experience. When he was 22 his mother died of cancer. He was not making predictions for me but telling me what had happened to him. In the hospital I burned his face into my memory:

He had a ruddy face, with long dark, straight, long eyelashes. He had a W.C. Fieldsian nose, or maybe a little Tip O’Neil-ish. It was a lawyer’s nose, rounded from drinking and thinking. The flat delta under his nose gave him a thin upper lip. His bottom lip was thicker. When he grew a moustache he darkened it with wax because his facial hair was lean. His round chin rested in a swath of healthy skin. His whiskers were usually clean shaven. Although, every once in awhile he’d go Rambo and let the iron stubble grow in. He had anti-gapped teeth. The front two were tight as stones in a Roman arch but he had gaps on either side of them. He’d always meant to get them filled. Once we went down to Rocky Point, Mexico together to investigate “affordable” dentistry. Sometimes he’d squirt a dual stream of pool water through the teeth while swimming. He dyed his hair with Just For Men hair product—Ash Brown. It was a good color for him because it was not overly dark. A ripple of gray was emanating from his head because coloring his hair was an impossibility at the hospital. The grisly fact that the hair continues to grow after death made an appearance in my mind. He had dark brown eyebrows over the crown jewels of his face—his eyes. They were stark blue like two glacier shards.

I rubbed my dad’s feet one last time. Growing up my dad made me rub his feet. I hated it. It was a loathsome and awful work. It would have been easier to wear stripes and break rocks than rub his feet. They were like petrified tree trunks. His callouses were like heat shields from the space shuttle. But I rubbed his feet for the long walk he was making.

The bright red numbers indicating blood pressure declined slowly. My father was slowly easing off the throttle to coast for awhile. He did not visibly wince or grimace. He slept as peaceful as a prince except for the labored breathing. I held his hand and told him that I would be happy in life and love my family.

The blood was leaving his face like a firing going out. His skin became the predawn. His eyes in rolled up into his head and I knew, I absolutely knew that we were made from things in the earth. He bit down on his nasal cannula. His neck thickened. The blood pressure sunk below 30. Legal regulations required Meg to ask us if we wanted to put a breathing tube in Papa’s mouth. It was out of the question.

The totality his absence brushed against me like sharks. I did not crumble, I carried forth, holding his hand, the cracked hand. The nurse turned off his monitors so we didn’t have to listen to the alarms and buzzers. I radiated as much love for him as I could. We said a prayer and then I sang the bear song for him. He took one last breath, his body tensed up and then relaxed forever.

He changed in front of me. He went from my papa into a woodpile. Without his spark I saw nothing in the body laying in the hospital bed. The clock said 11:05AM. I must remember this.

Everyone cried. Everyone took their turn to say goodbye to him.

Eventually the people made their way to the cafeteria, I waited alone with my dad’s body for the pastor and the doctor. I thought about the times when I was so little I could sleep on his back while he watched football. I snipped some of my dad’s hair of for myself. I felt a little morbid but I wanted a piece of him with me to keep me going, to keep me strong to keep me alive. To keep me from grinding myself between the Wall of Routine, the sort of thing my father fought against.

So I snipped his locks, enough for a little natural gray and the “coloring” and used medical tape to hold it together.

The doctor came in and put a stethoscope to his chest and formally pronounced that he was dead, and that she was sorry. That was the end to the best papa that ever lived on god’s green earth. He was excellent. Now I will be happy, love my family, and remember him.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

New Blogs, Trips, Papa Bear

My fellow Netizens, I can bear the pressure no longer. Clearly, this blog has been drifting for some time. I can feel the accusations growing out in the “no where.” Collectively your blame is rising up like a Swamp Thing in the Bayou to point its finger at the Medicine Bear and saying, “You. You are just like the others. A flash in the internet pan. You wrote, and wrote, and then just like every other pampered generation X’er you lost focus. You became bored. And moved on. This is why you’re no writer. You have the staying power of a 15 year old lad with a Brazilian Stripper. Go back now, and never call yourself a writer again!?”

To this I say HA! HA! You people, you mob, you digital posse. The Medicine Bear does not hibernate because he has MEDICINE…duh! This medicine keeps me awake, with red eyes and staring out my window at LA SWAT hiding in the trees...And don’t start with that “Ooooh, Law School has stolen his focus like a crackhead and a purse.” Not true. The bear’s appetite is never satisfied by one course of study, he is an omnivore. That means veggies and meats, people! No, I am working on a travel story. My adventures through Peru. This condensed multi-volumed treatise is jam packed with sumptuous blend of penis jokes and historical fact. It will be free of charge [except for the part of pretending to enjoy it when one is my presence] and will be delivered to you via email.

So other than that. My father has been ill. Yes, shame. Shame, on you. A pox, a pox on the accusers. Calling me lazy when the “Dancing Bear” is in the hospital. Yeah, my dad is ill and has been bed ridden for 3 months. It’s unsettling because he was such a lively, hearty man. His heartiness is great benefit to him during this time. Most regular mortals would have perished but my father hangs on. He contracted a virus in his adventures to Panama. Apparently a visit to a “local” eatery finally caught up to him. His infection's toxicity was multiplied by various other complications that family modesty prohibits me from disclosing. It does lead me to talk about my father though. A few points that the Mob ought to know about the man.

He was my only parent.

My father and mother’s marriage was short lived and sort of tragic. Much of the marriages in the “hippie” and “free love” period were neither “hip” nor “free.” Unfortunately they separated shortly after their union. My mother lived in Riverside. Apparently the mothering lessons taught in East Los Angeles were not so effective. As a result, my Aunt Sandy contacted my father to ask permission so that she could adopt me. I suppose she assumed that a young, male, bachelor lawyer would not have the time or patience [or maybe even that the lawyer heart is capable of love] to raise me. However, Aunt Sandy was mistaken. My father traveled from the Puyallup Indian Reservation and got me. This is one of the reasons why I love BOYZ IN THE HOOD, aside from the common generation X desire to be a black thug, I also appreciated seeing a Father take responsibility and raise his son.

My father raised me. True it was Father love, which is a more steely kind of affection, it was love none the less. And although, he was rough and tumble, I was never hungry [as my Husky-Sized clothing attest to] and I never felt unloved.

I had a pioneer Father

My dad had a lust for outdoor adventure and hunting. I think his generation was raised on Davey Crockett and Westerns and so they wanted to get outside and kill things. For Instance, when my father was in Law School he put on a head band, and was hunting deer along a creek near riverside. He was hunting with a bow. Of course, he was near Riverside where there were grocery stores and the like. I think he just wanted to be a pioneer-dude. It is highly unlikely that he would even encounter deer. However, while he was “stalking” a great calamity arose. My Father heard a large crowd whistling as shouting. He looked over and saw men pressed up against a chain link fence cheering him on. No, this was not a bathhouse…close, it was a prison. Apparently, the criminals in the yard spied my dad creeping around with a bow and arrow and the violent, “manly,” anti-civilization aspect of it captured their hearts.

Old Man Quick Shots
1. He used night hunt with my Uncle Tom Taylor by duct taping a flashlight to his rifle. A trick I employed when playing war with my buddies which led to chipping my best friend’s tooth.
He has been known to occupy his cabin wearing a giant Coyote “Babbooshka” with no shirt, only sweats stuffed into gortex boots while making Moose stew in a crock-pot and watching Hombre.
He affixed a target with bales of hay across his driveway so that he may sight his rifles in from the comfort of his deck.
2. Every home he lives in has a fire pit. Including installing a Franklin stove inside a house just because he loves the smell of wood smoke.
3. He once asked me if i thought god exists, and at the time I was an atheist and said in my best teen know-it-all voice, “obviously he does not.” Although my father was not a religious man he did say, “You shouldn’t say its so obvious he does not. There is no evidence that he does or does not exist, and if you say he does not, it sounds kind of stupid.” This conversation made a great impression on me.
4. He wore flip flops anywhere and everywhere. He would meet the president of the United States in flip flops.
5. He pioneered Indian Gaming – a huge accomplishment. Essentially he brought welfare to poor White and Asian Americans. Although these ethnic groups do not believe in the state provideing free money to the udner privileged, they do believe in putting up a tiny fee for the chance to win a huge chunk of Free money. Interesting.

Anyways, these are just a few things. This is just to point out how hard it is to see my father struggling in a hospital because he enjoys life. Also, this enjoyment is the reason he is fighting to stay here. He and I are planning to build a smokehouse up in Washington so we can smoke our own salmon this Summer. Also, I wish to share some of the things that I love about my father and have obviously shaped me. Some of my friends wonder what kind of mind can give life to such bizarre and lively inventions, and I say, the kind of mind that was forced to peppermint cod liver oil.

Sincerely MB,
Grateful Son of Dancing Bear

ps. In regards to my father’s name, people ask “Can your dad really dance?” Of course, nothing I have seen really confirms his skill, but my Father assures me that he can. Of course, I usually rely on the judgment of women in these matters and I have never heard them comment on his dancing skill either. I pray that he gets well enough to get up and show me that he is the Dancing Bear.