Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Off to Florida

My brother and I have decided to take a quick trip to Florida to make sure that things go smoothly with the disposition of our grandmother's estate. We'll be on a plane tomorrow morning, in Port St. Lucie, FL by tomorrow evening, and will hopefully get to meet with some folks who knew my grandmother then and on Friday, with an early Saturday morning return to Texas.

What's funny is that there's nothing in particular we have to be there for. There's no property that needs to be sorted through or sold, and other than a box of jewelry and her purse it appears that there are few personal effects to deal with. Her will contained a number of special gifts of cash to a number of relatives (grandchildren -- myself included -- and several nieces and nephews) and her friend Walt (an elderly man who lived next door who did a really terrific job of keeping an eye out for my grandmother's interests). The bank accounts appear to be the only real "money" assets, and the contents of the accounts is almost exactly as much as the total amount specified to be distributed as gifts, so unless some life insurance policies or other unexpected assets turn up the distribution of assets will be really simple as well.

But it just seems appropriate, respectful, to at least take the time to go there, to visit with a couple of the folks that knew her and to say thanks to some of the folks that helped her during her final days. Happily, the amount that she left my brother and I more than covers the travel expenses (with enough left over in my case to pay off a few bills, which is a really nice feeling). So really this will just be a few days away, meeting with attorneys, neighbors, friends, and careworkers to get a few memories and say a few "thank yous."

Seems like the right thing to do.

Mood: Kinda excited
Now Playing: Nothing

That's MR. Executor To You

So, this just gets weirder and weirder. Found out last night that I am named as executor in my grandmother's will, although I know nothing of the contents of the will as yet. I spoke with the funeral home last night: they are faxing me a cremation authorization to sign this morning. Happily, my grandmother appears to have pre-planned and pre-paid all of this stuff, so all that remains is for me to sign off on it. It looks like she obtained a small plot in the same cemetery in which my uncle is buried, so hopefully there won't be any of this digging up other people's gravesites to bury urns nonsense this time around.

I spoke with the attorney about 45 minutes ago to try to get an idea of what needs to be done, and it looks like this will be fairly simple. It might not even require that I go to Florida, assuming everything looks on the level. Sadly, it appears that my grandmother may not have kept very much in the way of personal items or family heirlooms. She sold her home about 18 months ago and the proceeds of the sale went to the convalescence home in which she resided until she died. There are two bank accounts, the contents of which I have not yet been able to ascertain. There's a small box of jewelry, including her engagement and wedding rings and several other nice pieces. They'll be faxing me a copy of the will later this morning so I can see what my responsibilities are and how the estate is to be divided.

And, apparently, that's about it.

The attorney's are, of course, poking at me to try to get me to sign a retainer so that they can "handle" getting the jewelry and whatnot appraised, but until I know a bit more about what cash is actually still in those accounts and whether it will be sufficient to cover their fees adequately I can't really make any decisions. Honestly, given that the estate appears to be fairly simply structured, I probably don't really need their help at all. It might make more sense to just fly there, close the accounts myself, and so on. I could leave tonight and only pay about $500 for the ticket, so if the estate has funds of any significance I might just do that.

Sigh. It's weird. I feel so ghoulish, picking through the probate remains of someone I barely knew in any meaningful fashion. And of course, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the little voice in the back of my head that's insistently whispering "What do I get? What do I get? What do I get?" I suppose it's only human to get a bit, well, greedy at a time like this. But admitting that doesn't make me feel terribly proud.

Mood: Edgy
Now Playing: Cirque du Soleil, "Tapis Rouge: Solarium"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Death, and Distance

Last night I get a call from my brother, about 8:00 or so. Now this, in and of itself, is odd. My brother and I are close, but we're not telephone people, really. We work together and see each other on a regular basis outside of work, so if one of us calls the other there's a reason. Calling on a weeknight is especially odd, since we both have kids and plenty to do once we get home from the office. So, it's gotta be news.

So I pause the movie we were watching (Monday night is movie night for the kids -- they pick the movie, no set bedtime, snacks and whatnot with the whole family, etc. -- the movie this week was "The Neverending Story" which dazzled them and irritated Christine and I beyond words) and grab the call.

Mike sounds weird, kinda shaky, and my first thought is that something has gone wrong with the negotiations with an unnamed company that will result in some significant changes to my unnamed company in the near future. This stuff is all he's -- and I've -- been thinking about for the better part of two months, now. But nope, it's not that.

Turns out that our Grandmother passed away yesterday.

Now, our family history is a bit, well, involved. This is my father's mother, and my father died when I was quite young. After his death, the relationship between my mother and her in-laws soured quickly (my grandfather was a vicious, controlling, drunken prick who thrived on feeding his ego by debasing everyone around him) and when, after a few years, they moved to Florida, the relationship between them and us quickly became one of distance and attempted manipulation through cash (they had cash, whereas my mother was a widow raising two kids on Social Security and a part-time job at Sears) where they would try to make us feel guilty for not visiting them in Florida but would never offer to assist with the cost of plane fare or a hotel. Really intrinsically mean stuff.

Time went by, and the relationship slowly resolved into the basic Christmas/Birthday Cards cycle, with an occasional visit when they were in upstate NY for the summer months. As I got older, I hit a stage when I decided I wanted everyone to get along (17, idealistic, whatever) and there were a few more get-togethers -- they even attended a community theater performance of "The Rainmaker" in which I had the lead over the summer after I graduated from High School.

Then College, more distance, and then some sort of perceived slight at my brother's wedding (apparently we didn't spend enough time with them, although they were who we spent most of our non-wedding party oriented time with) led them to decline to attend my wedding a couple of years later. After several letters were exchanged, my grandmother owned up to the fact that the "slight" was an excuse, and that simply put it was too painful for them to see me. I looked, at that time, almost exactly like my father did not long before he died -- I was about 25, he died at 32. And she said, simply, it hurt them too much to see me. My grandfather maintained until the day he died that we snubbed them and that he had no use for us (including the very vocal and dramatic gesture of disinheriting us. He had a lifelong mantra that we'd be sniffing around for cash when they got older), but I at least knew the real story.

So, talk about your irreconcilable differences.

Anyway, after that I settled into a basic "dutiful grandson" role. Whatever chance there was for some sort of relationship had been pretty methodically snuffed out by my grandfather, but I decided that the best route was to keep them in the loop, with Christmas cards and small gifts, the occasional letter, pictures of my kids each year, and so on. Really more for my own benefit, I suppose, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I figured that if nothing else, I knew I was being kind and maybe it would help my Grandma, a silly and fairly dippy old lady, cope with her marriage to a miserable old drunken prick a bit better.

So, anyway, then my grandfather died (we didn't find out until a month later), and then my uncle (my grandmother's other son) died (pancreatic cancer. Awful), and then it was just Grandma, down in Florida, slowly degenerating, drinking Scotch, playing cards, and chain-smoking. Then there was throat cancer, and an operation, and recovery, and more drinking and chain smoking, and several minor strokes, and more drinking and smoking, and repeated bouts of pneumonia, and then yesterday she was having trouble breathing and then, after being put on oxygen, she died last evening.

It's all very odd.

I've never had a death of someone in my family about which I felt so … ambivalent. I mean, it's sad, but mostly because the entire history was just plain sad. Bitterness and misery on their part, carried like a talisman over the 25-or-so years since my father's death until the death of my grandfather, and then Grandma living another 6 or 7 years, settling into a quiet life in which she made it clear she didn't really want any visitors and that she was happy to receive the occasional card and letter but that mostly she just wanted to be left alone with her booze and ciggies and elderly neighbors and friends as her life slowly ground to a halt. By all accounts she was quite happy in her final years, and that's a good thing. Being free of the presence of my grandfather was almost certainly a blessing. I hope my notes and pictures brought her some happiness.

Now it's done. Every ancestor on my father's side of the family, aside from a cousin whom I can't stand and his widowed mother (not a "blood relative" exactly, but family), is gone. My family tree's looking fairly barren these days….

So we're waiting for information. We know there is a will, and after my grandfather died Grandma wrote us back into it (Mike and I, at least – don't know about my cousin or Aunt. I hope my Aunt is in there, though if there's any justice my cousin will be utterly and completely excluded) although what it contains is anyone's guess. These folks had income from full NYC pensions (he was a firefighter, she was a clerk of some sort) and I assume their medical expenses were covered by the pensions as well, and aside from their drinking and smoking they lived extraordinarily frugal lives. There could be little, or there could be lots. I honestly don't know. I suppose it seems ghoulish, but I am terribly curious to see what comes out of this.

And apparently, I might be the executor of the will. Waiting to hear more, soon, and I might need to take a brief trip to Florida to take care of her effects and see if there are any family heirlooms that should be distributed that aren't covered in the will. I kinda hope that the trip is necessary, actually. I have such strange, unresolved feelings about this -- I'm not sad, exactly, but a big part of me keeps telling me that I should be, even though there was literally no actual relationship here outside of one of token respect. A trip to take care of the final "stuff" could be what I need to get some closure on what is a very odd event in my life.

As for her remains, she has requested cremation without any remembrance or ceremonies, and to be shipped to my Aunt. My Grandfather's cremains were buried, illegally and without our knowledge or permission, in my father's grave, and the assumption is that this is what she wants as well. For my part I have no real objection, other than that it's not legal and I'm not sure it's fair to ask my aunt to do this. We'll see.

So, anyway, in memory of my Grandmother, Charlotte. She wasn't a smart woman, nor was she brave or even particularly kind, but she wasn't so bad, either. Over the course of 93-or-so years she buried her husband and both of her children, a fate that I wouldn't wish on anyone and due to which I am willing to forgive quite a bit. In a different life, with a different husband she would probably have been a very different person. Kinder. Perhaps nobler. In the end, she was sweet, in her way, and probably happier than she had been for a long time, and I hope my token attempts at familial rapport added to that.

Mood: Unsettled
Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, July 23, 2005


So, y'know, I guess I'm another victim of this blogosphere posting malaise that has struck. A week or more between posts. No real urge or desire to blather on about this and that. Just a big ol' "whatever." But here I am. Figure I'll just type for a while and see what happens.


Busy Busy Busy

This Summer seems to have been unusually busy for us. I had figured it would be really laid back, since my in-laws are around and have their own place for the duration. We have built-in babysitters that the kids fall over themselves to spend time with, which would seem to suggest that a lot of spare time would magically appear, enabling us to read or watch films or just hang out at will.

For some reason, though, this doesn't seem to be the case at all.

I mean, we're doing some cool stuff. The occasional visit to the bookstore to sip coffee and browse (I'm reading Chuck Palahniuk's "Haunted" a few chapters at a time. I don't like it enough to buy the thing, but I'm intrigued enough to steal it, intellectually, piece by piece, during our infrequent bookstore visits). We've NetFlixed a bunch of films, many of which have sat, unwatched for a week or more at a time (this list currently includes "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," "Throne of Blood," and "Gods and Monsters"). We've instituted Monday Night Family Movie Night (kid-friendly fare with lots of snacks and no set bedtime) and have watched a few classic kids things that were not nearly as good as we remembered, really ("Benji," "The Love Bug," "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," and "Beethoven" were all diverting and more or less entertaining but not particularly good) and one terrific movie ("Holes" was fantastic). Hit Sea World for a day. Lots of swimming crammed in between all of this. And then there's the usual occasional BBQ type stuff. But it's all very distributed, and tends to make things feel very, very busy.

Odd. All this time on our hands, taking away all the time on our hands.

Other Things

Haven't played World of Warcraft in almost a month, which is kinda silly since I pay $16 a month to be able to play whenever I want. Might need to rethink that.

Did have a few friends over the other night for an evening of drinkin' and horror movies. I've been thinking of getting a horror movie viewing crew together for a while, and I finally pulled the trigger. I set the theme for the evening at Classic Giallo and we watched Lucio Fulci's "The Beyond" (not good) and Dario Argento's "Suspiria" (beyond brilliant), and drank far, far, far too much.

This is going to become a monthly occurence, I think (the movies, if not the "drinking far too much" -- I mean, drinking will occur, but I can do without the hangover, thanks a bunch), with the next movie night being devoted to Basic Monster Movies. I define these as "movies in which a group of not terribly famous celebrities encounter a monster that proceeds to pick them off one by one."

Examples of this genre are nearly limitless, but I think I'll be going with my all-time favorite bad movie, "Anaconda." So, so awful, and it's knows it, as does every single actor in it, including a pre-superstar J Lo, pre-fame Owen Wilson, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, and Jon Voight giving the most eccentric and ridiculous performance this side of Eric Roberts or Gary Busey. Second feature will probably be one of the crop of late-90's /early 00's semi-star driven monster movie vehicles. Perhaps underappreciated, lobotomy-required fare like "The Relic" -- starring celebrity meth fiend Tom Sizemore! Or maybe the incredibly gory, incredibly silly "Deep Rising." Or the bizarre horror movie in space riff on Solaris "Event Horizon" with Lawrence Fishburne. So many to choose from....

Finally caught "Batman Begins" last night, and it was fantastic, if uneven. As talented as he is, Christopher Nolan needs to learn how to film and edit an action or fight sequence. When things were slowed down and dramatic the film was amazing, but the minute the pace picked up and the punches started to fly it was a chaotic mess. But the look of the film, the story, the acting (aside from Katie Holmes, who was pretty damn lame), and the overall effect was great.

I mean, aside from that ridiculous polot hole with the microwave transmission thing boiling all the water in the sewer from hundreds of feet away, but not boiling the water in the bodies of anyone else nearby it. Dumb dumb dumb. But otherwise, terrific.

Well, I think I've babbled long enough. It is pretty much a certainty that I will have interesting news to disclose about my professional life in the near future. Sadly, I don't know how long it will be before I can do so. Not that it's so interesting, really, but it's just that I know that these un-disclosable events are taking up a huge amount of my thoughts and are almost certainly contributing to my dearth of postings lately, and I'd like to clear the pipes already.

But it'll have to wait.


Mood: Drowsy
Now Playing: The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"

Friday, July 08, 2005

Behold My Power / Archival Photos

Heh. So, a few hours after I completed yesterday's paean to my genetic predisposition to pine for rainfall, last evening around dinnertime the skies opened up and we got ourselves a nice little downpour. Actually, up in my neck of the woods it was only raining with any urgency for about 5 minutes, followed by 15-20 minutes of drizzle, distant lightning, and low, grumbly thunder. According to Ray, however, central Austin got deluged.

My powers are formidable, it would appear. I must remember to be careful in the future.

I had just finished eating my dinner when we heard the first rapid slapping of the large drops hitting the pavement of our patio. In a flash I was up and standing at the window, and seconds later I had stripped off my shirt and was standing in the rain, getting drenched, cool water running down my chest and dripping from my fingertips. Within seconds the temperature of the air dropped by what felt to be at least 15-20 degrees. It was heavenly.

The kids looked at me like I was crazy at first, but then they decided that a headlong rush to grab umbrellas and rain boots was in order. We caught raindrops on our tongues, pooled rainwater in our hands and threw it at each other, and spun our umbrellas as I taught Miranda the words to "Singing in the Rain."

Crazy? They think walking around in the rain without a shirt on was crazy? If the sun hadn't of been up, I doubt I would have stopped at stripping off the shirt. Alas, I live in the suburbs and I don't need to get shit from the neighbors. And besides, I have no doubt my kids would have told my in-laws....

So now the "Days Since It Rained" calendar has been re-set. It could be weeks, even months, until we see real rain again. But I feel renewed in the strangest way. I don't understand it, I can't explain it.

But man, that rain felt So. Damn. Good.


Today, my friend Lee posted links to two of the best sites I've had the pleasure of seeing recently. They are:

Ratt's Freak Show


Least Wanted's Photos

The freak show site is perhaps the less savory or "tasteful" of the two, but I've always found archival photos of circus and carnival freaks to be simply fascinating. Yes, these people were exploited, but in many cases the photos show so much humanity, even dignity, in their faces, their postures, their expressions. Perhaps it's the fact that typically the whole person is shown, portrait style, their face and hands and clothing as much a part of the image as their deformity. It's not clinical, doesn't dehumanize them in the way a black rectangle covering their eyes tends to, or dismember them with selective cropping, removing their identities and focusing attention on the result of some capricious genetic error or unfortunate viral infection.

And the archival mug shot photos are just terrific. I find myself paging through them, one after another. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What were their crimes? What ever happened to them? Questions and suppositions cascading through my mind. Lack of context coupled with the burnishing effects of time creating layers of meaning. If you've ever spent some time in an antique store, going through old photos or other people's diaries, the effect is similarly fascinating. It's an odd form of voyeurism, I'd say: Intellectually titillating, simultaneously sad (why have these memories been discarded and sold?) and sweet (the act of perusing discarded keepsakes is a way of remembering these people, even if it is without context).

Thanks, Lee! Wonderful Stuff.

Mood: Kinda giddy
Now Playing: Brian Eno & David Lanois, "Apollo"

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Floating Along, Dreaming of Rain

Well, my previously described inability to muster a decent blog entry continues. Not that I don't have a lot to talk about, but either a) I can't discuss the issues of interest in this particular forum, for lots of different reasons or b) I just can't muster the energy and focus to really dig in and write about things.

Maybe it's the heat and lack of rain. One thing I've noticed, since moving to Texas nearly 5 years ago, is that I have an odd psychological reaction to extended periods of dry weather. My first summer here we went for nearly 7 weeks without a drop of rainfall. I remember when a small thunderstorm finally rolled in, on a humid August afternoon, I immediately felt the uncontrollable compulsion to strip off my shirt and just go walking in the rain. I told my wife I was going for a walk, she looked at me like I was nuts. I came back about 20 minutes later, soaked to the skin and feeling an indescribable mixture of vague pleasure and highly specific relief.

June was the sixth driest June on record. We haven't had any meaningful rainfall in over a month (and the rainfall we did have, about a week ago, was really just a brief mist that evaporated moments after it touched the ground). I've noticed that if I let my mind wander when I'm laying by the pool or sitting in traffic I tend to look to the horizon, searching for clouds or signs of overcast.

If there's anything to the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious, or of genetic memory carrying experiences forward across generations, then I think it's safe to assume that my ancestors didn't spend a lot of time in deserts.


So, some general issues that are worrying me:

Money. Money money money. The latter third of this year is looking to be outlandishly expensive, for a lot of different reasons -- some moreso than others. I'm so tired of being paid damn good money but continually feeling unsuccessful because, regardless of income, I just never seem to have anything left when the bills are paid.

Absent friends. One in particular. I've lost touch with one of my best friends, and can't seem to get back in touch with him. I've e-mailed, left phone mail, etc. No response. I haven't even seen him pop up on AIM in months. I'm becoming sincerely concerned. Thom, if you're reading this, get in touch willya?

Meh. I'm boring myself, here. Maybe I should just let this creative lull pull me along for a while.

Mood: Distracted
Now Playing: The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"