Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and now, Michael Jackson. What a weird week!
I'm not one to really mourn the loss of a celebrity. I shed some tears for Lady Di -- not just because I secretly long to be English, but also because it was just a sad, sad thing; and for Frank Sinatra (my dad's favorite). But Ed? Ed lived a long and amazing life, and it was time for him to go. Farrah? Sad that she lost her battle with cancer, but her struggle helped raise awareness of the disease.
And then there's MJ.
Now, in my experience, people generally fall into one of two camps on the MJ issue: either you love him to death, don't believe any of the child-molestation stuff, and think he is (was) the greatest thing since sliced bread; or you're one who thinks he's a horrible pedophile who escaped justice and paid off families of abused kids.
I'm kind of in the middle. Was he an amazingly talented musician? Yes. Fantastic dancer? Yes. A performer the likes of which we'll probably not see again soon? Again, yes. I think he recorded some of the best songs ever -- Dancin' Machine, Man in the Mirror, Pretty Young Thing, the list goes on and on. But was he a criminal, a pedophile, a child-molestor? I don't know.
What I do know is that he survived a horrible, abusive childhood. I'd guess he was probably molested himself, in addition to the physical and emotional abuse he suffered at the hands of his family. Then you add the fact that he's been in the public eye since what, age five? This is not the recipe for a healthy adulthood, folks. For Pete's sake -- look at Britney Spears. She suffered no abuse that we know of, and spent her early years of fame in the safe arms of Disney, and she STILL became a total trainwreck. I don't think Michael had a fighting chance.
It was pretty clear from the lifestyle he chose that ol' Mike wandered off the res many, many years ago. Neverland Ranch? Uh, yeah, not exactly a swingin' bachelor pad for a twentysomething pop star. Then he started with the plastic surgery; I can only imagine that some sort of torturous self-loathing would drive a need to transform into some weird fantasy verison of a face.
So what else could his death be but a release from all that pain and sadness? I hope he finds peace, wherever his soul has gone -- heaven, hell, or nowhere, depending on your beliefs. I'll remember him as a phenomenal performer who had an undeniable impact on music and culture as a whole.
I love this picture. It looks like Pugly's curling his nose up in disdain, but really he was just about to sneeze.
Austin loves both our dogs (Pugly, older & fatter; Alabama, smaller & stinkier). He wrestles with them, runs around the yard with them, and even hugs them. Alabama acts like Austin is her pup, checking on him at night, sleeping under his crib sometimes, and licking him to death.
My mom remarried when I was about 14. She'd been dating Mitch for a while, and I have to be honest and say I wasn't a fan at first. But hey, I was a pissed-off teenager, unhappy that my parents divorced (despite the fact that they were both happier afterwards). I think back to it now and I realize that I was pretty horrid to him -- made fun of his voice, bit his head off when he tried to help me with my German homework.
Once I got past my teenage years, and my angry early 20's rebellion years, I started to see why Mitch is so good for my mom. He has an amazing mellowing effect on her. If you know my mom, you know she can be, well, high-strung. She has a hot temper (like me!) and loves to argue (like me!). But with Mitch...it's like he brings out this wonderful softness in her. I can honestly say that she's not the woman I grew up with, and in many ways, I'm thankful for that.
Mitch doesn't have any kids of his own, and for a long time I think he was afraid to try and get close to me. In his defense, trying to get close to the 22 year old me was like trying to get close to a deranged pit bull...so, no hard feelings, dude. But since I settled down with Charlie, and especially since we had Austin, we're getting closer. We hug, which may not seem like a big deal, but Mitch is not a really "huggy" guy. I don't immediately ask for Mom when he answers the phone. We have really good conversations while Mom and Charlie talk about (snore) health care management. We make each other laugh. And most importantly, he's a VERY big part of Austin's life.
Mitch has influenced my life a lot more than he probably knows. It was with his help that my mom and I worked through a lot of our baggage and were able to be friends again. That alone makes him worth his weight in gold.
My Golden Stepdad, Attorney at Law -- with Austin, 3.23.08
Of course, Mitch could never replace my "real" dad, and he's never tried. My dad is irreplaceable, and I love him more than words can say. He's living history, he's hilarious, and he makes the best goddamn rum and tonic you'll ever have.
Daddy, Austin and Me -- 3.23.08
These two men showed me what fathers are supposed to be, and supposed to do. Without them, I wouldn't have found the most important father I know -- Charlie.
Seeing Charlie with our son makes me feel like the Grinch, at the end of his story, when his heart grows and grows and grows until it bursts out of the frame. People told me that when you have a child, you're amazed by how much love you can feel for that tiny person. What's amazed me more is how much I can love the two of them, together. I'm confident that Austin will grow into a wonderful, caring, and probably hilarious man who can change the oil in a car, make pancakes, and write a love letter that will melt a woman's heart. All those things, Charlie will give to him, gifts to steer him through life.
One of the really fun things about having a totally whack-job family is that you get to spend the day before Father's Day in tears. You know how it goes -- your half-sister sends you a booze-fueled email accusing you of abandoning and hating your dad, claims she's indifferent and then throws in some personal insults just for flavor. GOOD TIMES!
My dad is one of the most amazing people I've ever known. He served in three wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), and had some of the coolest jobs ever: Army engineer, highway patrolman, BMW guru. He's done the original Cannonball Run (would've been in the movie if there hadn't been a schedule conflict), stole an Army Jeep to impress a girl, and snuck out of his house to see Frank Sinatra sing in New York City. There are a million other stories I could tell; his life is better than any novel ever written. Best part is, it's all true.
I was born when my dad was already into his "grandpa" years. My mom was his second wife, and I was his fifth and final kid. He called me the Caboose when I was little. "You bring up the rear, kid." I was always close to my dad; he knew how to calm me down and make me feel better when nobody else could. He taught me how to drive, how to make awesome tater-tots, and how to shave seconds off your time in a road rally. So many habits and quirks that I have, come from him.
Unfortunately, I don't see my dad much these days. His health has been in decline since before I got married, and until recently, he's had home care. My half-sister volunteered to take charge of his care and coordinate any additional help. Ever since then, I've been the odd man out -- any time I offer a suggestion, it's shot down, and any time I offer help, it's ignored or declined. Now it's to the point that stuff I mail to my dad gets returned (unopened) and I can't talk to him on the phone. All this because my half-sister and my sister think that I'm a shitty person for not dropping everything to take care of Dad 'round the clock.
Before we got married, Charlie and I went through a rough patch that resulted in me staying with my dad for a bit. This was when his health first started to take a downward turn. I remember talking to him at the kitchen table one night, sad about my breakup with Charlie and sadder still to see my dad slipping away a little. I told him, "Dad, just let me stay here and take care of you. I can handle the shopping, the cleaning, the laundry. I'll pay my share of the bills, and you'll be set."
My dad clunked his glass down on the table. "NO. Absolutely not."
"But, Dad, I'm not trying to mooch, really! I've got a good job..."
Dad smiled at me. "You need to make your own life, Kiddo. Don't you worry about your old Dad."
I protested, and he shot me down again. He ended the discussion with his usual question: "Is there any ice cream?"
My dad was adamant -- he did not want ANY of us kids giving up a regular life to take care of him. He'd watched his brother David do that very thing: give up his entire life to take care of his parents. David died a very lonely, very bitter man.
On Monday, my dad's being moved to an assisted living facility, and I'm really happy about it. I'll be able to visit without family drama, finally, and my half-sister will get a well-deserved break. I really don't understand why she has such hostility towards me when all I've done is thank her and offer support. I'd like to think that with Dad's full-time care totally off her shoulders, she'll be able to move on and enjoy her marriage and her life. Who knows? I know I'll always be painted as the villain, no matter what I do. It's just kind of hard to swallow when I love my dad as much as I do.
This is my dad. It's a rare shot -- he doesn't usually ham it up for the camera. It was taken at the pool at the Officer's Club in Saigon, about 1968 I think.
This is Austin at about a week old. (I'm posting from Charlie's laptop, so my photo selection is a little limited.) I remember those early days very well. We (me and Austin) spent a lot of time laying in bed, him sleeping, me watching and randomly snapping cellphone pictures.
A couple of weeks ago, Charlie and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. You know, the one where the HOTTEST MAN ALIVE plays Spock? Yeah, that one. When he asked if I wanted to see it, I played it off casually..."Sure, if that's what YOU want to see." But deep down, I was quivering with excitement. Not because of the Zachary Quinto factor (although he is TOTALLY quiver-worthy), but because of my secret. My big, fat, geeky, pocket-protector-wearing secret:
I love Star Trek.
Like, I really love Star Trek. I've seen pretty much every episode of the original series, and all of the movies (even the ones with folks from "Next Generation," even though I didn't watch that show). I blame my mother for this -- she let me watch "The Wrath of Khan" at a really young age, and I was hooked. I think it was Ricardo Montalban as the baddest of baddies that sold me on it. That, and the ear bugs.
As I got older, however, I quickly learned that crazy love for a 60's TV show is not something that makes you wildly popular. I was fat, had braces, wore glasses (and some really atrocious outfits), and usually became the teacher's pet. Star Trek would have been the final nail in my coffin (RIP Jenny, Another Victim of Social Leprosy). So, I buried my love, wayyyy down deep, underneath my "Friends" DVDs, J. Lo records, and everything else that didn't fit the "artsy indie-rocker" persona I adopted around age 17.
Fast-forward 14 years, and I'm sitting in a dark movie theatre next to my best friend, the guy who has seen me at my absolute worst (and best) and still finds me tolerable enough to stick around. He's watching the movie, enjoying the special effects, and looks at me in surprise when I say "OOooooh, ROMULANS!"
For a second, I pretended I didn't say anything. "What?"
"How'd you know they were Romulans?" he asked.
"Well, didn't somebody just SAY they were Romulans?"
A huge dramatic explosion saved me from further discussion.
After the movie, I was riding a huge geek-high. When I told Charlie that this was going to be in my top ten movies of all time, he made me explain. And I cracked...I confessed my secret. He of course thought it was hilarious, and said something about being Star Trek characters for Halloween. I stopped dead in my tracks. "Seriously? You'd do that?"
"C'mon, Austin as a tiny Captain Kirk? How cool would THAT be?" he said.
This, my friends, is why I married this guy. A few minutes of teasing, and then he's 100% on board with whatever nuttiness I want to pursue.
Now that he knows about my secret love of sci-fi cheese, he's been adding all sorts of random shiz to our Netflix queue. Like, "The Day of the Triffids," a BBC mini-series from 1980 about poisonous, man-eating plants...THAT CAN WALK!
It's one of those movies that's a remake of a remake of a remake of a ridiculous 50's novel. Not quite as good as Star Trek, but I still enjoyed it.
So, my secret's out...anybody else out there have a crazy hidden love?