The End Of Time

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

-Van Morrison

I once wrote that as soon as you take your last breath, a million years will pass in the blink of an eye. The vacuum of time and space belies the tranquility those stars are painting for us inside this tent.

When you think about it, life manages itself just fine in spite of the effort so many of us put into wasting or stealing or borrowing its precious commodity. Its movement is effortless, like a parade inside the ether whose consequences are perpetuated inside one long string of granules whose beaches will eventually run to the other side of that thing called forever.

But where time is neutral, mortality is a locomotive on speed dial; a merciless fire that pulverizes everything in its wake. It does not discriminate the rich from the poor, the good from the awful, the old from the young. When it wants you, it will return you to the mystic from whence you came. Ready or not.

Each time I attempted to write about Kobe Bryant’s passing, I failed. Miserably. And I guess some of it had to do with the fact that I was never that much of a fan. My love for the Association was time stamped inside the halcyon days of Magic, Kareem, Dominique, Bird and Jordan. The last name on that list will always be first in my book. I always respected the generation that Kobe and Shaq carried into the new millennia, but I already had my mind made up when it came to the masters.

But the post was never about basketball in the first place. Oh sure, the tributes from players and arenas across the country were sporting life testimonials to the everlasting hold Bryant will always have on the game he knew and loved. For me it was different. As far as Kobe was concerned, I saw a man who always learned from his trials and tribulations- especially the self inflicted ones. This isn’t meant to sweep Colorado under the rug of idolatry that feeds much of society, because I will not. And I think it’s probably this complicated history that provided the most dubious hurdle for me when I got to writing about last Sunday.

So I remembered back to that line I once wrote about death and its timeless thrust. And this served to cancel out the narrative of a Renaissance man of the hardwood and a legendary college baseball coach. Because when you break this tragic event down to its saddest common denominator, you get nine souls whose forever got lost in the fog last Sunday morning. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. All of them, gone to the million years worth of mystic that began to unfurl much too soon.

Gigi was thirteen years worth of mighty, and she was going to play for the UConn Huskies someday. Her basketball sister, Alyssa Altobelli possessed that very same fire; she aspired to play ball at Oregon. Her mother Keri was the basketball super mama who fueled Alyssa’s dreams. Sarah and Payton Chester were the ultimate mother/daughter team; with mom coaching up her girl in all things basketball and life. Christina Mauser was the coach for the Mamba Academy team; the mother of three will not be there to celebrate her daughter’s fourth birthday this week. Because a Sikorsky S-76B piloted by Ara Zobayan crashed into a Calabasas hillside, stealing countless chapters from the stories that will forever be unwritten.

My heart breaks for the eighty years worth of living Gigi, Payton and Alyssa never get to have. And I mourn for Keri, Sarah and Christina, who never get to see their girls prom nights and wedding days. And John and Kobe . . . they never get to finish their most important jobs of all; as fathers to young girls who were their heroes.

Gone for a week now, a million years worth of it.

 

Running Away From Home

I went for a run yesterday afternoon. It was my first time out since my toe was t-boned by a runaway shelf the other day. I’m thankful that my metatarsals suffered only topical damage, in the form of an indigo colored toenail.

Nothing is less romantic sounding than a broken toe. Think about it, if you break your foot, you’re probably a stuntman; while breaking your ankle elicits pained expressions on a three fingers of bourbon level. Broken ribs provoke theological puns about Eve getting greedy, which is snarky without being demeaning. A broken arm somehow makes us seem athletic. A broken knee cap will have your friends thinking there was some nostra to your cosa.

A broken toe is a punchline. Without the punch. Seriously, if you tell someone you broke your clavicle, they offer to make you dinner for a month. Tell them you broke your toe? You’ve gifted them a running joke that will follow you to your grave.

This was one of the many things I thought about during a particularly brisk run whose Murgatroyd was heavenly. A good run is like watering the soul with Tibetan tap water. Somewhere inside the clipped breathing and rhythmic pounding there exists this wonderfully peaceful dimension in which sight and sound possess a flavor.

And so it happened while I was taking a bite of this glorious run, that mortality became a passing thought. Ditching the tunes invites loose thoughts. As a fifty two year old man who carries an aspirin and his drivers license on these jaunts, thoughts of death are not the preferred in flight movie. Death’s name in this instance, was Jimbo.

I know right?

Jimbo was friends with my pal Big Papi. They began falling out of each other’s loops over the last year and change. This change in temperature came about as Jim got dumber about his health and Big Papi, whose real name is Duane, got sick and tired of lecturing him on it. The last straw came when Jim celebrated a successful heart procedure by going to an all you can eat buffet.

The men both suffered from myriad health problems. But whereas Duane’s are the result of a stroke he suffered as a young man that paralyzed the left side of his body, Jim’s problems were self inflicted.

Truth is, I never liked Jim. He was a caveman whose personality was vanilla ice cream. Jim wore NBA jerseys in public, which I happen to think should be illegal for fat white guys. He drank soda because he didn’t like the taste of alcohol, which was not a sin in and of itself. But judging us for doing so? Was. And the whole Jimbo thing . . I mean, unless you own a bait shop, gun shop or porn shop, there is no fucking way you should allow the bo to caboose your proper name.

Clearly, I’m shitty when it comes to eulogies. Or maybe I’m just no good at dressing things up. But I don’t like that Big Papi had to pretend away the pain since there was nowhere for him to put it now. He’s fifty six years old and he’s going to be borrowing time sooner than later as a result of all the curve balls his body keeps throwing at him.

I attempt to change the subject in my head by assembling a poem on the fly. The cold air is a weep of bricks and the sky feels like a Caravaggio and my run deteriorates from bounding to sodden. The thoughts sometimes, they play for keeps. And death, its real name is time. I’d rather think of nothing at all, but its too late. Barbarians at the gate, the nasty little fuckers. So I push harder now, if only to hurt somewhere else, and it makes me feel as if I have something to lose. I find my rhythm inside the purpose of those twenty minutes.

I’m running away from home.

 

The lies of a fine place worth fighting for

I remember going to my kid’s elementary school a few days after the September 11th attacks. I had asked my daughter’s teacher if I could come in to help out and she informed me that there was a schedule for such things. Still, she took mercy on me because she knew about the stir I had created on that horrible Tuesday morning when I called the school and spoke to the principal. I was at work as the news kept coming about another attack, somewhere else. There were all these rumors about more to come, and while schools didn’t seem to be a target, all I knew was that the world was burning and I didn’t have my kids.

So I called the school because I wanted to come by and pick them up early. Things did not go well. The principal attempted to reassure me that the kids were safe and I was having none of it. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t need to be fucking comforted, I needed my kids. I’m not much for pretty words when my hard drive goes Chuck Norris. He didn’t miss a beat, keeping calm and talking me down from my crazy ledge. His was the voice I needed right then, even though I trusted nothing of a world that could produce the kind of morning we were living through.

I listened, and eventually I agreed with him. I was ten minutes from the school in the event some other catastrophe signaled the end of the world as we knew it. If I had to fucking walk to get there, that’s what I would do.

So my visit to the school was a need to be close to my daughter, my kids. I wanted to apologize, to the secretary and the principal. They hadn’t deserved my storm of curse words. They had jobs to do, jobs that became more difficult once the attacks began. And they had children, and families of their own. They didn’t need some irate father reminding them that the world was a mean place.

As I walked to my daughter’s classroom that morning, the walls were lined with crayoned pictures. Planes in the sky, buildings, people running . . flags . . caskets . . birds, peace signs. All those little, innocent minds had created a mosaic of that horrible morning. The definition of heart wrenching, it was in those little crayoned pictures.

” . . . we wanted the children to be able to process the event . .” Explained a teacher as we walked down the hallway.

I wanted to ask her how a child might explain that which has no reasonable explanation, but I had already used up all my grace points during that phone call a few days earlier. It made no sense to me, any of it. I felt so hopeless as I perused those portraits of the horror hanging from the walls. I felt as if the world had gotten lost and there was just no finding it.

The world I knew had been replaced, with this. With a place where my kids would come to expect death in the deep blue skies, and in malls and workplaces . . and classrooms.  It was as if Dante’s toy chest had been opened and now, inside this horrible now, there was no going back.

My prevailing thought was that these kids were too young for this shit. There was no processing such a thing as this. As an adult, I didn’t even know how to process it. I struggled with how I was supposed to explain the attacks when they finally got around to asking me, and so when they did, I began by talking about monsters. Even though I understood that such analogies were simplifications of a much more sinister truth. The truth being that bin Laden had been a boy once. The truth being that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were boys. The truth being that somewhere along the line, all those individuals had lost their better angels to the demons within. The fact that they were not monsters, that they were actual human beings . . this was the truly frightening thing. For me.

So I colored the story with talk of monsters, because that was the way had to process these horrible things. They had become monsters, somewhere along the way, and so that’s where I picked up the story. For them.

And then my son asked me if the bad people wanted to blow up schools and I told him no.

“They only shoot in schools? . .” He said.

I still don’t know how to answer that one.