Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Devil's Punchbowl

My heart raced.

I regularly suffered from anxiety that something bad would happen to Joseph, that I’d be widowed young.

It scared me that I thought those things, but as I went to the phone, the pounding in my chest got stronger.

Of the few people who knew where I was this weekend, who would be calling so early?

“Hello?” I asked the cordless banana.

“Jessica. It’s Therese.”

[Onset of full blown panic.]

“Oh my God. Oh, my God. What’s wrong?”

There was no way Therese would have been out of bed so early on a Saturday morning if it wasn’t serious.

“Campbell’s gone,” she said.


“It’s John. He’s dead,” she said.

“What? When?”

“Yesterday. He drowned.”

“How the hell did he f*cking drown?” I demanded, angrily.

“He was up in the mountains with his roommate’s dog and some friends.”

“But John can swim! Was he drunk?”

I was incredulous.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what happened?” I insisted.

“A friend of his from Aspen called this morning. He has John’s address book. He’s calling all of us.”

“What did he say? Was he there?”

“No. He wasn’t there, but he said that the dog fell in the water and John went in to save him and drowned.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either," she paused, "he’s gone though.”

“Does Joseph know?”

“No one knows where Joseph is.”

“What do you mean no one knows where he is?”

“He’s not at the house.”

“Did you call him?”



“I got the machine.”

“He’s probably at the hospital. I think he was on call,” I said.

“You’d better call him,” she said. “He’d probably rather hear it from you.”

I agreed.

“What’s everybody doing?” I asked.

“There’s a funeral in Montana on Wednesday for the family and his friends are having a service in Aspen on Saturday.”

“Are we going?” I asked.

“I can’t go to Aspen," she said regretfully. I can’t afford to go to Aspen.”

“Well, is anyone going?” I asked, worried.

“Chicago's going.”

“They’re all going?”

“A bunch of them… I think.”

“F*cking Campbell.”

Therese started to cry.

My eyes felt like they were on fire and a huge hand kept squeezing my heart.

“Alright, I’m going to try to call Joseph at the hospital and then I’ll get on the road home,” I told her.

“He’s gone,” she said quietly.

“Man, I’ll see you later,” I said hanging up the phone.

I felt like a cartoon character in a deep freeze.

I wondered if I was still asleep.

I dialed Grady Memorial Hospital and actually got a helpful operator who paged Joseph, but got no response.

I told the operator I was his wife and that it was an emergency. I held the line while they looked for him.

John was Joseph’s college roommate and had just been a groomsman in our wedding a few
months earlier.

John cried when he said goodbye to us in Atlanta.

I remember wondering why he was so upset. He had acted like it was the last time he’d ever see us.

The operator returned to the line, “Your husband has left for the day, M’am.”

“Thanks,” I said and hung up.

I dialed home.

“Hello,” his voice answered.



“Did you hear?”



“A friend of John’s just called.”

“Are you o.k.?”

“I don’t know.”

“Therese said Chicago is planning to go to the service in Aspen.”


“I’m coming home this afternoon. We should go too.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“But… why not?”

“Everyone will be depressed and upset. I don’t want to remember John that way.”

“That’s not how you’ll remember John," I said softly. "Going would just give us a chance to be around other people who will miss him."

“I don’t need that. I’m too mad at him. What a stupid f*cker! F*cking drowned! F*cking &sshole!”

“Babe,” I started.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

There was a silence.

“Okay, listen, I said. "I was up late last night with Lori and David. I’m going to get some food and coffee and then I’m coming home.”

“You don’t have to come home. You needed to get away. There’s nothing you can do here.”

“I want to be with you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay, but I’m coming home.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too. See you later.”

The line disconnected.

I felt bewildered by Joseph’s reaction. I couldn’t understand him not wanting to go to the service. John had been one of his best friends.

Joseph grew up in a small town in Illinois.

John’s mom had also grown up there and her parents, John’s grandparent’s, still lived there.

John’s grandfather was an historian who knew all there was to know about Abraham Lincoln. Joseph had grown up knowing him.

When the two families learned that John, who grew up in Montana, and Joseph were both going to the University of Illinois, they suggested the two young men look each other up.

Joseph and John met early during their freshman year.

They became fast friends, hung out together constantly and developed a crush on the same girl in the dorm cafeteria (a friend of mine from high school as it would turn out.)

During sophomore year, John and Joseph roomed together and built a common group of friends.

Like many U of I graduates, most of the crowd moved to the city after college and the few of us in Atlanta called them, collectively, “Chicago.”

A few moved to Aspen, Colorado in a quest to remain young and free of responsibility.

To please his parents, John took a job as a recruiter for a college in Winter Park, Florida.

He suffered through a year of wearing a tie, keeping a respectable nine to five schedule and the insult of failing to get laid despite the sun, sand and abundant availability of fruity cocktail beverages.

In the end, John traded the career path in for a ticket to Aspen and a job bartending at a place called Cooper Street.

At our wedding, John bragged about his relaxed life, the skiing, the women and the decadence of Aspen.

He could mix and match party favors like a wardrobe, partying harder and longer than anyone.

He lived outrageously and gave out hugs and kisses like candy.

Before our wedding, John flew to Florida to visit his mom.

He drove up to Atlanta in a rented convertible and arrived with a severe sunburn.

“Who’s the really pink guy?” people asked us.

There was a party the night before the wedding and though John wasn’t the host, he ran the party.

He challenged everyone to drink more, do more.

He spent the final hours of the night driving his rented convertible around and around I-285, Atlanta’s perimeter.

Joseph had to give John eight glasses of water to get him up to get ready for the ceremony in the morning.

He washed his hair with one hand while the other held his weary body up, braced against the tile.

By the time he got to the wedding, I suppose he was restored.

He was beet red in all the wedding photos, but grinning from ear to ear.

I remembered his red face as I trudged back to Lori’s guest bedroom and fell back onto the bed.

Lori’s puffy morning face and fuzzy pink robe appeared in the doorway for the second time that morning.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Did you meet John Campbell at my wedding?”

“The guy with the sunburn?”

“Yeah. Him. He drowned yesterday.”

“Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“I’ll tell you later. I need a little more sleep so I can drive back to Atlanta.”

“O.K.” she said, leaving me.

I closed my eyes and opened them two hours later.

Lori was in the shower.

I smelled coffee, so I dressed and went to the kitchen.

David was in his underwear at the kitchen table.

“Morning. Want some coffee?” he asked.

“Yes. Definitely.”

David got up to get me a cup.

He was almost forty, which seemed pretty old to me at twenty six.

Although he was almost ten years older than Lori, I had liked him immediately when she introduced him as her fiancé.

He was a photographer, musician, nightclub owner and full time graduate student.

He had degrees in things like anthropology and sociology and was particularly interested in Mexico's culture, history and people.

He spent a lot of time traveling, gathering data for his thesis and writing articles for magazines.

To me, David was unpredictable, creative and perfect for Lori.

“I heard about your friend,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Is this the first friend of yours that’s died?”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“That’s rough,” David said handing me a cup. “I’ve had a couple die on me already. It’s hard. It makes you think about your own mortality, the meaning of life and all that. It makes you wonder if you’re living your life the best way you can.”

I took a sip of coffee.

“I had a friend who over dosed,” he said, “another drowned and another died of liver failure. Each time, I couldn’t f*cking believe it. The guy that over dosed… well, I guess he was the best off because he was too messed up to suffer. The guy that drowned was drunk and fell off a boat. Pieces of him floated up to shore the rest of the week. The last guy was the hardest. He died slowly and we all had to sit up there in that hospital room and watch. Man, that was awful. He knew he was going to die and he was so mad because there was so much he still wanted to do.”

I finished my coffee, packed up my things and started the long journey home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

King of the Forest

It was a glorious summer day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Late August, I believe.

I had my son slung on my back in a papoose contraption and I had my daughter slung from a sling like contraption around my chest.

Together, my children weighed about forty-five pounds.

We hiked along some forest trails, up ravines, and over river gorge log bridges.

The air was fresh and clean and smelled of pine needles.

The children were curious and asked many questions about the woods and the plants therein.

My wife constructed a crown made of wild flowers and crowned me King of the Forest.

I could not help but do a rendition of the same song from the "Wizard of OZ" sung by Bert Lahr.

Naturally, my children thought Daddy was very funny acting like a cowardly lion in the middle of the forest.

Our day was filled with wonder.

That evening, after dinner, we sat around a roaring campfire as the evening grew chillier and chillier.

Marshmallows and s'mores were the event of the night and were enjoyed by all.

We tucked the children into their sleeping bags and kissed them goodnight.

My wife and I sat quietly by the fire afterwards sipping a fine red wine.

It's easy to lose yourself while watching a fire outdoors in the dark of night when all your loved ones are safe and sound.

Peace surrounds you and there is little or no time for worry about tomorrow.

The weather turned cold overnight and I remember that my nose was freezing as that was the only part of my body sticking out of my mummy bag.

Being a good camper, I had taken off every stitch of clothing before retiring so that in the morning when I left the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag, my body would insist that I dress as quickly as possible and not feel the cold.

I made a pot of coffee and drank a goodly amount with sugar.

It's wonderful to be up just before sunrise when the forest is still and the aroma and taste of coffee is rich and satisfying.

Before the rest of the family arose, I grabbed my towel and toiletries and headed down the gravel road to the showers.

The air was brisk and crisp that morning.

I inhaled greedily enjoying the mountain air.

I got in the shower and turned the hot water on as hot it could be and washed.

Afterwards, I rubbed down with a big fluffy Turkish towel and dressed quickly.

As I left the shower building, the clouds were forming over the ridges in the mountains and the Sun was just rising.

The heat from my shower was still on my body as it met the cool air of the mountains.

What an exhilarating feeling!

It felt as though the world was perfect and I might really be the King of the Forest.

I returned to our campsite and looked in on my children as they snuggled down deeply in their sleeping bags.

They both looked like angels to me and I realized that, indeed, I was the King of the Forest.

A guest post written by my Father, The King.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How To Make Your Wedding Family Friendly

One of my best friend's from college is getting married soon.

She recently sent an e-mail to those of us attending with children.

Her message sets a high bar for creating a family friendly wedding.

I replied, gushing -- "OMG! THANK YOU!! I FEEL LIKE IT IS MY WEDDING!!!"

Because she thought of everything, I thought I should share her e-mail and let it stand as THE guide to planning a wedding that both allows children to attend as well as ensures their parents a good time.

E-mail from the bride...

Hi everyone,

I thought you would appreciate a quick note to tell you about our plans for helping the kids enjoy themselves during the wedding weekend, and to check in on your needs for babysitting.

A reminder of Friday’s meet and greet at [the restaurant] beginning at 4pm, we’ll have some hors d’oeurves early on, and the pub serves organic sandwiches, salad, and chips. It’s a small town and kids will be completely welcome there until evening. One thing to know is that the pub is upstairs so there are steep stairs to keep little ones away from.

On Saturday, we’ll have a regular chair for each child during the 30-minute ceremony and we don’t mind if there is a little noise from restless children. During the reception my nieces (ages 17, 15, and 12) have games planned to keep the little kids (ten children ages 2-6) entertained from 4 to 7pm, and they will give the kids their meal. We’ve planned two 24” high banquet tables and 20 chairs so there’s room for you to drop in. We did not plan big-people chairs for them in the banquet area. We’ve also got four babies under 2, and we’ll have three girls to look after them. We’ll spread a blanket or two for them to relax and play with their toys.

For the kid's meal, we are planning quality hot dogs off the grill, macaroni and cheese, organic fruit salad, and fizzy water served on paper plates and paper cups. If your child uses a sippy cup, please bring it and we can put masking tape with your child’s name on it. We expect the babies’ parents will have their food packed with them. With your permission we’ll also give the kids goodie bags with healthy goodies (graham crackers, yogurt pretzels, trail mix and a juice box).

The high temperature should be somewhere between 75 and 85, and as the sun goes down it will drop to 50. It’s hot in the sun and cool in the shade. The back yard has pine trees which should offer shade to the kids, and if necessary we’ll move two patio umbrellas over the tables/blankets. I recommend sun block and we’ll have some available appropriate for young children. In the house we’ll have a changing table and a potty chair. We’ve also got 2 pack n plays and a lot of beds if you think your child might take a nap.

Sunday is Father’s Day, and we’ll honor the dads at brunch beginning at 10am. We’re serving eggs benedict for brunch, which we hope will be appropriate for kids. Come any time… (I think we’ll ask people to RSVP for brunch in a separate email so we know how much food to prepare.)

Regarding babysitting, we’ve received some requests and I’ll confirm them here. If you want some help with babysitting during the weekend please let me know this week, and I’ll confirm with you.

Can’t wait to see you all! All our love,
The Bride & Groom

I bow down and prostrate myself at the feet of the Bride and Groom!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Formal Follow Up

Awhile back I mentioned that I had the opportunity to re-live the prom.

Well, the prom pictures recently came back...

Here I am only two prom attendees away from Joey Ramone! How cool am I?!

Look at the way I look at my date... that hunka-hunka burnin' love still has it going on!

Raise your hand if you're sure!

Raise your hand if you're my friend Gail and you're also sure!

(It should be noted that this is Gail's ACTUAL prom dress from high school.)

Who's the guy in the piano tie?

And... wait... what's this? DORK ALERT!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Thump and Pummel

The other morning at summer camp, The Mayor greeted another boy with a chest thump.

The two of them actually jumped into the air and bumped into each other, on purpose, chest first.

This was a greeting.

[Odd animals, these things called boys.]

Similarly, we went away a few weekends ago with a family that we don't often see.

They have a boy who is 18 months older than The Mayor and, though they've met before, this weekend was the longest they've ever spent together.

They acquainted themselves with one another through a series of elaborate wrestling maneuvers, gut punches and general body thrashings.

When they weren't doing bodily harm to one another they were shooting each other with guns fashioned from drinking straws, twigs, tinker toys -- anything they could find -- because despite my politically correct, Mom 2.0-ness...

GUNS ARE DANGEROUS! child can and does pretend that anything he is holding is a gun.

Through all their general body thrashings, the two boys were radiantly smiling and maniacally laughing.

At one point, the other mother and I watched the two boys thump and pummel each other with our mouths agape.

When I finally looked over at her with my brows knitted in confusion, she said,
"Boys are SO strange."

The Mayor is such a BOY.

Though technically I've known he was male since he came out (and ruined my lady parts forever), something has only recently really clicked about it for me.

I was feeling all smug as we headed into the summer this year because I managed to sign The Mayor up for a number of weeks going to summer camp at a local, boutique art program where there is a long waiting list.

When I picked The Mayor up on the first afternoon, most of the children were gathered around a picnic table on the back porch stringing beads and making decorated masks.

The Mayor and another boy were in the yard, happily beating each other with lacrosse sticks.

All of these recent experiences have collectively impressed upon me my urgent need to secure a true understanding of the whole notion of boyhood.

I hope there isn't a steep learning curve to it because I ignored all (the stupid) boys, including my (annoying) little brother, and dismissed all that was male until I was a tween.

[Because I was totally, like rilly, rilly busy putting naked Ken and naked Barbie in the upstairs bedroom of the Barbie Dream House to see what would happen. OMG! Barbie has to go to the clinic!!]

Maybe by next summer I will have achieved more enlightenment on the boyness thing.

Hopefully I'll have signed The Mayor up for the sports camps he wishes he was enrolled in now.

Until then, maybe I should give in completely and buy him two toy pistols and a holster because I think I'm learning that "Bang! Bang!" means "I love you, Dude!" in the language of young boys.