Saturday, October 02, 2004

All Falls Down

Everything is going along smoothly. You think you're an adult. And then one day the phone rings at 2:30:AM and all of a sudden you're sitting on the floor crying like a baby.

My mother passed away last week. It didn't exactly come out of the blue, but it was quite a shock. My mom had been pretty sick for some time now. Not too long after my aunt died as a result complications from lupus, my mother was diagnosed with the disease. Then, she found out that she was a diabetic. Then she got emphysema. I know. One of those things would have been a lot for any one to handle. All three? I can't even imagine the physical and emotional burden that she had to endure. She was taking something like 17 pills a day at one point. Whenever I talked to her, she was either out of breath or her joints were aching or she was just plain tired. That's what I remember the most from our conversations. The overall sense of fatigue that was always in her voice.

I'm not incredibly spiritual or into the super natural, but my mother knew that something was up. She had been hospitalized because of her breathing, and I was concerned, but not any more than I have been when she's been hospitalized in the past. When I talked to her from her room, she talked differently than she did before. She spent a lot of time talking about my wife. Telling me how much she loved her, and how she was glad she got to come to the wedding and meet her family and find out more about her culture. As if to say that she knew that I was going to be in good hands. My step father said that a few weeks ago, out of the blue, she told him that she wanted to be buried in the outfit that she wore to my wedding. I think that somehow she knew that she wasn't going to be strong enough to fight for that much longer.

The amazing thing about intense sorrow is how it comes at you in waves. The initial shock followed by dozens of powerful after shocks. When I was finally able to compose myself, I was reduced to tears all over again by several different specific thoughts. My mother will never see my children. I'll never make her laugh again. If I'm as successful as I wish I am, she'll never see it. Those all hit me like a ton of bricks and it was difficult to deal with each one.

I'll never forget the way my step-father sounded when he first told me over the phone. As a married man, I can't imagine waking up one day knowing that my wife isn't going to be lying next to me ever again. Even thinking about something happening to Tasha is enough to send me right to the verge of insanity. He was remarkably strong during her illness and he behaved likewise throughout the funeral ordeal. My relationship with him is stronger than my relationship with my father. I keep reminding myself that I have to be there for him right now. At the airport, he told me to keep in touch. As if I wouldn't. Anything less would be supreme disrespect to my mother and everything that he did for her. Besides that, he's a cool fucking dude.

I'm always amazed at how deep the comedy itch is in me. The things that stand out about my time there are all funny. The woman who I hugged at the funeral that looked eerily like Eugene Levy. The fact that a funeral home that has been in business for 30 years can leave the "s" of the word diabetes. The fact that one of my old high school girlfriends hugged my wife. The fact that people showed up at my grandmother's house and at the funeral who didn't like my mother. And my mother didn't like them.

After this trip, my wife has met almost all of my immediate family. Everyone talked about how great my mother thought Tasha was, and how they all agreed. My niece--who I'd never seen before--ran right past me and into Tasha's arms. All total, there were 5 kids that I hadn't seen in person before. All adorable and well-behaved. (I know it sounds impossible, but it's true.)

I'm not big into funerals because, for me, mourning is an intensely personal process. I can take dealing with family and good friends, but that's it. Having to deal with random people that I hardly know got really old really quickly. I wish I had printed up a t-shirt that read, "No, I don't remember you. Thanks for the potato salad. Good bye."

I'm going to miss the hell out of my mother.

The greatest stand-up comedian ever? George Carlin

I know that the standard answer to this comedy question has always been Richard Pryor, but after my TiVo recorded George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy, I’m going to have to say that I disagree. When judging by the characteristics of quality, quantity and longevity, no one is seeing George. No one. Honestly there are only two people even worthy of comparison.

Richard Pryor. I worship at the altar of Pryor just like everyone else who is even remotely serious about funny. But the harsh reality is that he hasn’t produced anything of note since the 80s. In that time, Carlin has done 6 more HBO specials to bring his total to 12. 12! This is not an indictment against Pryor. I’m sure that a healthy, motivated Richard Pryor could have been writing and performing on an extremely high level for all those years. It’s just that he wasn’t and didn’t. Carlin did.

Bill Cosby. Again, I can’t overstate my worship of this man. And he’s been at it just as long as George Carlin has. The difference is that Carlin is still touching you in that place that great stand up is supposed to touch you. While Cosby is basically your silly grandfather character that can entertain you with clever lines and some goofy faces, Carlin is the other, scary grandfather who was in the war and is just a little bit disgruntled and frustrated by his country. You’re almost afraid of him because of his attitude, but you know that he’s speaking the truth.
I understand that I’m leaving a lot of incredible comics out of the debate. And that doesn’t mean that I’m giving them short shrift. I do everything that I can do bring up guys like Dick Gregory and Bob Newhart in conversation. Even though I hate the modern day incarnation of Woody Allen, I treat his stand-up albums like necessary homework assignments. Of course every performer of any kind owes something to Lenny Bruce. I just think that Carlin, Pryor and Cosby were head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of overall ability, success and influence.
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