IFC: Now with Censorship and Commercial Interruptions
One of the lovely things about the Independent Film Channel was that the programming (films, shorts, television shows) were uncut, uncensored and uninterrupted by commercial breaks. You could watch old Arrested Development episodes without fast-forwarding through commercials. (Or, for folks without DVR, without suffering them.)
Things have begun to change...
Now every program has commercial interruptions. They've started airing old MR. SHOW episodes, which is grand, but commercial breaks completely ruin the flow of that show. Same goes for their airings of The Larry Sanders Show.
Curiouser still, I've noticed they started bleeping out the f-bombs in IFC baby The Whitest Kids U' Know. TWKUK gets censored but other shows can drop the f-bomb? What's the gag?
Naturally, they started this new policy without any major announcements to spin it. But I found these two articles addressing the issue:
I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind.
I've a friend that I met at a Meet-Up group a few years ago. A self-improvement psychopath. His Facebook status-update feed is just this relentless succession of awakenings and epiphanies, hopping from different religions to different philosophies. He shared his blog with me once and it's even more insufferable. He preaches from a book that keeps changing. And however he's living his life RIGHT NOW is how YOU should be living your life. Right now.
He's like a living parody. A satirical imitation of life.
I'm always trying to better myself in different ways but I try not to shove it down people's throats. In fact, some things I prefer not to share with anyone unless I absolutely need to.
That said, humor me as I share a relatively innocuous thing I'm trying to sort out...
I've come to realize that I've got a bit of a concentration problem. I have a hard time clearing my head. It can probably be tracked back to any number of traumatic things from my childhood and adolescence. The fact remains, my train of thought it always rolling. Makes it difficult to fall asleep at night. Makes it harder to write...
For a while, I thought it made my writing more unique—but I've come to realize that it's actually hindered my writing. If I could focus better, maintain some clarity in my skull a little longer, I'd have an easier time writing. Instead of the war it's always been. It's so easy to get accustomed to work-arounds, you get to think that's the way something ideally works.
So, what's it going to be, then, eh?
It may sound like bullshit but I need to get it down. So far, I have been awful with it, but I need to keep working at it...
How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people...?
For whatever reason, they sent out screener DVDs for THE SOCIAL NETWORK really late. Essentially, when the DVDs hit regular retail outlets. I'd seen it in theaters months ago, and liked it, but decided to give it another spin...
I was far more taken with it upon second viewing. I appreciated the writing and the structure and the acting and the sheer filmmaking a lot more. There's something in the character of "Mark Zuckerberg" that I related to more. The movie depicts him as someone driven to be wildly successful as a means to gain access to a more fulfilling social world.
There is a scene where Zuckerberg is on the phone with his Chief Financial Officer (Spider-Man) telling him about the $500K that has just been invested in the company. This is what they've been working toward. The company has made it.
Zuckerberg's at his San Francisco compound conveying this news over the phone—pacing in front of his swimming pool while a raucous celebration carries on inside his house. He gets off the phone and there's this shot of him looking at his own party from the outside. He's gone to great lengths to reach this moment and yet he is still on the outside looking in. Wanting to be part of the party but decidedly detached from the party.
Snowy Tuesday morning. Brooklyn by way of the L train. I agreed to participate in a bit of reality TV.
"24 Hour Restaurant Battle" is a show on the Food Network. Two teams have 24 hours to create their own restaurants. It's a blatant rip-off of the "Restaurant Wars" challenge from TOP CHEF. But it's a free "gourmet" meal and they need to recruit more diners than TOP CHEF, so I decided to go with a sous-chef friend.
Let me be clear: we both just wanted to try the meal and hoped to maybe blend into the background. Neither of us wanted to be on TV. The meal may have been free but the price was having to be on TV.
Check-in was at this cafe across the street from the Brooklyn studio.
Everyone had to sign standard release forms. There were many "actor-types" who were clearly looking forward to being on TV.
Obviously, all picture-taking was banned when we entered the studio.
There was a waiting room that looked like a warehouse space. They made everyone hang up their coats so it wouldn't be so obvious that we were shooting this in the dead of winter. We all had numbers and they brought us through in groups, like boarding a flight.
At various stages, they're offering us instructions on what to do and what not to do.
As soon as they send you in, there are two restaurant spaces set up side-by-side. You check their menus and make a decision to go to one or the other.
And the cameras are immediately swarming...
Clearly, there was a deli theme going on in this episode. Since my friend's a sous-chef, I let her decide which one we were going to hit up. We based it mostly on the menus—and from the menus alone, there was one that called out. It looked a little more like an "elevated" twist on a deli.
Here's the thing: these aren't massive restaurant spaces where you can hide in the background. The camera crews are covering everything and constantly moving. On one or two occasions, I was telling a personal story to my friend and stopped myself when the camera/sound people approached—they'd never use it in a food show, but when you're telling a personal story to a friend and a boom mic gets lowered between you... that illusion of privacy gets shattered pretty easily.
Worse yet: the interviews. Occasionally, a producer would swoop in with a camera crew and ask us questions about what we thought of the restaurant. But she was constantly correcting us and asking us to rephrase things for the editing.
"Tell us why you chose this restaurant. But say the name of the restaurant and repeat my prompt within your statement: I chose RESTAURANT X because..."
Which I understand on a technical level but neither of us had done anything like this before, and it's 10am and we're drinking wine and slightly disoriented in Brooklyn. And we're not so interested in being on camera let alone being interviewed on camera. There was one point where the producer actually rewrote an entire line for my friend to recite.
I ordered a trio of mini knishes as an appetizer. Cameras swooped in as soon as the plate was set down. I started cutting into them and noticed the crust was really dense, and start commenting on it to my friend. Before I can even taste it, the producer is crouched before me interviewing me about my thoughts on it. So I say a bunch of negative things. She gets the goods and moves on. When I actually had a chance to eat some of the dish, it wasn't actually so bad. There was more I could've said about it, but the cameras had gone onto other tables. I could have flagged them over and asked to be re-interviewed... but the last thing I wanted was to be on camera MORE.
My friend and I ended up saying a lot of negative things on camera! That's like candy for reality TV producers. Between the interviews and voyeur cams, I'm pretty sure we're guaranteed to be featured in the episode. And we were laughing a lot throughout the whole thing, so we're gonna be That Laughing Couple in the background of a lot of shots. Perfect.
Afterwards, we had the option of heading back to the waiting area and trying out the other restaurant, but we had had enough. The food wasn't that great. I had a stomach ache. It was time to go.
What struck me most was how EASY it was to get yourself on television. Get on television and speak on television.
Now I need to avoid that program at all costs. I have a feeling it's going to come back to haunt me at some point down the line. It's cool if you wanna get yourself on national TV but that's just not part of my dream.
In our previous installment of The Clicking Death, my Samsung FP-T5084 greeted me with a relentless clicking sound and no power/picture. Some quick internet searches informed me that this is a common issue that develops with many Samsung HDTVs (plasma and LCD). The repair usually involves replacing some busted fuses and capacitors that don't cost that much.
Of course, you go through a TV repair (out of warranty) and the price tag promises to be a few hundred bucks. Not to mention the wait for the appointment and parts, etc.
So. Taking matters into my own hands, with the assistance of a shitload of YOU TUBE how-to vids... I got my hands a bit dirty in order to save a few hundred quid.
The parts themselves were not expensive. Couldn't find them at the local RadioShack because RadioShack sucks, and electronic component stores aren't as plentiful as they used to be. But you can find what you need online. I went to Digi-Key for the replacement capacitors. And purchased the replacement fuses through Amazon.
One of the most difficult steps was just getting this 50" plasma down off the bureau where I've got it perched. It may be a flat-panel, but I swear the damn thing probably weighs almost as much as me...
[I had the set unplugged for roughly 12 hours before opening it up. Some people wait longer or shorter.]
Screen-faced down on my bed, I went through the meticulous process of removing all the screws so that I could take the back panel off:
Just getting the back panel off was a little trickier than expected. There are a LOT of screws. I placed them in a few different tupperware containers so they wouldn't get lost or mixed up. (There are also a few *hidden* screwed-in-things I had to identify before being able to lift the panel off.)
Once you've got all the business exposed, locate the power supply board by following the plug...
And here we've got the power supply board. Trouble-spots highlighted. Seems I'll be replacing two blown fuses and two blown capacitors.
The fuses were easy. Just pluck them out with some pliers and replace them with new ones. I could have tested them but didn't. When you're buying online, you've got to buy a few of these things because they're so cheap, so I had FIVE standing by. This is what you want to get:
"12 amp 250 volt 20mm ceramic fuse"
Capacitors are a trickier lot. I found this video to be very helpful:
Here's a picture of capacitors on the board that seemed a-ok:
Flat-tops. That's what I was looking for.
Here's a picture of the two busted capacitors on the board. The tops are slightly domed.
Another shot of the busted capacitors.
The blown capacitors on the board were
"2200 microfarads (μF) 10 volts"
My replacement capacitors were
"3300 microfarads (μF) 25 volts"
All right, admittedly, this was the leap of faith. Ideally, you want to replace the cap with one that's closer in spec. But I chose to buy the parts before opening up my set.
Had to use a soldering gun to replace the caps. Had to look at some more YOU TUBE videos to figure out how to use a soldering gun.
The rundown on everything I bought:
5 replacement ceramic fuses
10 replacement capacitors
1 soldering gun
1 roll soldering wire
Altogether, it cost roughly less than $40, I think. Versus a few hundred.
Monday afternoon. So far... it seems to be working...
Correction: too many people I know read this blog.
Casual friends. Former friends. Frenemies and outright enemies. And yes, some very good friends.
Point being, it's easier to write for strangers than it is to write for the curious audience detailed above.
For strangers, I might feel freer to write openly about any number of issues that are currently on my mind.
But this blog is an evolving therapy/art project. Sometimes it's just concerned with the detritus of pop culture. Sometimes it's a release valve. For all you know, it could be a suicide note that I started writing in 2002.
Sometimes you need you express yourself in cryptograms in order to feel free to express yourself at all.
January 24th. 2011. There are actually a few things I need to get done this week.
if you're trying not to kill yourself, you think about the things you need to get done tomorrow. ideally, this keeps you both alive and productive. the obvious danger being: running out of things you need to get done.
In the morning, I went down to the West Village to have coffee with a composer friend who I haven't seen in ages. We chatted about projects and general, artistic survivalism. Some people are really skilled at conversation. It was good to catch up.
It was also particularly surreal because we went to this coffee shop that is literally two doors over from where I used to live, over a decade ago. On West 10th Street. So peculiar going back there. Sense memory kicks in. Walking the old streets to my old stoop, my body feels like it's almost home. I remember all the nights walking home from all my old day jobs. I remember waking up early to jog along the West Side Highway. I remember my loft bed and the little television I had propped up in there. All those years ago, this completely different life.
After coffee, I headed back to the midtown apartment. Our apartment door's been fucked up for a little while now. One of the screws on the strikeplate has been missing, and that strikeplate's just gotten more warped as people slam that door. There's no super in the building and none of my roommates ever lift a finger to fix anything. I nearly got locked out of the apartment the other day because of that jammed strikeplate. It's been on my list of things to repair.
Headed to my room to catch up on some DVR'ed programs before hitting the gym. (TV's not repaired yet, but I've been implementing a work-around to keep it alive.) Started doing some work on the computer with the TV on in the background and I started hearing this BEEPING sound... not unlike when a mine is about to explode...
Then my cable box dies.
Completely dies. No lights. Tried plugging it into different outlets: utter cessation of life.
All right. Everything's breaking down but I don't like procrastinating when it comes to fixing things like this. Grab the cable box, head down to 23rd and Madison to swap it for a new one at the Time Warner depot.
Take the train down. Swap the box. Take a cab back up because I'm that impatient.
Set up the new box. A shiny black Samsung model. Connect everything and fire it up. It begins its boot cycle... completes its boot cycle... and there's no picture.
I try switching HDMI cables. In case it's some grander broken mechanism in my television, I try hooking it up to my roommate's (newer) TV in the living room. This cable box looks cool but it's NOT working.
So. After taking a stiff drink, I grab the replacement cable box and head straight back down to 23rd and Madison. I take cab back down there because fuck it. The location of the Time Warner box drop-off is a pain-in-the-ass, but at least you can get in and out of there in a hurry. I explain the situation to the woman at the counter and she offers me a different model cable box (Scientific Atlanta).
I walk home with the second replacement box. Because there aren't any cabs handy. Because I figure there's no way that I'm going to get handed TWO defective cable boxes in a day. On the walk home, I go to a hardware store and pick up some screws to fix the strikeplate on our apartment door. I don't know the exact size of the screw I need, so I get several different sizes, just so I don't have to deal with a lot of back-and-forth.
Back home... I fix the door. Hook up the 2nd replacement cable box... and it seems to work just fine.
Order has been restored to the world. And now the better part of the day has been pissed away.
Starting writing a new stage play, though. Rather, an old play that I keep meaning to work on. Just feels refreshing to write something that isn't a screenplay.
Is it January 20th already? We're twenty days into the new year? This one's just flying by, isn't it? With the exception of a few bumps along the way so far, I'm actually cautiously excited for all the promise of 2011.
This could change on a dime.
But for now, I'm still floating in the pool of blissful ignorance, not knowing how my latest script is being received by my team. Takes a while for all the people to read the script, to connect with each other to see what they think works and doesn't. Like arranging a book club meeting.
I'm glad it's out of my hair for a little bit. Glad to NOT be dealing with conference calls for the time being...
... and yet...
... already the little twitches of anxiety... the second-guessing... at a certain point, I'm going to need to know what the fuck's going on out West...
But for now...? We let things go.
Sometime you've got to make some sacrifices before the world opens up for you.
January 18, 2011. Tried turning on the tv. It didn't turn on. It just kept *clicking*.
If you do a search, apparently this is a widespread problem with Samsung TVs. Not just plasma screens. Tending to occur about 2 years in, after the HDTV is out of warranty.
I tried unplugging it for 8 hours and trying it again. No change. It just keeps clicking like some form of celestial torture.
So basically, I am stuck in The Tomb without a working television. I just finished a script and I'm waiting on feedback so ALL I WANT TO DO RIGHT NOW IS WATCH TV AND PLAY VIDEOGAMES. This is the perfect window of time to veg out and my goddamn TV just betrayed me.
Gotta call the TV repair service Wednesday after 9am. See what they can do for me. Internet searches seem to suggest that this is a "power supply" issue. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't take an eternity to get it fixed. And I hope it doesn't cost a small fortune.
My computer's so old, it's wheezing. The CD tray refuses to open with any consistency, so I can't even watch any of the screeners I've got sitting around. If I can get some money coming in this year, I would love to get it replaced. Or maybe I could buy a blanket to keep warm.
I know that a TV not working may seem trivial to a lot of people, but the lack of a functional television in this prison cell only serves to highlight the sensation of being trapped in a box. Television has been a source of white noise that has allowed me to sleep here. A constant distraction to keep the demons at bay. In its absence... all I can think about is murder...
Through sheer persistence and magical thinking, I somehow managed to get the TV turned on. And now I'm afraid of turning it off because I don't want to lose it again!
Since it's out of warranty, the repairman would probably cost a few hundred. But it seems that the fix for this issue might cost less than $5...
I wasn't going to write about SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. It's still indefinitely in previews as the official "opening" gets continually pushed back. And I'm a writer and I know that eventually *something* I write will be viewed by a lot of people, and even if it comes out really well there are going to be a lot of faceless people trashing it online. THIS is why I don't actually write a lot of reviews on here. And you never want to write reviews of a show in previews because they're still tinkering with it: it's a professional courtesy! I don't want to contribute to the noise.
But this is Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge. They've had enough success to weather the shit maelstrom that this epic failure deserves.
I really like Taymor. I've a longtime fondness for U2. Spider-Man is one of the best comic book properties. This seemed like one of the strangest collaborations ever, and I love whacko stuff like that. Stuff that sounds too crazy to work. While everybody was making cheap jokes about it, I was looking forward to seeing what this thing was gonna look like.
Then previews started. And actors started getting crippled. Even after some detailed, negative reviews were posted online, I was rooting for this deliriously absurd-sounding project.
Well, after two aborted attempts, I finally got to see it this past Thursday.
Let me start with the positives...
1) I thought the opening tableau was really cool and exciting-looking. Spider-Man! Live on the stage! This is gonna be awesome!
2) I thought that the first time that Spider-Man "flies" into the audience was totally thrilling. Just on a visceral level.
3) Our show only had to be stopped ONCE and no one got hurt.
Beyond that? The show is utterly, utterly unsalvageable.
The book is an incredible, unimaginable mess. The writing is so unconscionably bad throughout. On every fucking level. I'm about to spoil the structure here, so watch out, True Believers...
There are essentially three narratives that are interwoven to make THE SHITTIEST SPIDER-MAN STORY EVER TOLD:
I. THE GEEK CHORUS
We follow a bunch of modern-day geeks talking about their love of the Spider-Man comics. They comment on the story, praise it, pick it apart. This narrative is absolutely obnoxious. And it serves as the most naked evidence of how Taymor and company view comic books and comic book readers: it's clear that she believes she is slumming through disposable adolescent pop-culture that is beneath her.
II. TAYMOR TRIES TO ELEVATE THE MATERIAL
This is tied to a character in the Geek Chorus -- a side narrative about "Arachne", the female precursor to "Spider-Man". Taymor's ill-conceived attempt to make a comic-book story (that she clearly doesn't care about) more profound.
III. ACTUAL SPIDER-MAN STORY
Taken from the comic books. And rendered so carelessly and dispassionately, it insults the source material.
Watching this dreck—this extremely expensive and lengthy dreck—I started to think that maybe this whole "Spider-Man" story has been done to death already.
But no. This is just the most offensively poor adaptation of Spider-Man ever. Ill-conceived and outright LAZY for extended stretches.
THREE WORST MOMENTS IN "SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK"
All right, obviously there be *spoilers* here. And I've got to say that there are so many bad moments in the overlong show, everyone who sees it should have their own unique "three worst moments" list. [DISCLAIMER: While I personally view my "three worst moments" as apoplectically bad, I don't mean to imply that everything else surrounding these moments are markedly better.]
1. Spider-Man's fight with the wrestler Bonesaw McGraw—the grand public debut of Peter Parker's alter-ego and a first taste of glory for Parker—is handled like a scene out of an Ed Wood movie under Taymor's direction.
2. Wonder how they crammed all those Super Villains into this one musical? [Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Swarm, Electro, Carnage, Lizard and new villain Swiss Miss.] Beauty Pageant. Nay, "Ugly Pageant". Yes, that's what they call it. At the top of Act II. They literally just parade these goofy-looking costumes out. It made me think of those costumed-character live touring shows that they have, for the kids:
3. Also in Act II. A musical number that I can't even properly convey to you out of context. But trust me when I tell you that there is a musical number about high-heel shoes. I'm talking about something that might seem appropriate in a SEX IN THE CITY musical. How does that fit into a Spider-Man narrative? Well, if the point hasn't been made already, this is the gayest Spider-Man story ever told.
And that pains me because it shows a rank lack of understanding of the appeal of the source material.
I haven't even commented on the actual music. Which probably speaks for itself. I did find it amusing that Spider-Man is suddenly set in some parallel universe where the only band that ANYONE listens to in 2011 is U2.
This is a fucking awful show. Pretentious and infantile. I admit, I'm curious how much it could possibly be *improved* as they continually delay the official opening. I can't imagine anyone truly liking it except for idiots like Glenn Beck and possibly some former friends of mine. It is offensively, inexcusably bad. More so because some empirically talented people conspired to make it, IMHO. Buyers beware.
I was born in 1976. For years, I thought I was born in the Year of the Dragon. Until I realized that the Chinese calendar is totally fucked up. So, it turns out that while 1976 is the Year of the Dragon, my birthday falls in the Year of the Rabbit. From Dragon to Rabbit... what a sobering fall.
Finished the rough, rough draft in the early evening of the 12th.
112 pages. Pretty fucking kick-ass place to land for the rough, rough draft. The initial rough draft of my last script clocked in at 143 pages. My scripts tend to run long because there's sooo much fucking TALKING...
The thing about many horror scripts, they turn into a game of TEN LITTLE INDIANS. You set up a bunch of characters and you've got the length of the movie to get rid of them all. Or most of them.
Anyway, I'm rereading this one today and I realize there are a few key characters that I've forgotten to kill off. So I've got to do that. Because certain characters need to die before the end.
Should've had some drinks to celebrate the finished draft but I woke up sick as a dog Wednesday morn. I think this is the SECOND time I've been under the weather this cold season. Historically, I actually tend to stave off the colds pretty well, so... I must be dying.
Thursday: Gym? Massage. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.
Happy birthday to everyone who's celebrating their first birthday on Spaceship Earth today.
Have you heard about this Ted Williams story? Homeless man with the golden voice. Someone posts a video of him on The You Tube and suddenly he's everywhere. A literal overnight success. It's stunning to me how quickly this happened. William has been thanking "God" left and right, but he should be thanking Technology. The swiftness of his change in fortune would not be technologically possible 15 years ago.
I've found the interviews with him to be slightly unsettling. He conveys this unrelenting gratitude... which is endearing... but also seems to reveal how rough his life has been for such a long stretch of time. Like a dog who's accustomed to being beaten. It's not that he's just thankful to be on the TODAY show—he's thankful to be on the TODAY show and that Matt and Meredith aren't kicking him in the ribs.
When you've been a prominent regular in a social scene for an extended period of time, it can be jarring when you—for whatever reason—decide to disengage. Initially there will be the confusion and questions. ("Why isn't X here? What happened?") As time goes by, the absence may be felt in different ways at different times. A role once played by you now needs to be fulfilled by the remaining players.
In a way, though, I think it offers that social dynamic an opportunity to GROW.
It's too easy for routines to set in. For people to become set in the parts they play in the larger order. If someone who always cooks departs, then other people have to step up and man the burners. It shakes things up, makes things more interesting.
Lisa Bonet leaves THE COSBY SHOW, THE COSBY SHOW still goes on. Lisa Bonet leaves A DIFFERENT WORLD, A DIFFERENT WORLD carries on. The shows don't die. The dynamic may change but the shows evolve and even blossom. Lisa Bonet's departure allows future stars like Keisha Knight Pulliam and Kadeem Hardison to really come into their own and flourish.
I'm basically like Lisa Bonet.
An ultimately non-essential part of the program.
For me, leaving the scene will give me an opportunity to pursue motherhood and straight-to-video movies. In time, people won't even remember that I used to be part of the scene. They will say things like, "Remember when Lisa Bonet used to hang out with us all the time?" and, "Whatever happened to Lisa Bonet...?"
You cut one person out of your "life", it's not enough. You've got to cut off certain interconnections. You cut TWO people out, you've got to cut out even more. And eventually you're left with these fragments of social circles that don't quite make sense.
Dirty work, people. The sacrifices made to unsully your social world.
It's a genuine shame to lose some of these friends. To sever yourself from a certain scene. But then again, some scenes go as far as they can before they just become a repetition.
Sometimes you end up contributing more to a scene than you get out of it.
And you've got to ask yourself... why?
Do you have any idea how many parties I've helped plan in the past year? Parties for other people? And my own birthday's coming up and I'm not even sure who I can invite anymore.
You can't really plan when you're going to need to burn people out, though. They disappoint you on their own timetables. And they don't know when to fucking leave. And they keep trolling your blog after you've thrown rocks at them.
We're moving on. I've squandered too much time with nothing to show for it. There are a few things I want to accomplish before I die (in six months).
Every so often... social circles need to be revised.
This is not done cavalierly.
If you cut one person out of a larger social circle, it affects a lot of other people. There is a blast radius. You have to be prepared to not see a lot of other people—people who you like, people who have not wronged you—as often as you might like. Cutting out more than one person in the same social circle just compounds the blast radius. You have to be really certain that it's worth the casualties.
You are not drawing a line in the sand and telling your friends, "It's THEM or ME!"
You are simply saying, "I choose not to be around these individuals. And they know why. And you know why."
You actually get kind of a bum deal out of the situation because the scumbags will probably keep going to the parties you're no longer going to.
Why would you do this, then?
Because forgiveness is fucking overrated.
I've got a great deal of patience but when I've run out, it's over.
You piss on my generosity, you disrespect me, you're on my permanent fucking shitlist.
Here's to what turned out to be the shittiest New Year's Eve party I ever helped organize. We had some laughs along the way, I guess. I've given you a lot, haven't I? And now I just don't need you in my fucking life.
2011. We start over. We try something new.
(P.S. Happy birthday to Nick Gaffney today!!! Nick's not on my shitlist! Happy birthday, buddy!)
My aunt's name was Terecita. One of my dad's sisters. My sis and I knew her as Tita Cita. The one time I visited the Philippines—when I was in the 5th grade—we stayed with her family for a good spell of the trip. I remember her kids more. My cousins. The oldest son was named Erwin and his name served as an acronym for the rest of the kids: Erwin, Ronald, Wilma, Ivy and "nobody else".
Tita Cita was a professor at some university. She did research on the nutritional benefits of mushrooms—their agricultural viability in Third World nations. Or something to that effect. Some newspaper article my dad clipped years ago referred to her as "The Mushroom Queen". She delivered lectures all over the world.
I can't even pretend to say that I knew her. She came to visit our family a slew of times growing up, but I probably never had a real one-on-one conversation with her. I had some real conversations with some of her kids. In the past decade, she existed to me in photographs that my dad would occasionally forward. My dad and his sisters. Hanging out by the pool, going to functions. It's coming on 8 years that I haven't seen my dad in person. I don't even know how long it's been since I've seen Tita Cita. I'm the guy who spends all his holidays with other people's families. I rarely see my immediate family and I almost never see my extended family.
Then why have I been a fucking basket case since I heard about my aunt's death?!
Could it be the emails chronicling her slow, excruciating demise? Reading about her family rallying around her death bed, saying prayers, playing her favorite music. Knowing that there were so many people there to offer her comfort toward the end. Who's going to be there for me when my days are over? (The maid in the motel who finds my body?)
It's been so long since I've shed a tear and this weekend I started bawling over the death of an aunt I haven't seen in forever. And I've just been trying to understand why. Because it has to be some flaw in me.
Fear of death. Fear of dying alone. A reminder that Death with a capital-D is making its rounds and sooner or later it's coming for my immediate family.
I watch these shows where people talk about their near-death experiences and I want to believe there's something better after all of this. I don't know if I do. I don't know if it really matters.
What have I accomplished with my life?
Who do I have in my life?
It's January 2011. In a few days, I turn 35. I don't know what I'm doing.
New Year's Eve weekend, a flurry of forwarded emails documenting the rapid decline of one of my aunts. One of my dad's sisters. Someone I actually have some fond childhood memories of. I skim through the grim details of these emails: a manifest of organ failures and vain measures to ease pain.
January 2, 2011, 11:45am on the other side of the world, she passed away.