far too serious

1964 28Dec11 | 0

The following is a fictionalized account of actual work my father did for the Air Force from 1963-69. Among other things, he spent time as a courier for the cryptography department.

Wayne awoke to the sound of hammers on metal. Jerking up to sit, he reached consciousness after realizing his hands were in tight fists, and he had handfulls of bedsheet in each white-knuckled palm.  Eyes focusing, he glanced around the dark room, his heart beating to the pace of the hammering.

There was no movement in the room. His suitcase lay untouched on the floor, next to his briefcase. A dull light from a streetlight fell on the room through the curtains. The cold crept in around his chest and arms where the heavy covers had fallen away. With a suddenness he realized he was hearing the radiator.

The digital clock read 2:17. Wayne did some quick math and realized it would be noon back home by now. It was no use sleeping now. Despite the nice steak dinner last night, he was sure all his energy was thoroughly spent in just trying to keep warm. He felt a rumbling for a warm meal. He turned on the lamp, pulled the heavy comforter around him and grabbed his briefcase - if he was going to have any success ordering coffee and eggs, he would need the translator book.

The lock’s code was a simple 6268, but just out of habit he spun the four numbered wheels to 5932. The secret compartment popped open, revealing only handcuffs. Wayne rubbed his eyes, shut the compartment, and turned to the correct code. He remembered the odds. “One in ten thousand,” he said. Even if someone were to get their hands on this briefcase, even if they knew how to find the compartment, they would spend days guessing the correct code, and by then the cipher for all the information would have changed. Of course, that was of no consequence at this point. The information had already been delivered.

Six two six eight, and the typical looking briefcase opened. Half a ream of blank paper and some new pens and his translator book. He flipped through and practiced a couple times before making the phone call to room service. “Koff-ee E yates… coughy E yaits… pausaholsta.” Would that work? He picked up the phone by the window and peeked out the window. Through the falling snow, he could make out the turrets of St. Basil’s cathedral in the distance.

As he looked over Red Square, he allowed himself a moment to wonder about the information he was delivering. Would it harm this country he was sleeping in? These missions seemed exciting the first few times, but he was tired of them now. How many more times would he be handcuffed to a briefcase to deliver a cipher to someone across the world? He knew the information was safer than he was. Ciphers could be changed, even after men were lost. He pressed zero and made his attempt at Russian.


He felt his whole body relax as the PanAm flight lifted off, and was thankful that the handcuffs were not necessary on the return flight. He watched the stewardess make her way toward his aisle, pushing her cart, and noticed her accent was southern. It wasn’t Texan, but maybe Georgia? Even still, the thought of being in his home state was delightful. In about eight hours they would land at JFK international, where he would board a second plane to Albuquerque, and he would immediately be driven to Kirtland Air Force Base. He listened to the soft lilt in the woman’s voice as she slowly pushed closer.

“Can I getcha anything?” Her smile was generous, her lips perfectly red.
“I imagine I could get a bargain on some vodka,” he said, playing up his Texas accent a bit.
The woman giggled. “One serving or two?” She went for the small, palm-sized bottles. Her hair was dark, her skin milky.
“Thanks, but actually I’ll just have a beer. Whatever you got.”
She served him and locked eyes with him just as she leaned over with the bottle, and wished him a good flight. He resisted the urge to turn and look at her as she pushed the cart away.

He eyed a copy of the New York times in the seat pocket in front of him, and forced his attention on it. It was a few days old. President Johnson was making some declaration about the People’s Liberation Army in Vietnam. He reminded himself of why he enlisted in the Air Force in the first place: The alternative was no better.

the shop 10Aug11 | 0

Yesterday I ran dad’s store, solo. I arrived there early to sit in the quiet, to think about how lovely it would be to be haunted by my father. I found an old photo album in the back room full of shots of the first days at the store, back when he finally moved the operation from out of our garage. It was ages ago, before the place had developed a layer of sawdust and the sense that you might, at any moment, be crushed by an avalance of cellos.

Spare funeral cards were placed near the cash register for customers. This meant, first of all, people could read a piece of paper instead of talking to me, and second, people could use it as an excuse to talk to me. As the day progressed I tried to catch up on the heavy load of repair work, occaisionally fielding questions from strangers about my family.

I went home that night and dreamed that I was back in the store. The place had sold and my mother, the business partner and I were sprucing up the place to hand it over to the new owners. And we kept discovering room after room of space, a whole acre of a store, instruments and sewing machines and an entire bedroom set, one thing spilling into the next, and I thought, calmly, that dad was just in the next room.

There are so many stories about him that are waiting to be told.

The Robots 05May11 | 1

In mid-October, my husband, my brother and I drove to Lubbock, where the doctors in the family insisted my father go for his surgery. The road stretched out, flat mile after flat mile, turning from city sprawl to oak trees to wind turbines, and finally row after row of a bumper crop of cotton.

His surgery took place the following morning, and we got up in the black pre-dawn to see him before the operation. Dad tried to put on a brave face, and I tried too, but dad and I have a long and sappy history. This man could get tearful with fatherly pride if I made him a sandwich.

They wheeled him away.

We waited.

Aunt Doctor was the one who had arranged everything. She was was our liaison, putting medical speech into regular speech. Possibly, what appeared to be a brain tumor was only an abscess. Wayne had a root canal last year… and who knows? Crazy tooth stuff like that happens sometimes. Whoops, you got an abscess in your brain. Let me clean that out for you.

But another possible prognosis hung in the air and sat on our chests, a word that, without it’s meaning, sounds quite pretty and poetic, the way the belladonna plant sounds like it should be put in flower arrangements and not made into a deadly poison. The word we learned was Glioblastoma.  It’s a quaint little bed & breakfast town on a hillside in Italy. Or a rocket made just for kids! Not an incurable brain disease with - at best - a 14 month life expectancy.

Hours later a precise looking man met with us to discuss the operation with clinical perfection. His arms were clean-shaven. He had runners notches in his shoes. He made no eye contact. I’d never placed myself in this situation before, never thought, “I really hope our brain surgeon has a good bedside manner,” but as he went through the process mechanically I thought to myself, here, if anyone gets to open my dad’s head, it is this man. I bet he goes home every day and takes a bath in hand sanitizer.

But he confirmed our fears. And that’s when I lost my shit. And my mom, her arms were around me, and she was rubbing my back, but it was as if she had grown robot arms and was teaching them how to hold a person. And she would speak to me as if she was reading lines, one monochromatic syllable stretching out after another. And I was ready to throw chairs, bowling down my mother, Aunt Doctor, and GOOD GOD that weepy other aunt who never shuts up. You can go right out the window, lady.

But the days have stretched out into months and holidays and seasons. And the big emotions, the chair throwing emotions, they are replaced with tiny daily tugs that don’t interfere much with living.

Many people ask about it. You guys are right to do so. It means you care. Sometimes the people who ask are strangers to me, customers at my dad’s store who may not even realize the gravity of this situation, or that I am his daughter.  Others are friends, who deserve to know.

My answers were once emotional regarding the state of my family. I get the same questions, I see the look in others’ eyes, a brew of caring, sadness, manners, and curiosity. After months, though, I don’t answer the same.

“Most of his difficulty finding words is brain swelling from the chemo, and not actual tumor growth,” I will tell you. Or, “We’re waiting to hear if we’re going to get to use this experimental treatment just approved by the FDA.” It’s easier than telling you my dad has trouble cutting up his own food.

I read sci-fi and watch Nova specials on the future. I listen to people talk about the possibility of downloading our entire brains onto a computer. I imagine the perfect melding of our bodies with robotics. And this body? It will throw all the annoying aunts right out the window.

Mom and I have hugs that feel real now, and I wonder if it is because I grew robot arms, too.

buckle up 19Apr11 | 1

I can hear the sleepy rumbling of dad breathing again. Eyes closed, he is cast against the glow of the Cops show, and mixed among the sound of his breaths and police sirens, I realize I hear the ticking of the clock in the quiet night.

He looks vastly different than he did this time last spring. Easily, 30 pounds have found their way onto his body, inevitable pounds from the steriod prescription, bloating his chest and neck like a bullfrog. His arms are covered in bruises from various needles from various hospital stays. His right hand is swollen from a recent stroke.  His hair is cut close, displaying the long scar across his scalp.

I refold my legs on the couch, which is just enough to stir him, and the heavy breaths cease. He starts trying to sit up.

“You need to get up?”

“No… yes.” I fuss with the leg rest of the recliner chair for the third time, he pushes the two layers of blankets off and wanders toward the bathroom. Someone on tv has been discovered hiding in the ceiling panels of a liquor store.

After a minute or so, he passes by me again toward the kitchen, then ambles back to the bedroom. He emerges from it with a large cup.

“You need a drink?”

“No, no… yes.”

I jump up and open the refrigerator.

“I need a… coke.”

There’s no coke in the fridge. There’s juice, there’s milk. I make a crack about there being no beer for him, unfortunately, and his eyes brighten and he laughs. I finally figure out he’s just looking for water.  I fill the cup and we head back to the adventure unfolding on tv. Recliner up, one blanket on him, then a second, and within minutes he is back to the unconscious, heavy breaths.

Mom will be home from her fiddle group soon, and I’m glad to give her a night off. I hope she’s able to enjoy the evening. I hope she’s not full of guilt. The next hour of programming is America’s Funniest Home Videos, which is a welcome relief from our evening theme including CSI and Dog The Bounty Hunter. I listen to the clock tick, silently watching people in tuxedos fall into pools.

He stirs again, looks at me, and says, “Buckle me up.” Apparently, on this night, this means he’s ready for bed.

bassoforte 23Jun10 | 0

Diego Stocco - Bassoforte from Diego Stocco on Vimeo.

maggini copy 22Jun10 | 1

Todays project: refurbishing a maggini copy. An otherwise jaw-droppingly gorgeous instrument, this imperfectly cut f-hole is the only thing I can point to that would make this a copy. The inside label reads “Giovan Paolo Maggini, brefcia 1694.”

Stranger of the Day: The Aquarium Employee 20Jun10 | 0

His greasy hair is a bit long, but the attempt to control it was made. Heavy glasses, plodding stride, he aggressively makes his way through the crowd of strollers and mess of tropical landscape.

He has an admirer. A strange little bird with a colorful beak flies low, startling the aquarium goers, and perches on a wall. It’s entire focus is toward a small box in the man’s hand. He starts booming facts about the little guy while fishing through the box, pulling something out, and feeding the critter.

Kids are lining up. More booming, as he puts food in their hands for the bird. I can’t tell at all what he’s saying. He sounds like someone who is incredibly interested in facts. Someone who would enjoy discussing technical details of a Star Trek episode.

My curiousity is piqued, so I head over I put out my hand for some bird food. Even this close, and with his volume, his words make no sense to me… something about habitat.

He places a small worm in my palm. And for a moment, I lose my cool, and squeal like a little girl.

let yourself feel 18Aug09 | 0

Let yourself feel.

and no, it is not plugged in. 16Aug09 | 2

On Valentine’s day during a rare snow, a cold february during a heated housing market, we had just purchased our first home. We had sandwiches for dinner and spent the evening stripping away the old layer of floor finish. The power sander would stir up so much dust, I would be wiping it off the walls for years to come.

We have let ourselves fall hopelessly in obsession with the tiny place, debating over paint colors and furniture placement and wasting reams of graphing paper on remodeling ideas. Whole evenings we’d devote to the drawing and revision of an addition, an addition that will never happen, but we had to explore the possibility.

And the obsession moves on, it has spread it’s tentacles out the back door, where we are building The Deck. No ordinary deck, mind you, but a special Deck with special levels and surrounded by special plants with room for a special modern deck chair for the lounging of our very special dog. And Brandon got so involved in the planning of this deck, researching and consulting, drawing and revising, that I caught some of his viral obsession and suddenly had to sew new pillows for the entire house.

Yet the house argues with us, refusing to oblige to our dream of house perfection, with it’s old wiring and cracking sheetrock, and the critters find their way into it’s holey attic every winter. The possums sneak into our garage. The ants crawl through the windows. And a wall, in it’s annual resettling, has come to rest firmly and immovably on an awkwardly placed extension cord and a swiffer.

transcriptions, continued 02Jul09 | 1

I can’t get enough of these. I may never answer my phone again.

“My name ___. I tried to, you know arrange Edwardo(?) in a violin(?) for my daughter. She is 81(?) years old. I wondering you know you can anyway can send me you know application form for your rental and all the ___. Just give me a call first you know. My number is #### or call my cell.”

“Dan this is joe i am headed over why um call me (?) that’s not supposed to be okay i have a set of canada.”

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