Armagideon Time

An 1982 article about John Carpenter’s reaction to The Thing‘s disappointing box office results has been making the social media rounds, with all the “what fools those ancients were” commentary one has come to expect on these occasions.

The gist of it is true. The movie — along with fellow Class of ’82 alums Tron and Blade Runner — got a lukewarm reception during its initial theatrical run, only to be hailed as a stone cold classic a couple decades down the line. It’s easy to spin that turn of events into an inspirational narrative about unrecognized genius (and how superior one’s tastes are compared to their clueless elders) but at the expense of historical context.

I was ten in 1982, old enough to appreciate the year’s unprecedented bounty of high profile sci-fi/fantasy/horror flicks yet not old enough to actually watch most of them. Besides the predominance of R-rated fare and distance to the local cineplex, I was also constrained by my belief that three dollars — on the rare occasions I possessed such a princely sum — was better spent on a new Star Wars figure than on a matinee show ticket.

As a result, I experienced most of those movies through the reactions they inspired — MAD Magazine parodies, hearsay from older kids, novelizations owned by teenage relatives, Sneak Previews clips, and printed reviews. The immediate goal was to sate my curiosity and pick up enough details to convincingly bullshit during playground discussions, but this “negative space” approach also gave me a rudimentary understanding of critical and other biases in the realms of geek-centric media.

Any review of a remake is going to be lensed through perceptions of the original version. It’s inevitable, despite the critical dictum about judging a work for what its and not what the reviewer thinks it ought to be. In the case of The Thing, the previous go-round happened to be one of the most acclaimed sci-fi/horror flicks of all time. Fucking Howard Hawks was involved in the production! My mom spoke about it as if it was a Ming vase or Van Gogh painting! Even if it reduced the cosmic-chimeric contagion from the original John W. Campbell story into Marshal Dillon as Frankenstein’s Carrot, it was held up as an example of how to do this type of thing (meaning sci-fi/horror) right.

And that notion of “right” held a significant amount of weight, even in 1982. “Genre” material — meaning horror, sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, and what have you — was seen as dwelling on a lower tier by default. Getting plaudits from mainstream critics meant proving itself twice over. Any rare words of praise were qualified by “…for a [genre] movie” or “more than just a [genre] movie.”

Among the critics within the scene, there tended to be a tone akin to “respectability” politics. Works which took a “highbrow” approach were held up in opposition to the vast seas of lurid trash. “Suspense not gore, Hitchcock not Hooper, and please don’t lump us in those splatter flick knuckledraggers.” The horror scene is where I first encountered it (thanks to Twilight Zone Magazine) but spans the entire geek spectrum. It also persists to the present day by way of arguments about “elevated” horror, whether videogames can qualify as “art,” or any time some dipshit comes up with an “edgy and mature” take on Superman.

Humanities programs are dropping sections on Alexander Pope to make room for symposiums about Secret Wars II, but god forbid a geek feels like their consumption choices aren’t constantly validated by the universe at large.

It didn’t help that The Thing or Blade Runner or Tron or Dark Crystal happened to drop into an incredibly crowded field for genre flicks. 1982 was to “genre” movies what 1979 was to pop music — a mind-boggling wave of outstanding and influential works hitting within a very short space of time. It was the year the seeds planted by Star Wars and Superman, and nurtured by Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark, went into full blossom.

“An outpouring of talent” only covers half of the equation. The other half was “an industry willing to bankroll these works based on perceived audience demand.” The volume of material wasn’t as much of an obstacle as the expectations set by those perceptions of demand. Stuff that would’ve normally been aimed at the drive-in market (or shelved for budgetary reasons) got pushed into the upper-echelon midlist or lower-tier blockbuster territory, with box office projections scaled to match.

The competition didn’t make things easier, but the truth is that the “decent” returns films like those could’ve realistically expected were no longer decent enough.

The general gist of 1982 reviews for the The Thing went something like this:

“How dare this guy remake a classic by a renowned filmmaker. It places too much emphasis on special effects and tries way to hard to be contemporary and ‘relevant.’ They should’ve put their talents towards creating something new instead of this pointless nonsense.”

Yep, those folks certainly were foolish and totally unlike the sophisticated breed of fans we have these days.

Past as prologue

June 5th, 2019

I really wanted to write a detailed analysis about how the Cool World soundtrack manifested from a space-time fold which curved above and below the temporal brane of the Grunge Era, past and future coexisting as pits on photonically agitated polycarbonate…

…but I can’t stop wincing about the separate listings for the Thompson Twins and Tom Bailey.

“There is always a disco version.”

That qualified truism became a recurring in-joke in our house last autumn, as my excavation of childhood nostalgia hit a rich vein of film and TV soundtrack singles from the latter half of the 1970s.

The film-score-to-dance-floor phenomenon didn’t start with Meco’s “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” but the stratospheric success of that boogified medley inspired a host of imitators. Even if the source material lacked the overwhelming presence of George Lucas’s space opera epic, the “disco” half of the equation was a marketplace juggernaut in its own right — and could theoretically have enough propulsive force to drag the rest of the package along in its wake.

The truth is, however, that Star Wars did do it, which left a lot of industry folks feeling that they were obligated to follow suit. It also helped that the prevailing trend for soundtracks gravitated towards either Williams-esque symphonic arrangements or experimental blippity-bloop tones, both of which shared a significant amount of genetic material with the late Seventies’ disco scene. Up the tempo, foreground the beat, use a little looping to pad out the length, add some effects, and — voila — the conversion into a dance jam is complete.

Because it bubbled up out of a franchise with spaceships and aliens, it tended to hover around similar genre fare. Again, it was an expected part of the package. If you were going to bite Star Wars, you weren’t going to leave any unchecked boxes on the sympathetic ritual list.

It applied to the most blatant imitations and it applied to even the most tangentially related efforts.

One afternoon last October, I somehow got to wondering if the In Search of… theme had ever been released on vinyl. The woo-heavy “documentary” series spanned the entirety of “the Cusp” (1977-1982), providing a whole sub-generation of impressionable kids with “true” accounts of UFOs, cryptid beasts, supernatural phenomena, and historical mysteries. The show terrified me when I was a kid and highly receptive to theories of a nightmarish invisible world.

Going back to it as an adult (thanks to a DVD box set generously gifted by pal Matt Maxwell) has instilled a different type of wonder, the kind that marvels at how stock footage, testimony from dubious “experts,” unsupported speculation, and stiff re-enactments can be given the semblance of a narrative by Leonard Nimoy’s familiar voice.

Well, the former Spock’s voiceovers and one of the most evocatively haunting TV show themes of my childhood.

Spacey yet spooky, the piece was the macabre cousin to the scores used in every low budget commercial or PBS moral education program from that era. And like them, it evoked some abstract universe outside my cozy domestic realm. (I blame my mom for introducing me to modern art while I was still a toddler. And brutalist architecture. And growing up in the Seventies, full stop.)

I did a little googling to see if had ever been issued on record, and once again discovered…

“There is always a disco version.”

It was a 12-inch and dead cheap, to boot.

While I was thrilled to add it to my collection, the actual product is a bit overwhelming. The dance version blunts haunting minimalism of the original by burying it beneath industrial-grade wakka-chikka guitar, a wall of brass, and an extended drum solo.

It’s not without it’s charms, but it doesn’t evoke “a child’s terror of the Loch Ness Monster” as much as it does “boarding the Pacific Princess’ gangplank with Larry Storch and Barbi Benton.”

(Which is terrifying, to be fair, but in an entirely different way.)

Eff your vescence

May 30th, 2019

It’s always bizarre to me when financial analysts act gobsmacked when a faddish commodity experiences a sharp correction. Regardless of one’s opinion about flavored seltzer water, it was pretty clear that its white hot trendiness would eventually experience some form of reversion to the mean.

For every one of these darlings which does manage to cause a permanent paradigm shift, there are countless also-rans where the best case scenario is “gaining enough market share to become an attractive meal for a bigger fish. For most, though, there’s simply insolvency, followed by an afterlife as an era-evoking reference in light comedy routines.

You’d think that “the public is fickle as fuck” would be automatically factored into any rational assessment of hype-driven consumer goods, but the same class of prognosticators continues to get shocked over events that were clearly apparent from the onset of the buzz. The problem with a speculative economy is that it habitually rejects sober evaluation out of fear of panic-driven over-correction. Neither the manufacturer or the consumer wants to hear that Beanie Baby sales have plateaued and the kids have moved on to some other disposable wonder.

The shit seems pretty obvious to me, but maybe my geek background has helped hep me to the jive. Check out enough toy clearance aisles or fish enough of the previous decade’s funnybook darlings — still sporting $15 pricetags on the mylar — from quarter bins, and you start to realize that all glitters will return you pennies on the dollar if you’re lucky.

The article attached to that snippet above cites a “beverage analyst” cites the company’s “lack of meaningful or disruptive innovation.”

In the field of underflavored canned fizzy water. Really.

Also, how does one get a job as a “beverage analyst?” Because it sounds like a pretty swanky gig and doesn’t seem to require that much brainpower.

Recommended listening:

Made me happy

May 28th, 2019

Ever since YouTube became a (increasingly problematic) thing, there have been a pair of clips for which I’ve been waiting to get the streaming video treatment.

One is of Greg Evigan’s musical performance on Pink Lady and Jeff, where the Man Otherwise Known as BJ attempts to give more than his talent can actually deliver. His oblivious abandon while rocking out a rendition of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with the titular duo evokes both pathos and bathos in way other performers could only dream about.

The other clip was the music video for “Bad Boys,” a mid-Eighties pop ditty by the Boston-based New Man. It got a shitload of play on V66, Greater Boston’s UHF answer to MTV, which ran a lot of material by local acts during its brief lifespan.

For me and other folks in our geo-slash-demographic, the song’s televised ubiquity made it synonymous with the station itself. Every discussion I’ve had about V66 has followed the same pattern — first we’d lament its passing, then we’d wonder how it ever existed to begin with, then one of us would bring up “Bad Boys.”

The song’s status as a regional popcult touchstone made its absence from the streaming video realm all the more frustrating. Even audio files of the song were impossible to find, leading me to drop ninety-nine cents on a discarded promo copy of New Man’s sole LP release so I could rip it for an AT 1.0 post about V66. (I still get email requests to repost the file to this day.)

It got to a point where I assumed it would never show up on YouTube, becoming one of the rare bits of ephemera actually allowed to fade from public’s consciousness.

I was wrong.

After watching it, you might be wondering why it lodged itself so deep in our memories. For starters, V66 played it a lot. Of the nineteen months the station was on the air, at least three-and-a-half of them were filled with plays of “Bad Boys.”

It also had the benefit of being a virulently catchy and odd tune. How it bubbled up through the Boston scene is a mystery to me. The city’s other Big Pop behemoth, Til Tuesday, at least looked and sounded like you’d expect a band of Berklee kids would — precision-tooled, expertly produced and utterly soporific. New Man sounds like a tropical marriage between General Public and Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.”

Finally, it was a concept video — back when such things could sell records in their own right — shot in several recognizable locations. That type of thing can carry a lot of weight in a town like Boston, where defensive parochialism gets used as cover for a regional inferiority complex. Honestly, the sight of the singer trussed up and taunted by a moussed-up mid-Eighties street fashion succubus was enough to make an indelible impression on my thirteen year old self.

That might also explain why Maura, when I told her the “Bad Boys” video was now available to stream, made a disgusted face and responded “Why?”

The good book

May 22nd, 2019

The House on the Hillside has been getting something of a makeover for the past year and a half. While the biggest driver has been the pending arrival of the kid, it began as a pair of independent projects where Maura wanted to carve out a studio/reading room for herself in the attic and I began to reconfigure the living room around my growing record collection.

Most of the work has involved things we’d been meaning to get to but put off for reasons of time and expense. We’ve been living there for almost fifteen years, which is a long enough stretch for entropy and attrition to start taking their toll. Most of our furnishings were hand-me-downs or placeholders from our pre-cohabitation days which somehow defaulted into a state of semi-permanence. They’ve served us well, but have exceeded their “bought at Ames for $30 in 1999″ lifespans and need to be replaced with ones that fit better in terms of space and purpose.

Over the past month, we’ve swapped out a pair of sagging “composite wood” (a.k.a. “shaped sawdust & glue”) bookshelves in the dining room and our bedroom with doublewide Kallax jobbers. In the process, we’ve discovered a number of old friends buried in the back of the stacks, books obscured for a decade and change by the tchotchkes and other bits of kipple which seem to accumulate on our bookshelves over time.

Lipstick Traces was there, along with the Repo Man script book and the Trouser Press and Guinness Guides to (pre-1993) alternative music. Unearthing the likes Drachenfels, Stand on Zanzibar, Retro Hell, and The Comics Journal Library #6 felt like discovering a time capsule from this site’s earliest days.

And then there’s The People’s Almanac

…purchased from half-dot-com in the mid-Aughts to replace the one that went missing in the chaos following my mom’s death.

The book is the mother of all modern vademecums and bathroom readers, an absurdly thick assortment of factoids (and fictions) arranged via easily digestible chunks and thematic chapters. The authors-slash-compilers went on to produce the Book of Lists series, which tread similar ground but in a more specific format. The Almanac has its share of lists and list-adjacent material, but also includes longer-form entries, color plates, and the occasional essay.

It entered my life through my dad, who used to bring a lot of these popular “reference” tomes home for me to pore through when he got bored with them. This being the Seventies and me being a geeky pre-teen, I thumbed straight to the sections on Jack the Ripper, tragic disasters, and supernatural phenomena. The sensational slant of the writing and brevity of the individual articles were tailor made from my curious-but-easily-bored nature — so much so, that I kept on browsing once I’d polished off the parts about spontaneous human combustion and the Balvano train disaster.

The People’s Almanac (and similar books) functioned as a parallel form of schooling during my early years, and the verbal spillover from my factoid-intoxicated brain did a lot to contribute to my teachers’ not-entirely-justified assessment that I was some child prodigy in the rough. Where other kids my age were memorizing types of dinosaurs or the names of Star Wars aliens or the stats of every player in the Bruins, I used the same energy to memorize the capitals of dissolved nations and details about UFO sightings. The material and level of parental encouragement may have been atypical, but the underlying pathology was hardly unique among kids of a certain age.

It was also — by way of its detailed glossary of sex terms — how pre-pubescent Andrew learned about the birds and the bees, sparing me from ever having to have that conversation with my parents. For that alone, the book’s authors have my undying gratitude.

The personal significance of the People’s Almanac was justification enough to seek out a replacement copy. Once it arrived, though, I did a quick flip through the pages before shelving it. The physical awkwardness of the book — fifteen hundred pages crammed into a floppy-ass paperback — didn’t really lend itself to casual browsing like it used to when I was a kid, and the citation-free sensationalist tone didn’t hold the same authority to eyes and a brain which had come out the other end of a humanities degree. Stuff like “the Devil’s Footprints” didn’t have the same thrill it did when was young and the horrors of the “invisible world” seemed to be lurking around every corner.

Going back to it again these past few weeks, a couple years after revisiting the entire Book of Lists series, has been yet another experience. It’s less about the veracity of the (often extremely dated) information, but historical context in which it was compiled — what it chooses to emphasize and what it says about the era of its original publication. It’s a product of the post-Watergate, pre-malaise era where diminishing expectations hadn’t entirely eclipsed the remnants of Sixties idealism. It’s also the era when I first developed awareness of the world around me, and can still recall fragmented bits of with a fair degree of clarity.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that the mark that it left on me is nigh indelible, and still governs my outlook in numerous ways. If you’re wondering whether the “it” refers to the 1974-1976 period or the book, the answer is “yes.”

My love of Josie and the Pussycats dates back to mid-Seventies, when syndicated reruns of the animated power trio triggered early stirrings of Young Andrew’s sexuality. My ignorance about the nature of those feelings, combined with prevailing notions among my peers of it being “a girls’ show,” shamed me into hiding that love through my late teens — by which time I’d figured out why my heart fluttered whenever Melody pounded the skins.

Besides the…um…visual appeal, the show also featured a pretty killer soundtrack of soulful bubblegum pop tunes which would accompany the extended chase sequences leading to each episode’s finale. I can’t definitively say they — along with the songs in similar Hanna-Barbera “mystery teen” cartoons — were responsible for my enduring love of uptempo Sixties soul and pop jams, but I can’t definitively rule the possibility out, either. (The ads for K-Tel oldies collections which ran during the commercial breaks probably bore some responsibility, as well.)

I’ve been trying to acquire the Pussycats’ material on vinyl since the dawn of my record collecting days, but never had much luck finding any within a reasonable price range. The franchise never hit the Archies’ level of multimedia success which Hanna-Barbera had been aiming to replicate. What records did get released suffered the heightened level of attrition experienced by any kid-targeted slices of vinyl.

As a result, the band’s sole LP can command upwards of $300 in decent condition, while the Rhino Handmade CD collection of Pussycats material underwent 500% markups within hours of release. Both were well beyond what I’d be willing drop even with a pocket full of “fuck you” money.

If I had taken the stick out of my ass and dropped my bias against 7-inch releases sooner, it might not taken thirty years for me to realize there were other avenues to obtain these tracks on vinyl. The condition of the records can still be an issue — with the prices increasing geometrically as one moves up Goldmine’s grading tiers — but most of the Pussycats’ domestic singles can be obtained in a middling “VG” condition for a little under a tenner and a tolerance for mild surface noise.

Quite a bargain for some solid bubblegum gems, each one jam-packed with re-purposed H-B effects and incidental music, killer harmonies, and hormonal triggers.

Okay, that last one might just be me…but somehow I doubt it.

When came to my relationship with my father, the key word was “despite.”

Despite Gus being a poor excuse for parent, I still managed to turn out okay.

Despite his rampant hypocrisy in practice, he managed to instill within me a strong moral code.

Despite being pretty sexist in a lot of respects, he somehow managed to immunize me against the worst bits of toxic masculinity.

Despite all the shitty things he did and said to me over the years, I still loved — and occasionally admired — the man.

My father used to say that his goal as a parent was to get his sons to a point where they would call him out on his bullshit. He had nothing but disdain for dads who tried to turn their kids into obedient clones of themselves. We were children of the motherfucking whirlwind, and a little catastrophic destruction was a tragic but inevitable part of the process.

It wasn’t “abuse” or “neglect,” but a lesson plan for self-realization. This, too, was another line of bullshit to be seen through, although I doubt the old man intended it to be.

On an intellectual level, I acknowledge my upbringing was abnormal and horrible, yet it seemed “normal” to me at the time. Better than normal, even, because I was granted freedoms my peers with stricter (and sometimes equally abusive) parents could only dream of. It’s nothing I would ever subject a child to, but what it gave was roughly equal to what it (theoretically) had taken away.

And there were a lot of later adjustments to be made, the realization that just because I could cruelly fuck with people didn’t mean I should. One of the harshest assessments Maura can level at me is “that’s a Gus move.” I had to learn to let slights — perceived or real — drop. Or, failing that, to remove myself from the field of confrontation instead of escalating things to no beneficial end.

I am my father’s son, but that’s measured in as many differences as similarities. Gus embraced chaos, counting on his quick thinking to give him a leg up while everyone else was struggling to get their bearings. He loved adventure and crossing lines specifically because he was told not to cross them. He was outgoing and gregarious and loved being the center of attention, the wandering hero, the Chocolate Pudding Person.

(My mom coined the term “Chocolate Pudding Person” to describe how my dad would rush in with chocolate pudding or some other treat after she’d spent an entire dinner trying to get Lil Bro and me to nosh down some unpalatable but healthy foodstuffs. It became one of Maura’s favorite idioms after I told her about it.)

I’m not like that, at all, and the old man had a hard time understanding it. He thought I was too cautious, too preoccupied, too quiet, too “sensitive.” It never occurred to him — even when I stated it to his face — that a childhood spent in the wake of his chaos might have soured me on its charms. I didn’t have a choice to opt-out then, but I sure as shit did as an adult who saw exactly what it got my father — a widower at forty and forced to rebuild his life one small piece at a time.

His life made for some great anecdotes, but nothing you’d want to experience first-hand.

Fuck if I don’t miss him, though. It’s not a constant ache, just acute pangs which hit whenever some new development happens with the adoption process or I have a question about some bit of North Woburn lore. There won’t be anymore internal debates where I have to decide whether confirming a vague memory is worth a two hour phone call covering muscle cars, how much Republicans suck, and enough unsolicited advice to fill an encyclopedia. No more lousy puns and vile jokes followed by silence on my part and then a “What? Don’t think it’s funny?” on his. No more trying to triangulate what actually happened when he calls to complain about something my brother did.

I wished he’d lived long enough to meet the kid, but otherwise I have no regrets. He was a flawed and frequently infuriating son of a bitch, but I had reconciled myself to that long ago. I’m pretty sure he knew what I thought about him.

And if he didn’t, there’s fuck all I can do about it now.

I had thought my father’s funeral would be mirror the Comedian’s service in Watchmen — shitty weather, a handful of mourners lost in their individual memories of the man, and a brief set of platitudes uttered over the departed’s remains. When it was over, we’d briefly shake hands or hug before retreating to our personal domains.

It’s what my father said he wanted. It’s what I wanted. Lil Bro and my dad’s family had other ideas.

I understood my brother’s reasoning. My dad did give mixed signals when it came to putting on a big production. A week before any family gathering, he’d call me to he wasn’t going to this particular one and he’d be happier watching TV at home with his cat and I had the right idea about keeping my distance from my extended kin. Then I’d find out after the event he showed up anyhow. The old man’s vanity and hunger for attention always got the upper hand over his grumpiness, especially when it could also feed his long-suffering martyr complex.

If my father’s kin were going to make the long hike to Cape Cod — and they insisted on doing so — then Lil Bro thought it was only right to have a small collation nearby to feed them. What I thought didn’t matter, anyway, because I’d (again) left all the planning and details to my sibling. All I contributed was an obituary that was a find-and-replace version of my grandmother’s. (To be fair, the adoption process had begun to pick up speed around that time and I flat out told Lil Bro that it was going to be Maura’s and my first priority.)

I don’t harbor any strong animosity towards my father’s people, but I don’t feel any strong attachment to them, either. My maternal grandparents had been a huge part of my life from infancy, but the Weissfolk had always been a bit more distant and distinctly more bizarre. My paternal grandfather was Donald Trump minus the parental bailouts and support structure, just one transparent grift after another, for smaller stakes each time. None of his kids emerged unscathed from his shadow. The specific forms of damage and coping mechanisms varied, but with animal cunning and semi-justifiable arrogance as the common denominators. Imagine being in a room where every person is convinced they’re the smartest person in the room, and you’ve got a general idea of a Weiss family gathering.

Lil Bro gets along with them just fine, but they’ve always been too boisterous and tricky for my comfort. The fact that my father’s stroke-impaired mother and teenage sister lived with us during the back half of my childhood doesn’t help either. Over time, I’ve managed to get past the personal resentment — because they were in a bad way and needed help — about it, but the situation only escalated my parents’ downwards spiral.

It was the particular circumstances of this gathering which made me fret. It was my father’s funeral. It’s not as if I could plant myself on the margins and avoid contact. There’s be hugs and condolences and small talk and questions about what I’d been up to since the previous meet-up I’d been obligated to attend. Maura is an accomplished social interaction shield, but even she has her limits. As the day grew closer, so did my dread.

In the end, it was a lot of angst over nothing. Clannishness works both ways, and time and distance had removed me from the circle. I didn’t recognize most of my cousins and the rest of the crowd kept to their own circles, apart from the expected chatter. It was nice seeing my great-aunt again, and I got a little shook when she told me how excited my father had been about the adoption. I knew he was happy for us, but it was never in a demonstrative way. It was nice to hear, yet made me even sadder that he wouldn’t be around to see it finally happen.

I also got a bit of mileage out of my dad’s line, when asked about his plans for the future, “I’ve got a little plot of land down on the Cape for me and my wife.” The old man loved his rough chuckles.

It was a simple service. There was a short procession, followed by an ecumenical sermon and military honors. Lil Bro suggested I get the flag because I was was the elder son. When the honor guard handed it over, he offered the thanks and condolences of the “President of the United States, its government and armed services.” There were a few soft gasps and doubletakes at the first part. I can’t say for sure, but I swear I heard a phlegmy “fuck that dumb fuck, no I’m serious, fuck that asshole” from the vicinity of the old man’s burial urn.

Afterward we drove back across the big bridge to Wareham, where the collation was being held. I socialized where I thought it was appropriate, but spent most of the time with some members of Maura’s family who attended the service. I don’t usually eat at these things, but Maura enjoyed the special vegetarian meal they prepared for her and I swiped a few slices of gingerbread to eat at home.

I complimented Lil Bro for the good job he did, and we left shortly after Maura’s people did. As we rode back north past an unending series of cranberry bogs, I kept flipping back and forth between relief and existential dread.

It was finally over, but it was also finally over.

I was driving through the tunnel and had my phone muted, so I missed Lil Bro’s text. I didn’t even realize he’d sent it until I started settling into my cubicle and my phone buzzed.

“Did you get my text? The visiting nurse found Dad dead this morning.”

I didn’t feel sad or guilty or shocked. It seemed like the old man might’ve had a few more years in him, but it was also clear his physical condition was a basket full of other shoes waiting to drop. The notion of a Gus-less universe was something I’d occasionally contemplated, but could never truly visualize.

No more pointless arguments. No more phlegmy chuckling at his own jokes. No more meandering stories about esoteric topics. No more Dad.

We’d ended our relationship on a stand-off. I’d called him out for being a shitty father. He’d called me out for being a shitty son. The last weeks before his death were spent seeing which of us would blink first.

I thought I had the upper hand. My birthday was coming up and my father made a point of calling me up on the exact anniversary of my entering the world — 11:58 AM on March 13. He’d marvel at where the time went and tell me again about how he’d requested his CO for leave when my mom went to labor and laughed when asked if he could return to duty that afternoon. (According to my mother, my dad showed up drunk and recoiled at my wrinkly newborn self. “He looks much better now,” he told her with visible relief the following day.)

The birthday call would’ve been the perfect time to mend fences — or, in true Weiss fashion, pretend the fight never happened so neither party would have to admit losing. He fell short of the target by roughly thirty hours.

The first reports said he was found on the floor, but the funeral director said he had passed quietly in his sleep. Cardiac failure did him in, beating out a disappointed lung cancer at the final post.

Maura and I left work and went back home to Woburn. The situation was still too weird to wrap my head around, especially on the heels of losing my grandmother the previous year and Maura’s mother right after the holidays. All huge presences in our lives, and now all gone.

Lacking anything better to do, I threw the 7-inch of “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert on the turntable. I’d bought it a couple months previous on a nostalgic whim. It had been one of my dad’s favorite songs when was kid. I suspected listening to it would make me bawl, and it did.

Maura hugged me until the song ended. I finished all the crying was was going to do over my father, wiped my eyes, and put the record back in its crate.

Lil Bro and his wife rode into Boston to make arrangements and retrieve the old man’s cat, which I’d be taking custody of again. He dropped the distressed critter off at my house later that afternoon. He and I then spent a good while in my living room, swapping childhood stories about our father while our more respectable halves listened in abject horror.

“Remember when I was a teen and Ma would ask me to defend her against his abuse? And I’d provoke him and try and prove myself but he’d beat the shit out of me? And Ma would cheer him on because she got off on Dad beating up guys on her behalf?”

Good times, and one of the reasons why nobody understands why I continued to maintain a relationship with the man.

My dad had a plot in the military burial ground in Bourne, where my mother had already been (re-)interred. He’d be cremated, as per his wishes, and buried there with military honors at a small service the following month. (It was the soonest available opening.)

In the meantime, Lil Bro and I used a bereavement day to clean out the old man’s apartment.

Most of his possessions went into the garbage. The sticky layer of tar and nicotine residue put a higher threshold on sentimentality. I grabbed his service medals, his bush hat, field jacket and dress uniform blazer, along with a substantial pile of old photos and other family memorabilia. Lil Bro was on the look out for any financial paperwork, as the old man’s promised “big plan” for handling his estate turned out to be “dying without a will.”

We also found this among his papers…

…and I still can’t decide if the placement was some dark posthumous humor on his part.

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