Armagideon Time

Some luck

May 3rd, 2019

Today marks the thirteenth year since I got it into my head to start Armagideon Time, and what a year it has been. I’ve continued to stagger along, the same way this site continues to stagger along. That’s no complaint. It’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment considering the circumstances.

A big thanks to all of you who still find the time to swing by. I’m past the point of measuring my self-esteem in terms of readership, but it’s still nice to know someone appreciates whatever the hell it is I do here.

Peace and Love

- andrew

P.S. Don’t forget to check the first comment on this post.

Pulp nonfiction

May 2nd, 2019

I have read a lot of dystopian fiction in my forty-seven years. Some of it has been good, a lot of it has been terrible, but none of it has been as utterly disturbing as the copy from this International Paper Company ad…

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Paper.

The old man’s move into rehab was delayed by a lack of available beds and a flu epidemic which ruled out a facility in nearby Wilmington in favor on one up in North Andover.

We kept in touch through texts and phone calls, but I didn’t bother visiting him in person. When this shit started to go down, I vowed to myself that I would not take ownership of my father. I didn’t even want to provide his caseworkers the opening to suggest it. He was my father and I did love him in a particularly qualified way, but the basis for that kind of caretaker relationship died when my mother did.

This tweet from December 19 summed up my attitude perfectly:

My dad in December 1988: “I’ll let the social workers handle it.”

Me in December 2018: “I’ll let the social workers handle it.”

The circle of life is now complete.

It wasn’t my intent to dump those responsibilities on Lil Bro. I encouraged him to adopt my approach and I think he wanted to, but the tendrils of kinship managed to ensnare him. He’s a lot like the old man in that way, driven by a sense of honor-fueled obligation. But to Lil Bro it means more than the selective lip service our father paid to it.

Even if I’d wanted to help, I couldn’t have. Maura’s mom took a turn for the worse around the holidays, and my time was spent making sure she was free to deal with her own family obligations. It wasn’t an either/or competition between our two ailing parents. We were simply following pre-established trajectories based on our familial culture — the daughter of a close knit immigrant clan with a beloved matriarch and the son of an inveterate shit-stirrer whose interactions turn ugly after a short span of time.

I told the old man this point blank — that when push came to shove, my allegiance was to my spouse. There was no way I was going to allow things to lead to another fight with Maura, especially not when she was dealing with the loss of her parent.

My father said he understood. He said it in a way to make it seem like it was his own gesture of self-sacrifice. But I could tell he was fuming with envy over it.

Jealous resentment had become a thing with him in recent years, kicking into overdrive around the time my maternal grandmother’s health started to fail. She had hated the old man from the moment my mom first brought him home, and was extremely resistant to his powers of manipulation. The fact that my dad had been a violent drunk who dragged her daughter down with him, then had her ashes exhumed from the family plot and moved to Bourne, didn’t help matters, but the bottom line is she never liked my father.

When Lil Bro and I got power of attorney over my grandmother’s estate, the old man began to let fly with unsolicited advice seasoned with lashings of resentment.

“How come I’m not in the will?” (Really, Dad? Really?) “You should really do this…” followed by some nonsense that we’d already told him was a non-starter. “What if..” introducing some absurd hypotheticals on par with the moon falling to earth in a shower of gold coins. It would’ve been annoying in the best of times, but was the last thing Lil Bro and I needed to deal with when we were worrying about our grandmother’s health and financial solvency.

It got so maddening that the two of us independently told him to shut the fuck up and mind his own business, forcing him to retreat into his fallback stance of self-pitying martyr. “I just want the best for you boys but you don’t need my help a bloo a bloo bloo.”

Now it was the old man’s time in the tragic spotlight, but the audience was distracted by other events. When we did pay him attention, he was more interested in talking shit and playing games than getting serious about his long term plans. There were services to set up and things to attend to, but getting him to commit to starting the process was an exercise in frustration. “You won’t need to” became “I guess that’s your problem” in the space of a single conversation. He’d accuse me of not taking proper care of his cat to Lil Bro, then turn around and tell me how Lil Bro was saying crap about me — without ever considering that the two of us were in close communication and had told him so on multiple occasions.

The one thing I did agree to was to pick him up at the rehab. Because Lil Bro was going to be out of town and it was a handy excuse to take a Friday off work.

This site emerged from a primordial stew of influences, one of the most prominent being the wave of “archival” mp3 blogs which sprung up in the middle Aughts. Sites with names like Little Hits or Phoenix Hairpins or Last Days of Man on Earth would post digital rips of out-of-print vinyl obscurities alongside enough written backmatter to distinguish themselves from the pirate crowd.

Each update held the promise of a new-to-me (or known only through some tantalizing reference in an ancient ‘zine) forgotten gem, and a fair number of these finds gelled into a new pantheon of playlist-and-mix-CD-ready favorites. The songs — along with the sites that hosted them — thrilled and energized and ultimately inspired me to try my own hand at the whole music blogging thing. I charted a different course than theirs, but it wouldn’t have happened if not for the examples they set.

Although there are plenty of ripped selections from that scene that deserve to be added to my collection, only a handful have been thus far. Many of the records are darlings of the collectors’ market. Low production runs, high demand, and region-restricted distribution lead to premium asking prices, which become inflated even further by covetous souls smelling a “hot property.” Comps and reissues can provide possible end runs around that vicious cycle, but even those fall prey to absurd levels of mark-up within a few months of release.

I quit bothering to put these records on my Discogs wantlist. Even the few “cheaper” copies which do turn up for sale tend to be at least three times what I’d be willing to spend, and there’s no point on cluttering up my daily “just got listed” bulletin from the site with a bunch of non-starters (or even worse — unicorns that were sold an hour before I got a chance to check the listing). I still undertake periodic sweeps of the Discogs marketplace or eBay for them, however, typically after hearing a featured track crop up in a playlist and usually ending in disappointment.

Usually, but not always.

A couple of weeks back, something reminded me of “Strawberry Cheesecake,” released by Detroit’s Algebra Mothers in 1979. The art-damaged approximation of a Stranglers’ jam was one of my earlier mp3 blog finds and epitomized the thrill of discovering something so incredibly good yet so utterly ignored in its era. (Honestly, most American non-hardcore punk from 1977-1981 falls into that category.) I’d sniffed around for it a couple times before, but either came up empty or found the available copies priced ludicrously even by the ranges from previous sales.

This time, I noticed something different on the single’s master release page — listings for a pair of 2019 repressings. The ones for sale still ran a bit high (and came from Canada, where the shipping costs were as much as the record itself), so I googled the reissues’ label. It brought me right to their mail order store page, which had the single in-stock for a whopping six dollars.

I don’t know why anyone would release an obscure 1979 Midwest artpunk single or price it more cheaply than most other boutique labels would these days. I’m just grateful it gave my the opportunity to have my very own copy to spin.

And if they want to give the same treatment to The First Steps’ “The Beat Is Back” 7″ or The Standbys’ sole EP, I’d be much obliged.

Back and there again

April 25th, 2019

Giddy off the contact nostalgia from the Rules Cyclopedia and frustrated at being unable to locate my original stack of 1st edition rulebooks, I recently embarked on a quest to reassemble the core texts of my earliest Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.

It’s still missing Unearthed Arcana and The Best of Dragon III. I’m still debating the cost-to-gain ratio of replacing the former but am pretty certain the a copy of the latter is buried in the same storage crate I pulled the subsequent volume from (complete with original bloodstains caused by a 1987 paper cut). The Cyclopedia, of course, is subbing for the Basic and Expert Set rulebooks.

Otherwise, this collection of tomes was what my tiny gaming group and I got by with for several months. If it seems a little haphazard, that’s because it assembled by my cash-strapped younger self from various clearance aisles. The actual trio of core AD&D books ended up being the last three I purchased before moving onto Warhammer Fantasy Role Play.

It worked pretty well in practice. Most of the basic AD&D mechanics were rehashed in Oriental Adventures, and it wasn’t that difficult to work out which bits were and weren’t specific to the campaign setting. Unearthed Arcana also had its share of redundancies as minor revisions. Any remaining gaps were adequately filled by the box set D&D manuals and a battered AD&D Dungeonmaster’s Screen provided by one of the other players.

So how did we handle characters such as rangers or halfling thieves in the absence of the official rules? The answer is “we didn’t.” Why would anyone want that vanilla nonsense when they could play as a cavalier or ninja or one of the badass Best of Dragon “NPC” (wink-wink) classes? If someone had their heart set on playing a elven fighter-magic user, odds are they either owned a Player Handbook or had access to one. It didn’t matter if they used my ignorance to take certain liberties, because we were all playing fast and loose with the official rules. (The Best of Dragon IV book is full of ball-point footnotes aimed at juicing most favored subclasses. I don’t remember making them, but I’m certain it wasn’t the only book I marked up in such a fashion.)

While I discussed most of these texts during Role-Playing with the Changes, it has been three decades since I’d given any of them more than cursory skim. That was a long enough ago for specific details to drop from memory, but still recent enough for certain passages or illustrations to induce shockingly lucid flashbacks to my early teens. It’s also quite an experience for my jaded middle aged self to revisit bits my adolescent edgelord incarnation considered awe-inducing.

Andrew, Age 14: “WOW, THIS HIERARCHY OF LOWER PLANE ENTITIES IS SICK AS SHIT.”

Andrew, Age 47: “mother of god, these designers were anal-retentive as fuck”

Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings stirred up by this odd homecoming and the purchase of some polyhedral dice (as much a thrill now as it was in 1986), I can’t envision actually playing the game again — and that applies to any tabletop RPG. It’s not just a lack of time, but also a diminished capacity for regularly scheduled social activities. No matter how much fun they might be at the beginning, it does’t take long before I start chafing over the sense of obligation and think of all the other things I’d rather be doing that evening instead.

If the itch to play does arise, I can usually salve it with another aborted playthough of the Baldur’s Gate games.

The morning after I visited the old man in the hospital, we got a six AM call on our landline. Maura picked up the cordless receiver. “Caller ID says it’s from your father,” she said as she handed it off to me.

I was expecting the worst. What I got was a repeat of a line I’d heard thirty years and two weeks prior.

“Andy…what happened?”

Those were the first words, my dad had said to me the first time I saw him after my mom’s death. He’d been blackout drunk when she took her backward tumble down the attic stairs, and only discovered she’d died after waking up in the drunk tank and asking an orderly if he could call his wife to let her know where he was.

I’d viewed my dad with a mixture of awe and terror from early childhood. Even as his ugliest, he’d been a larger-than-figure, more force of nature than a man. But there, shaking and teary-eyed in the lounge of the VA Hospital observation ward, he just seemed small and broken.

Any deep-seated resentment or grudges I’d harbored toward the man — and I had plenty — evaporated in that moment. I neither forgave nor forgot the abuse I’d suffered at his hands, but it seemed pointless to keep the flames of my anger stoked. There was no payback I could’ve enacted that was worse than what he’d done to himself. It’s a decision which no one — not Lil Bro, nor Maura, nor various social workers — has ever managed to fully understand.

And there I was, three decades and change later, re-enacting the scene via phone from the interrupted comfort of a warm bed.

Just like the last time, the old man had no recollection of how he’d ended up in a hospital ward. Whatever cocktail of meds they’d pumped into him had cleared the worst of his delirium. For the first time in weeks, I could understand what he was saying.

“You totalled your car smashing though benches and picnic tables on the Sugarbowl. You didn’t hurt anyone. They said you had an infection that fucked your head.”

“Really? No. Really? Wow.”

The old man’s instinctual caginess swung into action from there, pumping me for details as he attempted to spin things to himself in the best possible (and blameless) light. It didn’t matter that he’d admitted his ignorance right out of the gate. He wasn’t sculpting the narrative for my benefit, but for his own. The destruction of his beloved Mustang didn’t bother him as much as the possible legal troubles and the revocation of his license — he had no intention of ever driving again, but seethed about that decision being made for and not by him.

I wrapped up the call by promising to look after his cat and telling him to concentrate on getting well instead of obsessing over hypotheticals — at which point he threw in a few more before hanging up.

Lil Bro’s wife managed to find contact info for the old man’s landlord, who arranged to have the building’s handyman let us into his apartment (and in turn triggered paranoid rants about “not letting that guy know my business” from my father). Besides retrieving a depressed and terrified fluffball from what Maura described as “the most depressing and disgusting apartment she’d ever visited,” I grabbed the old man’s mail, checkbook, phone charger, and glasses. All but the cat went into sealed plastic bags until the layer of sticky grime could be not-quite-successfully scrubbed off with alcohol pads.

I refused to go back to the hospital after my first harrowing experience, so Lil Bro ended up as the old man’s healthcare proxy by default. There was a new battery of tests everyday, followed by a new list of ways my father’s health was completely fucked. Besides weighing under ninety pounds and the infection thing, there were ominous spots on his lungs and evidence that the delirium had been the result of a stroke. (We wondered about that during our first wellness check, but his manual dexterity with both hands had seemed fine.)

Because the old man had been been exposed to TB but didn’t maintain much of a medical history, he got to spend a few days in an isolation ward.

His moods were all over the map. I’d have blamed the blood clot in his noggin, but these behaviors were very much a pre-existing condition. Leaving my old man with his thoughts was like leaving a nuclear reactor without a coolant source. Stray thoughts and memories and “genius ideas” energized themselves in the boredom chamber until they reached critical mass and the old man reached for his phone.

In the morning, I’d get a maudlin spiel about how he wanted to become a “better person.” In the afternoon, I’d get a hectoring reminder about cashing his insurance check for the totaled car. In the evening, he’d weave some nonsensical fantasy about the events of the crash. He got pissed at me for interrupting an obviously rehearsed speech about how I should not take him in.

“Dad, it ain’t gonna happen, because I’m not telling the adoption folks the dude who abused me is coming to live here.”

“JUST LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT, FOR FUCK’S SAKE.”

I found it irritating, but it made Lil Bro livid with anger. I’d experienced the worst of my father’s drunken rages, so his bundle of personality tics were more annoying than anything. Lil Bro’s relationship with the old man didn’t really blossom until he was in his teens, when my dad was a non-custodial weekend buddy to wander around Boston with. As Lil Bro grew older and our father became crankier and more obvious with his line of bullshit, the clashes grew more frequent. The old man took a perverse joy in needling his youngest, winding him up until he pushed back, at which point our dad would play the poor put-upon martyr.

It only got worse while my father was in the hospital. Lil Bro had already burned himself out dealing with our grandmother’s estate. He didn’t want to repeat the experience with even shittier paperwork, so pressed the old man to get his finances, funeral arrangements, and medical shit sorted in advance. My father would agree, act like it was entirely his idea, and then turn around and taunt Lil Bro with “ha ha ha, I won’t do it. It will be YOUR problem, not mine.”

And so it would be.

Reel, too real

April 23rd, 2019

Some folks will tell you that the Apollo 11 mission was 1969′s biggest scientific achievement.

They are wrong.

Transporting a pair of human to the surface of another world is pretty impressive, I’ll admit…

…but it pales in comparison to the advent of a portable cassette player with a protective enclosure for its media.

Portable tape recorders became a huge thing in my elementary school around 1981 or so, briefly supplanting videogames and big ticket Star Wars toys as the birthday gift of choice. If it was a knock-on effect from the success of Sony’s Walkman, it was a convoluted one.

They were very rarely used to play music, and never pre-recorded cassettes. At most, you’d get a tinny version of Back in Black taped within ten feet of a store-brand phonograph player, with a “SHUT THE DOOR! I’M TAPING!” screamed during the guitar solo of “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

The real allure of these devices was the ability to record yourself and your friends doing their pre-adolescent approximations of humor — a grab bag of routines lifted from Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Cheech & Chong and Saturday Night Live, reworked for the most hyper-local of audiences. (Maura and her friend used to record homebrew song parodies — such as “Shadows of the Night” reworked as “Shitheads of the Night” — on theirs.)

And a fuckton of fart noises and scatological puns.

I can’t recall ever listening to what we taped. Recording these ad hoc routines was the real experience, one that involved pants-pissing laughter and frantic efforts to one-up each other. The very notion of technological preservation was magic in itself, adding an additional thrill to the collaborative act of creation. No matter how “amazing” the final product was, it existed to be taped over by an even better performance the following afternoon.

My sturdy Panasonic jobber and associated cassettes went missing well before my teen years. If the tapes had survived, they’d provide an unfiltered core sample of my nine year old self’s existence…so maybe it’s better they didn’t.

The mobile Discogs app has a feature where you can shake your device and it will throw up a random entry from your collection. I’m going to let it pick the subject of this installment, since I ‘m having trouble deciding upon one.

Here goes, and….

Dammit, I’ve already done that one.

The second try gives us…

Nope. It’s a holdover from my old collection and doesn’t qualify.

Third time’s the charm, and…

…I guess it will do.

I did not purchase the 7-inch of Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride” nor would I ever have considered purchasing it. Even though it was precisely the type of music my parents listened to when I was young, I have no recollection of hearing it prior to 2015. The only personal association it holds is my wondering whether it or “Dancing in the Moonlight” will start autoplaying after the YouTube stream of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” concludes.

When it comes to 7-inch singles, I prefer buying in bulk. It’s more efficient for both parties, and easy to do when you’ve got a fondness for pop music from the mid-Sixties through mid-Eighties. The stuff is dirt cheap (and frequently remaindered inventory from defunct retailers) and there are numerous marketplace vendors who specialize in the stuff. Bracket some years of release, set the price and condition parameters, and I could — and have — spent an afternoon filling my cart with dozens upon dozens of 45s (and for a total cost of $25, including media mail shipping).

Some of these folks will throw a few extras into the order — lower quality or lower demand items slipped in as a thank you (or used as protective bookends for the rest of the bundle). The most dedicated sellers will actually browse the buyer’s collection for ideas about extras to toss in.

That’s how I ended up with the “Ride Captain Ride” single. A kind seller saw a few nuggets of AM Gold in my collection and — like YouTube’s algorithms — decided I could use some Blues Image as a chaser.

It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been a King Harvest 45.

It had been a typical Monday thus far. I’d finished sorting out the previous weekend’s data dump and took care of any outstanding request tickets. All that remained was to ride out the rest of my shift before making the long drive back to Woburn.

Then my cell started buzzing, and its caller ID said it was the old man. Figuring it was another poorly timed request to buy him some smokes, I answered with my flattest “yeah, what do you want now?”

I got back “This is Trooper Redacted of the Massachusetts State Police. Your father was in a automobile accident.”

My dad’s 2009 Mustang had been in the shop during his turn toward the wretchedly bizarre. Lil Bro and I considered that a blessing, because he was in no condition to operate it. We’d also assumed he was in no condition to retrieve it from the service station, yet he’d managed to find a way.

He got a new inspection sticker. He bought some groceries. He stocked up on cigarettes. He had a bizarre episode where he started to drive on the sidewalk of South Boston’s “Sugarbowl” and plow through a bunch of trash cans, picnic tables, and park benches before getting boxed in by multiple police cruisers.

Nobody was injured (thank fucking providence), but the trooper decided the old man’s physical and mental condition warranted a trip to Boston Medical Center’s emergency room.

I spent the next hour alternating between rhetorically asking “what the fuck” to Maura while throwing my hands in the air and spamming Lil Bro via text and voice message. (The science-y place where he works is full of no-reception zones.) He finally returned my call after a long forty minutes. I filled him in on what little I knew, and we worked out a game plan while marveling at how stupid and lucky our sire had been.

The most pressing priority was dealing with my father’s cat, Peej. The old man had adopted him as a feral foster kitten and showered that sad-faced fluffball with all the unselfish devotion he’d withheld from his human children. Maura and I agreed to take him in for the duration, but that involved getting access to the old man’s apartment which involved getting my father’s keys. We had no idea if he had them in his personal effects or whether they were left in the wrecked Mustang.

We decided was the hospital was the best place to start.

Getting to BMC was a harrowing experience in city driving and garage parking, but it was a basket of puppies compared to the inside of the place. It had nothing to do with the physical condition of the place or the quality of the staff — it was a waking nightmare by virtue of being a big city emergency room. And there, on a bed between some partitioned curtains was my father, thrashing his skeletal limbs around and moaning.

Here’s a thing about the Weiss males: Our emotional utterances tend to sound like cartoon versions of the genuine article. My laugh, for example, is identical to Muttley’s hissing chuckle and Lil Bro’s fits of rage are straight out of a Donald Duck routine. It can make it difficult for folks to take us seriously when it happens, because it looks like we’re taking the piss instead of genuinely expressing ourselves.

We even respond that way to each other, which is why the old man’s agonized moans seemed oddly comical despite the horrifying context. It was the same sounds he used to utter during dad-joke bits when I was a kid. “Oooooooh, we’re all out of pudding, ooooooooh woe is me ooooooooh.”

His personal belongings were nowhere to be found and the few staffpeople we stopped for moment couldn’t give us an answer, either. Talking to the old man was no use. He didn’t recognize me and completely incoherent. He seemed worse off than my grandmother had been during her last few days, and I began to wonder if this was how it was going to end.

By the time the physician got around to speaking with us, I was in a state of existential panic. The old man was suffering from an infected bedsore, which was the likely cause of the hallucinations and odd behaviors. He was also in the vicinity of ninety pounds and severely undernourished. They were going to keep him for a few days and a case worker was going to review plans for going forward.

His possessions were bundled in a plastic bag stuffed under the covers by his feet. Turning out his grimy pockets netted six packs of Marlboros but no keys. The cat would have to wait.

I told Maura I just wanted to go back home, and so we did.

It’s a long-standing tradition in my family to offer help with the understanding that you will never be required to follow through with it. The gesture is symbolic, a substitute for more direct expressions of affection.

Other families say “I love you.” Mine says “Let me know if you need help with that thing.”

I told my dad I’d help him out because I was reeling from how ghastly he appeared and didn’t want to stick Lil Bro with the responsibility and stress-reverted to force of habit response patterns. The important thing was getting him to make a doctor’s appointment and pre-empting his protests. The rest would then sort itself out. (Another deep-seated family belief.)

At most, I thought I’d be on the hook for a couple of grocery and pet supply runs to be arranged at my convenience.

What I got was a series of increasingly bizarre calls at random times. Despite he claims about “cutting down,” the old man was still burning through multiple packs of smokes a day. No one else was willing to buy them for him, so he pestered me whenever he was running low. He wouldn’t do it directly, however. He’d call and babble about something or another before couching the request within a less objectionable one. “I’m running low on cat food for Peej…and could you pick me up some cigarettes, too?”

While his apartment was a couple miles from my place of work, that short distance ran a gauntlet of hazards which included the deadliest rotary in Boston and a narrow steep slope where stupid shits parked on both sides of the road. Never mind the fact I had to walk a half mile across a wind-blasted peninsula to get to my car, plus give up my breaktime during a stretch when my job was nothing but putting one fire out after another. Making the trip on a lazy Saturday morning was one thing. Doing it during rush hour while a snow squall raged around the Malibu was another.

And no matter how much I tried to make sure he was set up until the weekend, his Marlboro consumption would increase to ensure that I’d get another call two days after the previous one. The breaking point came when he wanted me to make a run on a Wednesday afternoon, after the winter darkness had already descended. I tried — and failed — to convince Maura (a far better city driver than I am) to come with me, and thus had to go it alone.

It was a nightmare from beginning to end, with my anger and anxiety reaching meltdown levels — which I then channeled into an ugly blow-up with Maura. After I regained a semblance of self-control and made what amends I could, I decided that pity and the fumes of filial obligation only went so far. Yet the more I stonewalled, the more absurd his demands became.

“Hey, where are you now?”

“Stuck in shit traffic on the northbound expressway before the tunnel, so the signal might drop soon.”

“Oh…so I guess you wouldn’t be able to pick me up a couple packs of smokes tonight.”

“No, that’s not going to happen.”

“Oh…okay…I see…hmmm… I guess I’ll think of something. It’s just that you offered.. Don’t trouble yourself.” Then an abrupt hang-up and — I swear — the sound of sad violin music.

While this multi-act epic of pass-agg behavior was unfolding between the old man and me, Lil Bro’s interactions with him had entered avant-garde territory. My father had started experiencing hallucinations where my dead mother or dead cousin or Lil Bro’s younger self would show up in his apartment. His retelling of the incidents would slip in between acknowledging they couldn’t be real and talking about them as if they were.

My father’s mother went a bit loopy in her later years (above and beyond the trauma caused by a stroke in her mid-forties) and his elder brother had begun to suffer severe cognitive impairment within the last decade or so. At the same time, my father was also spending most of his day in a pain-wracked state of semi-slumber and subsisting on junk food. On one of the cigarette runs, I found him in bed, surrounded by a dozen empty pudding cups and bottles of Coke.

The only way to know what was really going on was for the old man to see a doctor, which he insisted was in the process of happening “any day now.”

There was no way we could force the issue. In the end, we didn’t have to, because our father forced it upon himself.

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