2011 in review

I probably should have done this post in New Year’s Eve so it would have gone live in time for the annual reanimation of the carcass of Dick Clark. But I was driving home from Knoxville until about 9:00 that night and I think I was actually in the shower when the new year landed. I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s reaction to the the ball being dropped (it wasn’t pretty) so  decided to skip it this year. In fact, I skipped the holidays pretty much in general this year, at least as far I was able to do so. My apologies to all of you who deserved cards, presents, and other celebratory stuff.

To say that 2011 was the worst and most difficult year of my adult life would be a major understatement–and also a bit redundant. A large chunk of the foundation of my life was pretty much ripped out from underneath me and I was forced to reconsider how I would be spending the rest of my life. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect was not having any real control over most of what happened and spending the bigger part of the year feeling hurt, helpless, and pretty much completely out of control. Oh yeah, and trying not to let it show, first to “save face” and later because it was necessary for me to be “the strong one.”

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention (or need a refresher) the year was pretty much defined by my breakup with Mark and the drama ensuing from my mom’s rapid-onset case of Alzheimer’s. It seems like the whole year has been pretty much one gut-wrenching and heartbreaking episode after another with very little respite or time to recover in between. It’s been fucking exhausting.

The breakup happened on 9 March. It had been brewing for several months and I’d really pretty much known it was over when we parted ways in San Francisco in December 2010 but this was the year when we formalized it and started dismantling the life we’d built together since 2001. So much time having passed, I’m now a little more comfortable sharing that I felt largely blindsided by it all; I’d been stupid (or unobservant) enough to believe we’d been pretty happy over the preceding nine years. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, of course, and any relationship issue by definition involves both partners and I’m not saying this to portray Mark as the villain. I mention it simply to stress that I was not the one who wanted out, and therefore that no matter how friendly he and I may remain, I will always view things differently than he will. When you are the instigator, the breakup hurts you deeply but this is tempered by the fact that you’re leaving because you believe your life will be better somehow because of it. When you’re the one left behind, though, you don’t have this comfort. There’s only the down side: the hurt, the big empty space in your life, the crushing blow to your sense of self-esteem and security, and all the random things that used to make you smile but now make you get teary-eyed.

It sucks. I think only a few of my closest friends have any idea how much this has affected me because at some point you just have to shut the fuck up about it or no one will want to be around you anymore.

All the same, I’m a relatively strong person and probably would have coped a little better if I’d had a little time to process it all before the next crisis hit. But it was not to be. In April came the first episode that really suggested that my mom was jumping on the Alzheimer’s bus…fast. It was terrifying and it was also hard for me at first to accept how major my role was to be in all this.

The next few months would be just one thing after another, leaving me with wounds that refused to heal because I kept pulling the same scabs off over and over again. A lull with Mom was followed by the sale of the house in Pittsburgh and all the emotional drama that produced, then by Mark’s trip to North Carolina to move or dispose of most of the rest of his stuff, and by discussions of the “division of assets”; Mark was more than fair about this–generous even–but just having the conversation at all was painful when just a year earlier we’d been exciting about bring our lives together again.

I had a brief, two-week break with my Canadian road trip. It’s hard to express how very essential that vacation was to my ongoing sanity. Without having had it, I might not be typing this right now.

But there was no chance to bask in the glow of relaxation after Canada. The very weekend I returned, my mom’s problems began escalating dramatically and it soon became obvious to everyone except her and my dad that home was no longer the place for her. She was hallucinating and wandering and threatening, and my dad was on edge from constant arguments and from the stress of constantly looking for things she’d hidden and convincing her there weren’t three other people living in the house with them. He was shutting down and I was realizing that I was about to have to start making all the decisions.

I’d never completely processed the breakup. I wasn’t even entirely capable of managing my own life. And now I was expected to manage my parents’ day to day issues as well. And yes, I started resenting it. I started resenting the fact that they hadn’t made plans beforehand and the fact that my dad wouldn’t commit to anything no quite give me all the authority I needed. And I started resenting all the effort I’d put into being accepting and supportive of everything that was going on with Mark while minimizing everything that was going on with me. And I started really resenting that it was all happening while I was at possibly the most important point in the new career I was trying to build for myself. I was really fucking tired of being strong in the face of everyone else’s drama and how that was denying me the ability to deal with my own life. Where a few months earlier, I’d felt something of a lack of control over my own life, I now felt like I didn’t have any control. It seemed like the whole last year of my life had been defined by shit that was imposed on me by other people against my will and without my consent. It was all kind of whiny and self-pitying but it was kind of true too.

There were lots of mornings in 2011 when it was all I could do not to wake up, walk into the kitchen, and stick my head in the oven. And that would have been really stupid since I have an electric oven. See? There’s the sense of humor. It was always there, if sometimes farther below the surface than I wanted, and it was one of the things that saved me. The other was a few really good friends who have always been there for me even when I may not have returned the favor as much as I should have over the years. The best part of this year has been trying to rebuild some of these friendships after a period of neglect.

Male enhancement

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been listening to the radio more often lately. And I’ve been noticing lots of commercials for fake testosterone supplements that will make old geezers more manly in very important ways. I can only assume these “spark and passion” inducers are directed toward guys who are in preexisting relationships. Being the fat, middle-aged, single guy I am, the boys aren’t exactly standing in line waiting for their chance at me anyway. The last thing I really need in my life is something to make me more horny.

It seems almost cruel…

Mildly absurd

I’m trying hard to keep my sense of humor about the irony of scrambling to qualify for a new mortgage on a house I don’t particularly want to own (or, more accurately, to continue owning) in the first place. It’s necessary so that I can afford the payments by myself until I can sell the damned thing, and so that everything will be exclusively in my name. Suffice to say this ain’t “Property Virgins” and I’m not exactly giddy with excitement. It’s just a necessary evil, I guess.

The shitty thing about same-sex marriages unsanctioned relationships in the US is that even though there were none of the financial benefits beforehand, they’re still just as much of a pain in the ass to unravel when they end. I’m just glad this one is an amicable one.

The freeway that ate East Charlotte

If ever there were a justification for why urban freeway construction continues not to be a good idea in most cases, the Independence Freeway project in Charlotte is it. Construction of this monstrosity over the past twenty-five years has destroyed homes and businesses and neighborhoods and created a creeping blight that has devastated much of East Charlotte. And apparently the first phase wasn’t bad enough; the wasteland is now rapidly progressing farther eastward toward Idlewild.

I feel a little possessive about the east side of Charlotte, having lived and/or worked there most of the time I spent in the Queen City. It’s really sad to watch this happen. I wrote an article on the death of Independence Boulevard for another (short-lived) site five or six years back and I should drag that out and republish it here along with some photos I took for a photo essay on the same topic.

Farewell Sentinel

I finally disabled the Twin City Sentinel site yesterday. TCS–the name came from a defunct Winston-Salem newspaper–was originally designed to be a collaboration between Mark and me, first on local topics and then on things urban in general, but it never quite caught on with either of us (much less with anyone else) and it hadn’t been updated in a couple of years. The last PHP upgrade at Pair broke it, so I finally pulled down the remains yesterday.

I’ve moved a couple of my articles from that site to this one in case you care:

10:15 Saturday night

My mortgage guy apparently works very late on Saturdays, which is good since we take care of what we needed to do earlier thanks to yet another “Mom crisis.” I sometimes fantasize about what having just one stress-free weekend a month might be like. I vaguely remember when weekends used to help relieve stress rather than add to it.

Some random links for tonight:


Journalism you can count on

The LA Times just keeps being my “go to” source for serious journalism with no sensational headlines:

I don’t read the SF Chronicle anymore. Has it gone down this same path? Other papers? My local?

Now would probably be the wrong time to look back with amusement at the wood chipper jokes my former roommate and I used to make to my ex from Minnesota around the time Fargo was released, huh? That said, I think tonight may be a Fargo night. It’s been several years…


Another one bites the dust

Payless Drug Store Oakland,CA

Via Romleys, the Mega Longs is closing.

This was one of my favorite spots in Oakland (which observant readers know yer humble host strongly prefers to San Francisco). By the time my friends and I discovered it as part of our Friday night dinner in the East Bay diversions, it had ceased to be a Payless and was a Longs Drugs. The store was massive–more a discount department store than a drug store–and it provided lots of Friday night entertainment with its odd assortment of merchandise and inexplicably large garden center, toy department, and cheap food zone. Sometimes we’d drive over and eat at the Emil Villa’s barbecue joint in the parking lot and once in a while we’d take BART to Rockridge and walk over.

Despite an early 1990s remodel, it still felt like the late 1960s inside. I liked that. I always managed to get by for a visit on subsequent trips to the Bay Area but I knew its days were numbered when CVS took over. Even the building will be gone in a few months. Pity.

Rule #1: Never, EVER answer the phone

I was all excited because I was getting ahead on the $200,000 grant application I’m writing, and I had a good meeting with the dean yesterday, and my mom and dad were relatively stable, and I had two consecutive good nights of sleep, and…and…

And then I answered the phone.

It was my dad, very upset that my mom continues to be very upset about being “in jail” (a/k/a “in memory care”). I met him for dinner, but didn’t even order any because he’d killed my appetite when he started talking about how we had to “get her out of there this weekend even if we have to bring her home.” I bit my tongue and only hinted at the fact that there would be no “we” involved because I might just stop even answering the phone if he decided to bring her home.

For the 57th time, I gently reminded him how much she’d hated being home (what with all the intruders only she can see, especially that one who pretends to be my dad) and that she was pretty likely to be unhappy anywhere she went at this point, which is heartbreaking but true. And then I gently reminded him that we have probably hit the point where we have to worry less about her being happy than about her being safe. And she’s not safe at home in an insecure environment where he’s not capable of taking care of her and where his own health would suffer quickly if he even tried. I also (still gently) reminded him that we were not the only people impacted here, and that my aunts, not at the peak of health themselves, were only capable of taking so much more–particularly the one who lives next door and bore the brunt of Mom’s problems when she was home.

And speaking (gently) of impacting other people: I can’t live my life in perpetual panic mode anymore, afraid to answer the phone and having to drive thirty miles to their house at all hours every time my mom gets upset about something. I’m barely capable of even managing my own life right now, much less mine and my parents’. While I’ve tried to minimize it as much as I could, the last eighteen months or so have been completely devastating for me (things were bad enough before the problems with Mom started) and the worst thing is that I haven’t even had time to work through most of it yet. There’s only so much drama an emotional weakling like me can process in a short time. Thus my ability to simultaneously manage their lives and my own (not strong to begin with) gets a little weaker every time my dad panics and threatens to undo all the work I’ve done.

And you know what? I think, for once, that maybe he got it this time. Or at least I’m going to convince myself of that before I go to bed.

Pardon my vent. My dad is a really good person and he’s in a really bad place right now, too. I understand that and I’d never abandon him or my mom. And I think he’s genuinely concerned about how this is affecting me, or at least my work. He’s trying. He’s lost the love of his life. He’s sad and lonely.

But I’ve essentially lost two of the most important people in my life this year–the love of my life and the woman who gave me life–and I’m pretty goddamned sad and lonely too. And it’s the hurt that keeps on giving because, despite the loss, Mom and Mark are both still part of my life and there’s always one more fucking thing to deal with (a run-in at the nursing home, a new mortgage to sign, an incoherent verbal attack, a new cell phone plan) to remind me of what the relationships aren’t anymore. I’m just getting weary of minimizing my own feelings in favor of everyone else’s. It’s starting to seem like a running theme and making me feel a little like a doormat. But I’m whining now.

Again, pardon my vent. Back to francophone pop or something tomorrow. Francophone pop makes me happy.

Randomly Friday

Random thoughts for the last Friday in January:

  • It’s kind if a drag that it’s never really seemed like winter here this year, but I must admit that that the $107 gas bill I just received (half of last January’s) went a long way toward easing my pain.
  • I may make a quick trip to Atlanta the weekend of 10 February to see this movie, in case anyone there wants to tag along. I’ve been obsessed with the Pruitt-Igoe saga ever since I first read about it in an urban sociology textbook almost thirty years ago. It was one of those pivotal reads that started me down the path toward my fascination with urban history (and urban decay).
  • Thing I love this month: free copies of the dead tree edition of the New York Times every day at work. It’s apparently part of some “newspapers in education” program or something. I hope it lasts.
  • Thing I hate this weekend: the fact that I’ll be spending most of it working. But I’m on deadline for a grant application to fund the first phase of my dream project, so work I shall…
  • I bought Bugles tonight and I’m not afraid to use them.

Come back, zinc…

I can’t even recall if we were at a party or in a bar. That’s how fuzzy it is. But I remember talking to my boss about how he’d lost a fortune investing in Canadian zinc mines. That really surprised me, but he emptied his pockets and all he had was a five and a toonie so I guess he meant it.

I was way too drunk to drive home so I flew to Fresno instead and crashed at the home of my former sister-in-law and her husband. We all watched Cops for a while. Then, just as I crawled into bed, the alarm went off and I woke up in Winston-Salem and started getting ready for work. I was remarkably productive all day today considering how busy I’d been the night before.

Acting my age

I was thinking earlier this morning about how I used to always feel younger than my years and how that’s no longer as true as it used to be. As you might guess, I was viewing this development rather negatively at the time. But now that I think about it, maybe it’s a healthy thing–a much needed reality check.

I’m forty-seven years old. That’s not ancient by any definition. It’s not like I’m ready for Medicare or dinner at the cafeteria at 4:45 (unless I’m with my dad) or Wheel of Fortune. Granted, I’m also not an annoying twenty-five-year-old hipster fuck but I think that’s something of a positive. And I wasn’t really an annoying twenty-five-year-old hipster fuck even when I was twenty-five, although I may have been closer than I care to admit.

I’ve obviously been subject to Peter Pan Syndrome in the past; I spent thirteen years in San Francisco, after all. And I’ve fetishized being a curmudgeonly old coot on occasion as well, which is easy to do in Winston-Salem where everyone is an old coot so there are lots of role models. Neither approach seems particularly satisfactory.

I think maybe I’ll just try being forty-seven for a while. It’s a good age, if not one that gets a lot of good press. I’ve reached a certain level of comfort with my surroundings but I’m not willing to settle for the status quo either. I’m past the whole “fashion victim” stage but haven’t reached the point where I no longer care about my appearance. I don’t have to jump on every trend but I also don’t feel that all technology and new ideas are inherently evil. I can’t drink a lot but I don’t want to either. Cute boys don’t leer at me very often but I also don’t care all that much anyway. So how bad can forty-seven really be?

At any rate, it’ll be over in six months when I hit forty-eight. I’ll reassess then.


While working on the refi, I discovered that my credit report suggests that I maintain a current address in San Francisco. Of course, the address is Mark’s, although I’m not 100% certain how it became associated with my name. Actually, his last two addresses are associated with my name.

Anyway, it’s becoming a bit of a task to get them eliminated. Experian states that one of them  “was provided by a creditor or public record” and won’t even let me begin the online dispute process, which will necessitate a phone call on Monday. It’s just a little nagging annoyance and it will eventually get straightened out, hopefully without screwing up the mortgage paperwork. I can deal with it.

What’s really offensive, though, is the insinuation that I would ever live in San Francisco again. Blecch…


Thanks to some help from a higher-up, I had rather a major coup today with respect to my grant project, albeit not something I can talk about here at the moment. It’s a good thing and will give my application (and the project, if funded) terrific credibility, but the timing was…ummm..a might inconvenient, coming a little more than a week before the application is due.

My next ten days or so just got a lot more complicated. It was already pretty nuts to begin with and I’m already pretty thoroughly worn out. It’s going to get worse.

Better try to sleep some now.

No limits?

So I keep hearing these radio ads for some Walmart/T-Moblie phone plan. For $35 or something (I can’t be bothered to look it up) you get “unlimited talk, text, and web.” A few seconds later there is reference to “unlimited web for the first 250MB.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t that constitute…well…a limit?