I close my eyes only for a moment and the moment’s gone

Marcus Aurelius, old dead guy: “Lucilla saw Verus die, and then Lucilla died. Secunda saw Maximus die, and then Secunda died. Epitynchanus saw Diotimus die, and Epitynchanus died. Antoninus saw Faustina die, and then Antoninus died. Such is everything. Celer saw Hadrian die, and then Celer died. And those sharp-witted men, either seers or men inflated with pride, where are they? For instance the sharp-witted men, Charax and Demetrius the Platonist and Eudaemon, and any one else like them. All ephemeral, dead long ago. Some indeed have not been remembered even for a short time, and others have become the heroes of fables, and again others have disappeared even from fables. Remember this then, that this little compound, thyself, must either be dissolved, or thy poor breath must be extinguished, or be removed and placed elsewhere. […] Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

At five p.m. today the wife called and told me that Dr. Justin Weiss was gone. The family was all there, in room 2222. During my vigil, Papa’s brows were knotted through the wee hours into the morning light, but today his white face was smooth and calm. Sandy passed around shots of Maker’s Mark and joshed with us. I understood; it was what he would have wanted. The family talked and cried and laughed and talked. I touched his hand and his forehead and wished him a good journey to whatever hereafter is his destiny.

Both of my wife’s grandfathers died within the same week.

We don’t have to resort to souls to exist beyond death. Those who have died influence the living through our collective memories. We remember what they said and wrote and did, and those memories influence our current life choices. We read the completed lives of the dead, and we, the living, grow and change. Memory is life.

These are the essences of immortality and of souls, as I perceive them.

So here, then, is the continued life that I grant Papa:

From Papa I learned to take personal embarrassment as a source of amusement. From him I learned that poker is a good way to kill time with other men. From him I learned that it is OK to go to a shrink even if you are mentally healthy.

From Papa I learned that it is best to e-mail dirty jokes to as many people as possible.

From Papa I learned that your relationship with your parents determines much of your psychosocial lot in life. From Papa I learned that alcohol can be fun. From Papa I learned not to brag about academic accomplishments, and to be on good terms with as many people as possible, and to live a life of indulgence to the greater purpose of joy and not to self-destruction.

Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above

Today, we’re back in San Francisco. But a week ago, we went to the hospital to visit Irving Kalikow, ninety-three, inventor and designer for General Electric, numerous patents to his name, the other grandfather to my wife. He survived open-heart surgery by Dr. Vlahakes, chief of cardiac care at Mass General Hospital. Unfortunately, he had a series of minor strokes during the surgery. Some time ago, Nurn purchased a Radio Shack CD sound system for Grandpa Irving. The familiar strains of Ode to Joy gently resonated through the hospital room as we entered.

Irving’s eyes saw me, and his eyes brightened. His face had color, but every word was an effort. “Oh, you! I must tell you — Dan has told me that you created this beautiful music — that you wrote it — and I’ve been listening to it — listening to it all morning long — and it has given me such pleasure — all your beautiful music! I didn’t know — didn?t know that you had such skill! I didn’t know all the music — the music — that you had written!”

All the eyes of his family turned and looked at me.

I said: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Word came to us this morning. I reserved the red-eye tomorrow night, San Francisco back to Boston. Irving Kalikow has died. He was a good engineer and a great lover of classical music.

There will come a day and youth will pass away, what will they say about me?

We?re here at the Jewish Rehabilitation Center for the Aged to visit with Grammy Rose. She?s somewhere on Level Two and we have to go visit her. With me are: my wife, my wife’s father, my wife’s mother, and my wife?s sister. Basically, all the wife family that exists, is with me, right now. Keep that in mind.

We pass to the elevator as a roomful of wheelchair-bound folks nod and burble to a piano rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” A pair of double doors is secured with an electronic keypad. We’ve arrived at Level Two. Level Two is for those folks who present some sort of danger to themselves, or to others. Each person in Level Two is fitted with an ankle bracelet that locks the doors tight anytime a Level Two comes within ten feet of the door.

The wife’s mother punches an access code, and the double doors swing open.

Behind the doors is a teeny little old woman in a white shawl and sweater, bowl-cut white hair, eyes wide, grinning placidly. She has a bracelet on her ankle, but it’s not Grammy.

“Who’s that?” I ask Amanda.

“Don’t know,” she says.

The wife’s father, the wife’s mother, the wife’s sister and the wife all walk through the double doors, and pass by the teeny little old woman. The teeny little old woman ignores them. I enter last. As I do so, the teeny little woman smiles deeply at me.

I freeze.

The teeny little old woman reaches way way up and places her hand on my face. She beams.

The wife, the wife’s father, the wife’s mother, and the wife?s sister all turn and stare at us.

The teeny little old woman says brightly, “I want you to get in bed with me!”

At this point, comedy breaks out.

I need someone to love me the whole day through

Justin Weiss, born April 6, 1922, the son of an immigrant, graduated from Rutgers in 1942, half a semester early. He test-flighted two-engine fighters during World War II; he was the engineering service officer for about two hundred fifty men. He recounted this ostensible war story during this 1994 interview:

“Oh, I was a great pilot. One day while we were waiting to leave Europe in the staging area near France as I said, a friend of mine, a non-flying officer, said, a colleague of mine, “Hey! Let’s take up one of these planes and go visit this friend of mine down in Orleans.” And so I said, “Sure,” because I’d been flying these anyway. So we took off and I was such a sharp pilot that I didn’t have an aircraft map. I had a road map. [laughter] But I knew where it was, you know. So we got down there and discovered there wasn’t an airfield there. [laughter] So I saw this softball field, and I said, “Well, we can set down here.” So we set down and ran out of field before I ran out of speed. [laughter] Crossed the road, wound up in a ditch, and we were standing on our nose. The propeller broke and some other damage. I got the plane down, and so we had no choice, but to spend the night … in the place where these ordnance troops lived while the ordnance mechanics, I went to Paris in a jeep and got parts, and they fixed the airplane under my direction. And then, as we were preparing to leave the next morning in this little plane, we had to spin the prop. We didn’t have an electric starter, and he was spinning and it wouldn’t go, and I said, ‘You sit in the cockpit and I’ll spin.’ And I gave it a good spin and the next thing I know I see my watch on the ground. The prop had kicked back and just hit me right there.” [Could it have taken off your arm?] “Yeah, it could have. I was sure I had a broken wrist so it was back to Paris again, by jeep this time, for medical attention. And so I come back, and I take off, no airfield. I take off down the highway, one arm in a sling. It wasn’t broken, but it was badly swollen and hurt. … What seemed like hundreds of guys cheering me off as I jumped off the ground over some wires and took off. [laughter] That was the closest I came to a combat mission. But no, as you see, I had an easy time in the service.”

After night classes at Columbia, he did a brief stint at Yale Medical School in the clinical psychology department, taught clinical psychology in Harvard’s doctoral program, and went on to run that program for Harvard. Dr. Justin Weiss was the chief psychologist for Harvard’s doctoral psychology program until he resigned in 1982.

Dr. Justin Weiss, devilish, lovable, egoless, atheist, cigar smoker. He enjoys his weekly poker sessions at the Harvard Club: “probability seminars,” as he puts them. When I moved in with Mandy several years ago, he called me and said: “I want to tell you how shocked! Shocked! I am that you are living in sin with my granddaughter!” And he immediately changed tone. “And are you having fun?”

A year ago I told him: “When I grow up, I want to be you.”  He laughed and said, “Me too.”

Dr. Justin Weiss is the father of my mother-in-law. A week ago in Florida, he collapsed as he was going out to get the mail. His son, also a Harvard doc, flew Dr. Weiss by air ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital. Lung cancer, liver cancer, affecting his brain, spreading fast. All the family members, gathered around his bedside here tonight, as the presiding white-haired doc says: “It’s an honor to work on his case. We can definitely make his remaining time as pain-free as possible.”

At the top of what is probably the best hospital on the East Coast. All the other floors in this hospital are your typical tile and anonymous white walls, but the top floor is special. There is wood paneling everywhere. This floor in this tower of this hospital is called Phillips House. Sharp-eyed, well-spoken RNs check into this room punctually on the hour. The waiting room contains a beautiful wood cabinet filled with antique china. The couch pulls out into a sofa bed. And the cool midnight lights of the Boston cityscape twinkle and beckon, tracing delicate brushstrokes across the river Charles.

The twenty-second floor is where the best-connected in Boston get well or die.

I drew watch tonight. It’s one a.m. now. He does not speak. I am not sure if he sees me or knows who I am. As I write this, Dr. Justin Weiss’s hands fidget endlessly over a small brown Beanie Baby tiger. I have found that, if I keep the Beanie Baby in his hands, he fidgets with the doll, and is less likely to pull the oxygen tubes from his face. I have figured out how to replace his oxygen tubes in any case. He seems to fidget less, also, when I hold his hands, and stroke them.

I cannot bring myself to talk to him.

Hail Mary, full of grace. See you when the sun rises —

You’d be surprised to know what a dime would buy

My wife’s father sat, flanked on either side by his daughters, Jodie and my wife, Amanda. For reasons that are lost in the thick history of my wife’s family, he is generically referred to as Nurn. Nurn is sixty-plus, with a salt of gray hair and a big round belly and a rich, sonorous voice. He would make a great part-time Santa Claus, were he not Jewish. Mandy’s mother, tired, smiling thinly, cuts another piece of date cake and poured a glass of milk for me. Seven hours of airplanes. It was one-thirty a.m.

“Yes, I suppose – it’s been difficult,” said Nurn, looking into his empty glass. “I received the call four days ago from the nurse. She said, ‘Your father has something very important to say to you,’ and the nurse put him on, and my father said to me, ‘Dan, I’ve had it. No more. I want to die.”

Nurn paused, his tired, red eyes brimming with tears, and his daughters touched his arms.

He said, “I went to him. And when I talked to him, as best I could understand him he was concerned about the money. He thought that he didn’t have enough money to keep him on life support. I told him this wasn’t the case, and he seemed to feel better about it. About going on, and living.”

I wanted to ask something, but I kept quiet.

Nurn said, “And I told him that he can continue to live. And that maybe his life won’t be exactly the same as it was before, and perhaps he won’t have the independence that he had, but his friends can visit him, and maybe he can talk with them. And he can be happy, I think. Maybe he can live, perhaps not an existence of the body, but an existence… of the mind.”

His daughters silently cried crystalline tears. They rolled down on his shoulders.

He said, “But I have to tell you… without Grampa, your Grammy is less and less… present. Apparently Grampa was the only thing keeping her in check, and with him gone… well… there is very little of her present anymore. She has become… Violent.”

Nurn’s big body quakes and trembles. I hold his hand and it burns in mine.

“It got… Bad. We had to call the police. And the officer came, and I must tell you… this is important… he was so kind and understanding. And he handled the situation so professionally. He didn’t hurt her at all. And later, I thought, how kind the officer was to take care of her, like that…”

“You’re a great son,” said Amanda, holding him. “You’re the best son that ever was.”

“And so I called his captain, I called his captain to say specifically what a good job he did. In taking care of my mother. When someone does a good job, of course… it’s important, to say thank you, to the person in charge…”

Nurn collapsed and cried, thick guttural sobs racking his body. “Because,” he breathed, “because that is the way I was raised.”

More than words to show you feel that your love for me is real

A day of extremes.

Spoonful of Caesar salad on a spoon, frozen in dry ice; sushi cartoon with bluefin tuna, an inkjet picture printed on nori, with carbonated grapes that sizzle on your tongue; champagne and king crab, a little exclamation mark of seafood; French onion soup with a frozen-hot crouton, with liquid nitrogen added, it sizzles mad-scientist style in your bowl; Lobster with freshly-squeezed orange soda, also carbonated; artichoke, hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar; French-fry potatoes, cut by hand into an impossible but true chain link; bass cooked on the table in four-hundred-degree miniature glass tandoori; dry-aged beef with braised pizza ingredients in a remoulade; doughnut soup — the ingredients of doughnut glaze in a cream base soup; and chocolate mousse with liquid center with hot ice cream. All this came with the Moto wine progression: the Duval-Leroy Brut Champagne, Mount Langi Ghiran Riesling, Echeverria “Unwooded” Chardonnay, Vyes Breussin Vouvray Reserve, Vlackenberg Gewurtztraminer, J. Palacios, Petalos del Bierzo from Galecia, C.G. Di Arie Syrah, De Bortoli “Noble One” Botrytis Semillon from New South Wales.

And (as it deserves a line all by itself) the Jaques Puffeney “Cuvee Sacha” Arbois.

A day of extremes. Last night I took the Japanese to Moto Restaurant, an uber-tony restaurant in the old industrial section of Chicago. As a restaurant, Moto is somewhere between Trader Vic’s, Benihana and Cirque du Soleil. Every dish — and in the standard meal, there are ten of them — has a chemical or physical trick straight out of Beakman’s World.

After dinner I towed everyone over to the House of Blues in downtown Chicago for a Steve Vai concert. Steve Vai is the evil dark guitar badass from Crossroads, the heir apparent to American noteheads like Frank Zappa. He put on the most bombastic rock show I have ever attended. Smoke, lasers, costumes, LED-bejeweled guitars, gratuitous leather, and twelve-minute self-indulgent guitar odysseys. It was far past camp, and it was the perfect sensory second course to the gastronomic thunderstorm of Moto. It was a vast two-hour evacuation from deep within the constipated bowels of rock.

A day of extremes. I received a call from Mandy. Her father’s father, having survived open-heart surgery, has been on life support for weeks. Yesterday, he apparently he informed Mandy’s dad that he no longer wants to live.

Independently of this, yesterday, Mandy’s mother’s father has come down with a serious case of pneumonia. While in the hospital, his tests indicated that he has cancer, and the cancer has metastasized into his liver.

Mandy’s mother and father are taking turns at nighttime bedside vigils for him.

Mandy told me all this and then we made a decision.

I walked out of a customer meeting two hours ago, leaving the Japanese engineers behind. Mandy will come from San Francisco, but I will fly direct from Chicago. Our goal is to provide whatever assistance and comfort we can to the step-parents. A day of extremes. The flight leaves in half an hour.

Ever since I was a tiny boy, I don’t need no candy, I don’t need no toy

Notes from all over: Dad and Rachel came to visit for the first time in four years. Dad’s thinner and more up-to-date on current events, but he takes nine flavors of pills and still obsesses over obsession. My stepsister Stacy has been diagnosed with Devic’s syndrome, a variant of multiple sclerosis. It is statistically important that we have both been diagnosed — Stacy and I are not blood relatives. She’s undergone chemo and has returned to work — she seems generally in good spirits. Amanda continues to take Spanish lessons and fall asleep during Sangha night meditations.

Alex selected a few songs for me to play on guitar for her East-coast wedding in August. We meet today for lunch to discuss how well I can cover the theme from “Star Wars” on my acoustic guitar. Keite rocked in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I saw last night with Lisa and Marin. Most people in the Rose and Crown listened quietly and clapped respectfully, but the songs got me jumping and headbanging. I tried to convince Keite to come rock at Mr. Fantastic’s birthday party, on September 17 of this year. It seems likely that the Hungry Hungry Hippos will get together again on that day for our 7th last-ever reunion gig.

Four days ago I was offered a leading part (the evil psycho pastor) in an indy horror movie. The director seems well connected, and I’d love to do a horror flick, but the script wanted another draft and so I respectfully passed — hope it was the right thing to do. At City Lights, Mark Phillips just opened “What the Butler Saw“, a fine Brit farce straight out of the sexual-revolution 60s. I couldn’t take the part of Dr. Prentice due to a time conflict, so I recommended Charles, who kicked major ass as Prentice and opened to excellent reviews. I also introduced Taylor to the director — Taylor ended up as the bellboy and he did extremely well.

I had hoped to do a staged read of “Bishop’s 18 Wives” at City Lights in June, but after the ‘Barn read I’m taking the patient back in for major surgery. I’m replotting the thing to be leaner, funnier and more consistent in tone. I’ll try for a read at City Lights in the fall — actor friends, please watch this space for casting info. I just finished my third play, a one-act entitled “The Knitting Circle”. There’s a troupe of actresses in Chicago that loves to do plays with large fight scenes. As you might guess, they’re having trouble finding said women-only chop-socky plays — we’ll see if they appreciate mine.