Category Archives: Change and Time

Kaddish for my cousin, Dr. Stephen Markow, d. 2/26/15

[Reposted and adapted from a Facebook posting from earlier today in response to his daughter Nina Markow Eigerman’s announcement of her father’s death.

Nina. I am so sorry. I first met your father so long ago that I have no idea exactly when. When indeed do first cousins meet each other?
Through our parents, for certain. My mother, recall, was your grandmother Betty’s “kid sister.” I remember “kidpix” of him, with your father, with Marian his sister, and with Betty when your father Eddie was stationed in Texas during WW2 as a military dentist.
Maybe I recall your father clearly for the first time when he was in his teens, in Midwood High School in Brooklyn, where you all grew up. He and I quibbled now and then about opera. He was older than me and seemed a bit intimidating, but I lived through it because he had an extraordinary sense of humor and the sometimes inconsequentiality of arguments about opera or musical theatre in general. What else, after all, do opera people do? His sense of humor was matchless, even when he was doing his work–maybe because he knew how and when to apply humor.
Nina, please let this story be part of your and your brother Greg’s best memories: One evening in December 1967 I gave up on “toughing it out” because I could not chew solid food. It was so excruciating that I was almost in tears. It was bad that even drinking soda or coffee hurt. So I called your dad’s office and then took the long subway ride from the Bronx to 50 Clark Street in Brooklyn, your father’s dental practice that he had inherited from his father, Dr. Edward Markow.
Steve always had a classic rock station piped-in, I think WNEW-FM, which made it a bit more bearable and certainly more entertaining. He looked into my mouth and said one word: “YUCK!” Then he told me all four my wisdom teeth were impacted, and had to come out. Now, all at once, or do we do it in two trips? NOW, Steve, for Godsake, please, now! Your dad shot me up with enough Novocaine to torpedo a heavy cruiser, yanked them all, said “Oh shit” a few times as he gazed upon the ruins of my mouth. He wrote me a scrip for Tetracycline which I filled in the drugstore on the way to the Clark Street IRT station, on the first floor of the Hotel St. George. Two nights later I I was able to eat red meat again. I thought I’d died and was in Paradise.
Years later,I recall your dad and Debbie entertaining me and my new wife during the shiva period for your grandfather, my uncle, in 1969. I think by making a few salacious comments to us about borrowing the bedroom, they were making us laugh and easing the pain they surely felt for my uncle.
I’m surprised today at the depth of my grief for this good man. We hadn’t seen one another in 40 years; but he carries some of the few unsullied memories I’ve retained from my childhood. Your father was a remarkable man, Nina. He was a mensch. He was that from before the night he met your mother-to-be at a performance of Don Giovanni at the Met, and bought her a drink during the intermission. You know all this. I suppose it’s family folklore. I’m really saying it to myself, for myself, from a space of sadness I didn’t know I possessed.
Please extend my condolences to your mother and brother. Please say the same to Marian, his sister and your aunt. Life will not stop or even pause, yet we must pause for a moment to regard the life of this good man who was your beloved and loving father. From one cousin to another in the name of yet a third: Be comforted.

The Biblical birthday

Happy birthday to me. If this is February 23, I’ve made it. I’m threescore and ten. Also known as seventy. I’m a bit superstitious so I’m posting this a week early.

With God’s help, then, I’ve made it to seventy years old. There were a few times I didn’t think I’d make it. And there were more than a few times when I didn’t want to.

I got here anyway. Hier steht ich, ich kann nicht anders. Thank you, Martin Luther.

Something like that.

I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say something profound about all that I’ve learned. But I remember the last chapter of Thomas Pynchon’s V, still my personal contender for the Great American Novel. One of the principal characters, Benny Profane, is sitting with some girl in Valletta, Malta, trying to scheme his way into her pants. He’s less than thrilled with himself and the girl picks up on it. “But the experience, the experience!” she cries. You must have learned so much. “I’d say,” says Benny, with uncharacteristic introspection, “that the experience hasn’t taught me a damn thing.”

Thud.

I’m asking not so much about what we learn as about what I’ve learned. I can’t answer for a We. And I won’t be as dismissive as Benny about what I learned or didn’t. I’d say it comes down to very little, maybe to one maxim. Love wisely, love too well, love anyway. I’m starting to sound like the Beatles even when I feel like the Rolling Stones.

You will be hurt, you will be crushed. But love as though your life depends on it. Because, believe it or not, it does. And learn to trust only the right people. The problem is you will spend most of your life trusting the wrong people, one of whom will almost certainly be you. But you may eventually find the real pearls in the sand at the bottom of the sea. It may take you all your life.

You’ll be nipped at by sharks and stung by Portuguese men ‘o’ war. But you’ll keep moving. Believe there is a God. He’s out there, he’s in you. And you are not him. He likes to in-dwell. The Jesuit poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins understood this. God may be a pain in the ass but he’s all you’ve got at 4:30 on a cold, rainy night when it seems like death is a perfectly valid alternative to what you’re enduring. Sure–put your head in the stove and get it over with. Pick up that sharp knife and open your veins. Crack open a quart of vodka and pour it down your snout. God will know what’s in your heart, and he will know it’s not ill-intentioned, just desperate.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Not bad, considering I paid scant attention to this blog over the year coming to an end. Let’s say (for now) that I had a really difficult time this year; that I spread the cheer (ahem) around; and that things are looking up at long last.

Right now I’m watching an NBC retrospective on the tragedy of Jonestown, Guyana. Nothing can be worse than that.

More will follow as we get to New Years Eve.

Click here to see the complete report.

So my firstborn son is now married!

DSCN0029I needed a happier note.

Jake, my firstborn, got married Sunday afternoon, June 2, to Brianne Sherwood. Yep. It’s done. It was an outdoor wedding on the first decent weather day in over a week. It was officiated by a rabbi and Roman Catholic monsignor. Ol’ Dad (me) signed a document from the Diocese of Paterson that my son was who he said he is, that he’d not been married before, that there were no impediments. They signed the Aramaic ketubah, the marriage contract, and they publicly exchanged vows and rings. Then we had this really great party.

That’s what weddings are for, I guess. No arguing, no bickering, no rehashing of past  harms: just celebration. It was so wonderful to be there. God bless them both.

All my pictures are somewhere on this computer if I can figure out how to offload them. I used to be good at that. But the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the less I know what I’m doing.

God bless you both, Jake and Brianne. Many years together, children if they come, and life together to a contented old age!

Taking nothing for granted

I lost my home almost three weeks ago. We won’t call it an “eviction,” exactly, but that’s what it amounts to. My apartment was bedbug-ridden and the management decided I had to go even though the monsters predated my tenancy. So I went.

I am living in a hotel room. I have no adequate winter clothing. While I have been assured that the Long Branch Housing Authority will clean the clothes I had to leave behind because of the bedbugs that infested my apartment, I know damn well I won’t see them again. Tomorrow I’ll probably have to go to a County shelter. I’m just about out of money.

I had to leave behind my TV. Yes, it rots brain cells, but it’s also a comfort and source of amusement. I can’t carry it around and I can’t store it. Where would I store it?

We often take “home” for granted. Don’t do that. Dont ever take anything for granted.

I have lost my cat. I’ve been Tolstoy’s guardian for over 10 years. I love him and I think it’s reciprocated. But when I was in the hospital the Animal Control officers took him to the shelter from which I got him in July 2002. He’s had bedbugs too. I can get him back if I have a place for him. I don’t. He’s better off with a new family if someone wants an older kitty.

Even though I am supposed to know better, there are moments–days–when I feel as though God has forgotten about me. No punishment, no elevation. Nothing. Sometimes I believe negative attention would be better than the crash of silence. The heavens are just black and empty.

I suppose he thinks he had a rough day

I suppose he thinks he had a rough day

Disillusionment

This is not apropos of nothing, and I hope its relevance will become clear.

I recall that several years ago I read an interpretation of Gounod’s Faust that had to do with the gradual stripping-away of Marguerite, the heroine who is seduced and abandoned by Faust, her lover. She becomes pregnant, gives birth, is cursed by her dying brother, goes mad, and kills the child. Yet instead of being hanged, burned, or beheaded, she is physically assumed into Heaven. She has been abandoned by her lover, by the Church, by her own brother who curses her, by everyone. Yet she believes that there is a God out there, and world of angels who can hear prayer and save her soul.

So today I’m thinking of Marguerite. I haven’t killed a child, God knows, but the sense of abandonment lives deep inside me. It always has, I suppose: that when Hell explodes into my life, as night follows day, I will be abandoned. Nevertheless, there are angels out there, divine and human, who can intervene. More often than not they intervene in our affairs–my affairs–in human form, and often come to my aid (our aid) without expectation of reward.

Last night I tried to borrow money from some people in AA, some of whom I’ve known for years. Someone said he had to draw the line. Draw it he did. Yet today he delivered food to me via Meals on Wheels, anonymously although I know he’s a volunteer driver for the organization. Was it great food? No. Was it a gesture of good will? Absolutely. It was a form of amend for having to refuse me. He was looking out for me too. He as well as the person who volunteered earlier yesterday, and without a request from me to send out a check today. With any good luck, it will come tomorrow. I can deposit it and draw against it for food, cigarettes (yes, yet), for gas.

I don’t trust happiness. I’m not by nature a happy person. I’m bug-infested, wearing a blood-spotted undershirt, and I don’t know how this will play out, or for how long. Right now I’m content to look at a hot shower and a trip to the food bank so I can eat tonight. ‘Tis enough, ’twill serve.

Dating Sandy

I need a new t-shirt: I Survived Sandy and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.

Well, I survived the hurricane, but don’t I have any pictures or stuff like that. Just my words, which are likely to be short.

First, thank God for FEMA and the Red Cross. I was able to recharge my devices at the FEMA shelter in Long Branch, and the Red Cross gave me a place to take a hot shower, the first one in nine days. It was an exhausting several days, and I felt as though I’d taken a bath in Crisco. Plus I had no phone (I still don’t so I need to keep using my mobile). But I have my TV back–and am disappointed to find that my usual Friday entertainment, Special Victims Unit, is not on today. (Correction: It came on later that day.)

It’s funny about people. Even the ones you think are crappy really aren’t. Lousiness is my own projection. People can be giving and generous if given half the time. Smiles and courtesy go a long way.

Funnier yet…how used we get to changes in our metabolism based on light and darkness. I had to eat out of the house every night during the power outages, and found myself amazingly tired by 9 PM. There are fewer things more enervating than sitting up in the dark, or waving a flashlight around just so you can read. I had a couple of insomniac nights, and was delighted to find out that my “smartphone” could reach Facebook. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but I managed to access it anyway.

But I managed to finish Hilary Mantel’s magnificent Wolf Hall, the first of her three-part saga about the English statesman Thomas Cromwell, and also read the wonderful Chris Hedges’ Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a infuriated study of the deliberate corporatized demolition of America, city and country, by the forces that have been screwing us over for years. Yes, including Obama, for whom I voted anyway if only to block the Ken Doll from squeaking in. I know: Jersey was a lock for Obama from Day One, but why take chances?

The lights came back on again 10:30 AM on Wednesday. And went out for about 45 minutes the next day. In both cases, the power included the elevator. The idea of walking up and down five flights was more than I could handle, especially with my legs and feet. For the first time, yesterday, the day after the snowstorm that followed the hurricane, I flew into a rage. The headline of one of the local cage-liners seemed to say it: “God Hates Us!” For awhile I was not about to disagree.

So now today it’s quiet and calm, the temperature’s gone up, and I’m headed out to pick up some  Chinese food to eat in here because I can actually see the stuff.

It’s a nice change. Indeed, heat, hot water, and electricity make for a comfortable if not lavish existence. Others lost so much and I lost almost nothing. I just hope my good mood holds, and I hope others did not lose too much either. And yes, I know about Mantaloking, Sea Bright, Staten Island, and the south shore of Long Island.

Be safe, everyone. Please.