The Piano Bar

Friendship dictates the celebration of a friend's birthday.  This particular celebration found us at a place downtown called Pete's Dueling Piano Bar.  Us being my husband and mom accompanying me.

Having never been to a dueling piano bar (one of my sister's favorite places in San Antonio was Dirty Nelly's Irish Pub, which she said was quite a riot), I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, save two guys playing pianos.  I don't know that 'dueling' is really the proper word, at least for the instance of the evening, but you'd get a paper, write your request, slip it onto a grand piano one of the guys was sitting on, and if they knew it, they'd probably play it.  Order of operations dictates that if they played it, it got wadded up and tossed somewhere.  If they didn't know it, early in the evening, they'd let you know and they were keeping your money anyway.  For the more serious bar hoppers, the bigger your tip, the better chance you had of getting your song played.

Now, if this hasn't been established before, I will let you know now.  I can seriously drink.  I don't normally like to seriously drink, because drinking is supposed to be something that is relaxing and done in moderation.  As a kid, I would always try to press the limits.  As an adult, if I'm not driving, well....I try to behave myself in public now.  Anyway, knowing about what my bar tab runs now, I shudder to think how much money gets blown at this bar - soused people paying exceptional money for the alcohol in the first place, then tipping these guys twenty bucks to play a song, in some instances, not even in its entirety.  Decadent, but it was kind of fun just to laugh at some of these people.

There was a few memorable instances for the evening, especially since it is really kind of a sing-along type of environment.   "You don't have to call me darling" was promptly recognized by the group I was with, and after that specific string of words, the words "BITCH, SLUT, WHORE" were screamed from the group, much to both the surprise and delight of the the pianist. There was also some other song where the same three words were used, with the addition of YOU in front of them.  And some other song where the audience called out TO GET DRUNK, TO GET HIGH, TO GET LAID.  Some of the songs, I recognized.  Some of them I didn't.  But singing along was fun anyway.

But it might also give you an idea of exactly what kind of group I was hanging out with.  Good, bawdy people.

There were a few songs that were added to the set, two of which my husband called out on, that was accompanied by the waitresses dancing.  Of course, the request for The Time Warp, which gets everyone on their feet.

Now...let's go back to the fact that my mother went along.

The volume was loud enough to leave that kind of hollow, tinny sound ringing in my ears after we left.  My mother probably had a harder time understanding the men talking, because they spoke fast and were distorted slightly by the reverb from the microphones.  Sometimes I leaned back and explained a joke passed between them, and she laughed.  But generally, whether or not she could catch the joke, she found the whole thing amusing.  Especially when one of the guys used a flashlight for a 'spotlight' and heckled people in the audience (some white guy was referred to all evening as 'Pepe'...the pianist said that was his name for the evening, so he responded and joked with the pianist most of the evening).  My mother gets wasted on a thimble-full of booze, so she happily enjoyed the show with a soda.  We both agreed it was something really different, and kinda fun, and her biggest surprise was that going into a bar in Houston, there was no smoking inside.

Mom doesn't get out much.

But that was the evening.  And if you feel a bit bawdy and loud, maybe you and your chums will drop by Pete's Dueling Piano Bar.  It was a pretty nice night out.


Dances with Beavers

Back home from the trip to San Antonio.  It has been an amazing day.

The day started at about 5 am for me and after trying to leave the house at six and picking up a family friend, we adventured to San Antonio.  Of course, we had to stop at one of the places my sister always stopped at on the way to Houston...Buc-ee's.

If you haven't had the Buc-ee's experience, it is one of the largest, cleanest pit stops I have ever been to.  I've traveled a lot in my time, and when you've got to stop to get gas, use the bathroom, or buy something to eat, I've probably never seen any place as well-staffed or as clean as a Buc-ee's.  They can gouge you on prices for some of the items with their Beaver mascot logo, but really, if you've ever been in a seedy place where toilets became hover-seats (that is, you're afraid of catching something so you can't actually sit on a toilet seat to use the bathroom, which is a horrible incident in the making for women sometimes...), then you can appreciate the cleanliness of this place.

Anyway, as we stop there, I think of a good friend of my sister's and how she told stories of the Beaver Wars between my sister and herself.  They would buy the craziest things for one another as they stopped at this place, and stick stickers of the Beaver on each other's car.  Her birthday was at the beginning of the month, so to celebrate her birthday and that of my sister,  we got her a Beaver Backpack.

So,we get to Dick's Last Resort, a bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.  Since the Universe works as it should, it is apparently nestled gently under the hospital that my sister was diagnosed with cancer six years ago.  When we arrived, I carried my purse, a Beaver Bag with the Beaver Backpack in it, and a small recyclable bag that carried two urns of the remains of my sister.

This was not meant to be a sad occasion.  It was my sister's birthday, a celebration of her life and the opportunity to share the event with her friends.  And so it was.

Her friend was thrilled with the Beaver Backpack.  I presented her with the urn and charged her with spreading ashes at my sister's favorite places.  She was happy to do so, then in an effort to make sure that nothing happened to the urn (which I Saran wrapped and rubber-banded to make sure that she didn't spill out...), she proceeded to stuff the urn into the Backpack.

Okay, the thought had occurred to me when I purchased it, but I thought to myself it might be weird.  But here was her friend, trying to stuff the urn into the plushie Beaver Backpack.

"Suck it in!" my mom yells, encouraging my sister to 'fit' in the backpack.

The clown there sees us playing with the backpack (during the day, it's a mostly-harmless, attitude baring clown which makes balloon things and picks on people...at night, when there's no kids, the balloons turn obscene and the heckling begins..) and wants his picture with it.  At that point, I'm nervously trying to pull the backpack from the clown and gently explaining he has to be careful.  Finally, at some point, I tell him my sister  is in the backpack, and if he isn't careful, he'll spill her.  He clicks that I am in fact not kidding, and begins to stammer and apologize.

Leave it to me to stop a clown deadpan in the middle of trying to be funny.

Anyway, a good time is had by all, and I'll spare you some of the insults and banter that went on.  When we finished, we walked some down the river and found a small man-made waterfall.  They gathered around it tightly, to shield me from all the people across the river.  My sister's friend said a few words, reading from a book and directly quoting my sister.  When she was finished, I thanked them all for coming, then poured my sister into the water stealthily.

The Beaver Backpack still had the second urn, and for some reason, everyone wanted their picture 'with my sister'.  She would have probably found this funny, because everyone was sporting the backpack or cuddling the plushie.  As this was going on, one of my sister's other friends was looking down at the frothing water.

"Don't say a word," I laughed.  The ash had clung to the foam, making my sister a latte in the fountain.

The trip home was through the rain, but the rain itself wasn't a bad thing.  It was a blessing and a sign of hope for us here, where the water has been scarce.  The day was great, and full of laughter and love, with just a touch of sadness.

I love you sis, and I miss you dearly.  Happy birthday.


Love moves mountains. Real love moves bodies.

I really should write a book.  The fact of the matter is, I just can't make this shit up.

So, after acquiring two urns to take my sister to San Antonio, we make plans to go to one of her favorite haunts (no pun intended), a place called Dick's Last Resort.

Now...first let me tell you about Dick's.

All I can think of is the song "My Posse's on Broadway"....which has at one point or another also crossed my sister's mind.  It's this bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio that is famous.  It's notorious for it's crabby staff, shavings on the floor, and the fact that crap can be literally thrown at you.  There's a clown there that makes obscene balloon, uh, things and if you're new to the bar, they make hats for you.

A long time ago, I traveled there with my friend Marc.  During the time, I think I was working at the tattoo parlour and the pottery shop.  We loaded up into Marc's blue corvette (which we actually tried to drown, by the way...it had probably three inches of water in the floor board, but that's another story) with the police lights on it and made the journey from Houston to San Antonio in slightly under two and a half hours.  Although it was a relatively short drive, I realize that when you're in fear of your life, time slows down.  I really didn't have anything to worry about, I was in good company with a mostly safe driver, but not used to traveling by three-digits...it can kind of throw off your nerves.

When we arrived, my sister was thrilled and took us to this bar on the Riverwalk.  The pine shavings on the floor kind of gave it a bit of a funny smell, but I imagine they were there to soak up all sorts of stray things.  It was a live music night, we drank beers with necks the size of those super-huge Mountain Dew bottles, and had various napkins and cups thrown at us.  At one point, fries flew above the din (french fries),  and my sister told the waiter that my friend and I had never been to Dick's.  So we were promptly given paper hats.  The waiter wrote (literally) on mine, "I'll fart for a quarter" and on Marc's, he wrote, "Hung like a (Sea)Horse".  After staggering to the bathroom a couple of times to stare at the pictures of bare-chested, glistening men on the walls of the stall, maybe you kind of get the idea of where we're headed tomorrow.  Maybe even an idea about how fun and mischievous my sister was.  How much I appreciated some of the silliness of us.  And, well... At least around noon, the crowd might be more sedate...

But back to the heart of my story.  In our last episode, I'd purchased two nice, yellow ceramic urns for the use of transportation of my sister.  The urns are just big enough to hold a bag of her remains.  Two urns, three bags.  Two for in and around San Antonio...one for the deep blue sea later on.

Now, I just said that the urns were big enough to hold a bag of remains each.  Literally.  I got them home and realized no matter how much I squished, pushed, rolled or prodded, there was no way I was going to be able to put those bags wholly into the urns.  Which means, yup, you guessed it.  I had to pour her into those urns.

Now I want you to think about this.  When someone's cremated, it's not just this fine silvery ash that gets thrown to the winds to travel the earth for all eternity.  It's not that pretty.  In fact, it's chunks of bone and ash, akin to maybe crunched up coral.  I think the weirdest part was finding the IV needle.

Yes.  Yes.  You guessed it.  My mother knew it had to be done too, so she was kind enough to set everything up.  When I got up after dinner, she'd cleared away the counter, set down paper towels, the freshly cleaned urns, a small metal funnel, and went to bed shortly thereafter, leaving me and my husband up alone.

Now it would really upset me to try to leave my mother to that task, and my husband is a man of great fortitude so he set his face with determination when I asked for his assistance.  We'd removed the bottom of the cremation box and analyzed the size of the baggies my sister was in before endeavouring on this.  Very carefully, we began to shake her from the bag into a funnel, swirl the funnel and let her kind of pour into it like an hourglass.

Like a coarse sand through an hourglass.

And all I can think of is a million things as I'm doing this.  Please don't let the funnel clog.  Slow down, she's making puffs of ash.  What if I breath that up my nose?  What if I sneeze?  Shit, was that needle left in her after they wheeled her away from the hospice?  That was a large chunk.  Why are we giggling?  Why are we teary-eyed? Did I seriously just get my sister up my nose?  If I throw away the bag or wash out the funnel I used, is it disrespectful?  Should I ever use that funnel again for anything?  It would certainly not be something I'd want to eat or drink anything out of.  And why the hell am I doing yet another ridiculous request of my sister's?  Gee, it kinda sounds like when we were kids and we threw tiny pebbles down the flat metal slide at the school playground.

And of course, the heart of me is so sad.  This is the last physical remains of my sister.  This is the last time and last form I will ever touch my sister, and it is nothing like her.  There is nothing left of her after this is gone.

So all this sadness, all this craziness, through giggling fits and sobs, it's more than I can bear and more than I can express.  It's kind of the mystery of Love.  So many things that you have a hard time ever explaining it.  But for my husband to unblinkingly be so supportive, to help me in this insane task, to laugh with me and hold me when I cry....I just love him so much.  I don't know that he thought it would be this crazy being attached to me for so long.  But, I suppose 'at least it ain't dull'.

Well, we commit the ashes to the Riverwalk tomorrow.  And another portion into the hands of a very good friend of hers for out and around San Antonio.  Whatever makes my sister happy.

After pouring her into the urns and realizing that they are more for aesthetics as opposed to functional, I was worried she spilled.  So there are two urns of human remains, both Saran-wrapped and rubber-banded, sitting on the counter, awaiting journeys to San Antonio tomorrow.

Maybe after that, we can stop at Papa Jim's.


last touches

A friend of mine posted an article on the power of touch.

Everything reminds me of my sister right now, and that's no exception.  But let me start with the day.

Since I've been back in Houston, very few of the friends that I had when I was here have surfaced in my life.  There are a couple of people I love like family, and consider them family, who have come to see me before and after the events of April, and few else.  Today, I was blessed enough to touch base with an old friend.

Like I said, very few people have made any efforts to say, "Hey...stop right there.  I want to see you."  Now, I know that life gets pretty hectic and I'm sure that a lot of them are just busy.  Face it, we grow up, we build careers or have kids, and really, the time left over we are either spending it with our spouses or trying to find spouses.  And those that aren't doing either of those things, are just trying to find themselves.

Anyway, I laughed all morning and got a small token of affection that will go on my wall.  But it makes me realize a lot of things with people that we take for granted.

But to back up, today I was spending time out and about with my husband.  Other than the scheduled visit, we really were just kind of wandering around.  I went into an antique shop I haunt on occasion, and I don't generally drag my husband.  But we were out there and I happened upon a very nice sugar pot with a lid.  Which...of course, reminded me of the fact that Saturday, we are going to spread some of my sister's ashes at the Riverwalk, and I need something to carry it in.

I wouldn't call my religious beliefs conventional.  I'm wandering around this store (the husband broke off to go to about other business for a moment), and I'm talking very quietly under my breath.  I'm asking my sister to help me find something to carry her remains in, because I don't think that carting her around in a ziploc bag is very dignified.  Shortly after, my husband comes trailing along behind me, wandering in my quiet wake through jutting tables littered with antiques, used items, and just plain 'ole junk.

I pause momentarily, looking around.  I see tins that have Spiderman and Star Wars on them.  While my sister loved both, I mulled this is probably not quite appropriate...but I felt compelled to the little hall with these items.  Shaking it off, I made a lap through the booths and came back.  My husband was standing in that spot.  He asks, "What are you looking for?"

So somehow, I wind up explaining about needing urns.  And I tell him that I'm nuts, because I just randomly talk to my sister as if she's there, right beside me.  Maybe I have blown a gasket, but I swear sometimes she really is just hanging out.  And for some reason I had felt compelled to stop in the spot he was standing in.  Then I explained the little tin boxes, and the appropriateness of them because of the fact she loved both Spiderman and Star Wars...but I couldn't see carrying her in a tin lunchbox.

My husband kind of smirked and said, "Look behind you."

On the shelf were two little yellow urns, a matched set, which was fairly inexpensive.  I picked them up, amazed.

"I felt like I needed to stop here too.  When you're doing that kind of thing, you should tell me."

People talk enough to themselves, if someone hears me, they think I'm crazy enough as it is.  Telling people I'm having a one-sided conversation with my dead sister is sure to raise some eyebrows.

But there they were, a mellow yellow color (something she might have picked, but I would never....), side by side and ready to be taken to the counter.  So now I have something to cart her to San Antonio in...

However, back to the article.

One of the most wonderful experiences I had with my sister in her final days was just sitting next to her.  She was watching TV and I'd just gotten off work.  I came over to her, gave her a hug, rubbed my hands across her head and sat in the chair next to her, just rubbing her arm and leg.

"Why are you rubbing me?" she breathed quietly.

"Because I love you," I answered simply.  "I know you're sick, and people don't like touching or being around sick people a lot.  You've been sick for a long time, so it's probably been a long time since anyone's just touched you.....do you want me to stop?"

"No," she said.  "No, it's okay.  Thank you."

And I sat there, rubbing her arm and her leg for a while, just watching TV with her.

That was a precious moment.  That was also the turning point.  I think at that point, she realized exactly how sick she was, because she asked me that night to call for my stepmother and dad to come soon.  I don't know what made her decide it, but once she fixed on it, it was decided.  I called, and with wrangling, the call was Thursday and my father arrived Sunday.  Monday, while I was at work, my sister was admitted into the hospice.  Understating, it was a hard time.

So after acquiring these urns, for the very first time, I unscrewed the box containing my sister's remains in the idea that I was going to put them in the urns, or at the very least, put the divided bags into the urns.

I didn't realize how heavy the remains would be.  The only texture I can compare it to is if you had dealt with pearlite, or perhaps gravel that was made of crushed shell.  I had expected fine powder ash, not this other material that I pulled from the box.

Like a physical blow, standing there with these bags in my hands, it comes to me: this is the last physical remnants of my sister, whom I loved.  This is the last traces of my sister on the earth, other than bric-a-brac and photos that will lose their meanings and their names.  The room lurched a bit, so I laid the bags back down.  I'll try again maybe Friday night.  I know it has to be done, but it is a hard process.  One that I think I must do in parts, both figuratively and literally.

But for all the hardship and heartache, I am blessed, I truly believe.  My sister and stepbrother both came into this world, surrounded by the friends and family that loved them most.  Everyone was there to greet them into life.  And when they made their passage beyond the veil, they were surrounded by friends and family who loved them, said their goodbyes, and prayed for easy passage.  Not everyone is lucky enough to say goodbye.  Or to be able to say the things they feel they need.  But in the end, when you get to it, nothing really matters except the most basic, base feelings.

"I love you.  I'm gonna miss you.  I will think of you always."


stupid parents

Okay, I figured out the one thing that I really don't like about my job.

Being that it's Halloween, I was asked to decorate a fixture for the store with ye old Halloween decorations.  Some of them are bloody, mangled, and gruesome.  So for all the stuff that I'd set up, parents would bring in their little kids.  The kids would cry because they were scared, but the worst part was that their parents would yell at them for being afraid...or they would purposefully use these images to frighten their small children.

Several times I wanted to yell at the parents.  Really, it was the least I wanted to do to them.

What I really wanted to do was beath the holy snot out of them.


around the corner

Yes, Halloween is just around the corner.  So, to have other holidays off, I give up Samhain for a while.  We pick and choose what we can live with.

But with that kind of spiritual and superstitious stigma that is attached to that particular time of year, tons of ghost-hunting reality shows, documentaries, and horror movies come out to heighten our tensions and awareness, giving us the Quickening of the heart, the things which have driven us to survive.

One of the worst words in the world is 'supernatural'.  I hate that word.  To me, calling something supernatural is to attach to it something that gives it a means beyond the natural order of things.  I have to disagree with it entirely.  If these things happen in which we cannot explain, it does not mean it is beyond nature, just at the moment perhaps beyond our ability to explain it.  I think that people who are quickly dismissive or try to over-analyze (oh, the lighting on the film is radio signals from a tower, electrical discharge from remote power lines, etc.) with far-fetching rationalization.

Oh well.  Whatever you believe, start sharpening your senses.  That mystical time of year is sneaking up.


No word for that.

Sometimes it takes a miscommunication to become a sharp rock in my shoe, reminding me just exactly how wide the cultural gap is between my mother and I.  Often times, there are words in the English language that do not exsist in her native tongue, and well, she has a hard time understanding what I do sometimes.  In my bright idea to try and communicate to my mother about what it is that I do.....I happened upon a magnet on my fridge at about the same time my mother was crossing in front of it.  The conversation went something like this.

"Hey, mom.  You know how we've been talking about the ...uh, weird things that I do."

Four foot asian woman: "Hmm."

"Well, see this magnet?  See the lady in the black?  What is she called in Thai?"

"Who'n," she answers promptly in her sing-song language.  Emphasis on the H, o is drawn out, and drawls into an N.

"Cool.  Okay.  What about the lady in pink."

My mom blinks.  "What is she?"

"Well, she does the same stuff the lady in the black does, but she does GOOD stuff..."

"There's not a word for that."

Damn.  Fail.