Friday, June 15, 2012

On My Own Mortality

(Post originally written on June 12, 2012)

I sit here in my hotel room, really the front room of the bandhouse of the Atlantis, and I face a major crossroads. A few days ago – Thursday, to be exact – I received word that my paternal grandfather Richard J. Franklin had passed away. He'd lived a very full ninety-six years, and was only a few months away from celebrating his ninety-seventh. He was the last of my grandparents to pass, the first to go being my maternal grandfather, passing on my seventh birthday after a long struggle with emphysema. Both of my grandmothers died in a haze of Alzheimer's-related dementia, scarcely cognizant of the world around them. I do consider myself blessed that Grandpa Dick lived a long and healthy life, even recovering from the loss of his wife and finding a new love, who my family embraced with open arms. He lived long enough to meet Joy, her children, and even our first two grandchildren.

But what I found myself totally unprepared for was that loss, the finality of it. An entire generation of my life, gone. I mean, I'm fully aware of the concept of mortality, don't get me wrong. I have vague memories of my great-grandfather, all we ever called him was 'G.G.'. He passed away before I was really understanding of the concept of death. I remember my friend Shannon Allen, her mother and mine were (and still are) best of friends. She was hit and killed by a careless driver not more than a block from my house in Port Angeles. I wasn't there, I didn't see it happen. But I remember the whole family in tears, while I shed none – why?

I remember Grandpa Forrest. Frail, rattling, wheezing, his smoking habit having gotten the best of him in the end. Grandma Gen, scarcely able to remember her own name by the time Grandpa Dick sent her to a Lutheran nursing home. To this day I still regret that I never went to visit her, even though I know why I chose not to – I wanted to remember her as she had been, before the disease robbed her of her memories, her thoughts, her self, fingers flying in random patterns – cursing in the sign language she'd taught for years, rather than out loud. Grandma Jennie, stubborn and independent to the last, but then too losing her memories, thoughts and self. But I didn't cry for them either – why?

It's not like I'd ever been taught not to cry. I'd always been taught to express myself, good bad or otherwise. But at the same time, I've always found myself holding in those emotions, even when all those around me were letting them out. But I actually found myself able to let something out, even though it was hardly public – alone in my stepdaughter's house in Sun Valley, just north of Reno. And today I learned that Grandpa's funeral will be a week from Saturday in Tacoma, and that I'll be able to attend. I hope that I will finally be able to cry.

I think that I need to take stock of my life. By no means am I successful. Hell, I moved back in with my mother and stepfather two-plus years ago, although it wasn't because I wanted to. Between being laid off from work and my wife's declining health, going home was the best thing to do. I have no children of my own, but Joy's three kids accepted me well enough. And I've been a part of the lives of my stepdaughter's two children pretty much from birth. Cody is eight now, a rambunctious pile of energy, only marginally constrained by a mild form of Asperger's disease (a form of autism) and a speech impediment, while his sister Elizabeth – Ellie – is a tiny, bird-bright seven-year-old, already the princess-in-training. And I can already see a sort of Lenny-and-George dynamic forming between them – Ellie the brains, Cody the muscle. I have two bands that I play in, one here in Nevada, the other back home in Washington. The band here in Nevada, the singers have been working together for forty years now, and they act like an old married couple. The band in Washington is still in development, but there are already positive signs. I've had a reasonably successful marriage, eighteen years and still going strong despite Joy's poor health. We're lovers, best friends, partners in crime and in business. To be quite honest, I think she may be the only person in this world who completely gets me, totally understands me and all my weirdness.

The other night – in fact, it was just Sunday night – I was playing video games with Cody. Well, I was doing the playing, he just wanted to watch me run through 'Fable II' on his mother and stepfather's Xbox 360. He snuggled up next to me, put his head on my arm as I slew bandits and hobbes (the game's version of goblins, or orcs, or whatever), then eventually fell asleep. Just having lost the last of my grandparents, I felt warm and comfortable with my grandson, my little buddy at my side, and Ellie just a few feet away, also quietly asleep. I want to be a good grandparent for them, like mine were for me. I want them to remember the good times we shared as fondly as I do the times I spent with mine when I was a little boy. Whenn I'm gone, I want them to remember their 'papa' as fondly as I remember my grandmas and grandpas.

But that leads to the final problem for me. I've still yet to lose my fear of dying. I know that it's inevitable, that we all go sooner or later. But it terrifies me. And especially the lifestyle I lead – always on the road, eating shitty food, always driving from one place to another, never home for any length of time. If life were fair, let alone perfect, I'd die quietly in Joy's arms, slipping into the abyss embraced by the woman I love and cherish. But I'm always afraid that I'll die in some hotel room, alone and unnoticed until far too late for help to arrive. But I also know that this fear isn't reasonable, nor would succumbing to it be any fair to those I work with. Therefore, I need to confront my fears, look death in the eye and see it for what it is. But I'm way too much of a chickenshit to do anything particularly death-defying or even mildly dangerous. So what the fuck do I do?

I carry on, that's what I do. I shoulder my burden, complete the task at hand, then go home to the one I love, where I'm truly comfortable, even though I get squirrely soon enough and long for the open road. I understand the inevitable, but I'd still rather not deal with it. I still have a life to live, after all. I don't see a need to be morbidly afraid of dying – but what's difficult is truly embracing that thought. I hope I can someday, and just live as gracefully as I can before going off the the great beyond.

Goodbye, grandpa. May you rest in peace.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Boom And Bust

Nothing's ever easy - that's a lesson I learn at least once every few weeks.

Take this weekend past. Steppen Stonz had a good weekend up at Boomtown in Verdi. Nothing spectacular, but solid. This time around, we had steady crowds both nights, a lot of our regulars. We got good tips again, averageing out to about $20 a man for the weekend. We got lots of good remarks from casino management, and I was asked by the suits when we'd be back. I honestly wouldn't know that - as I told one pit boss, that was information way above my pay grade.

But getting ready to play Saturday night, I noticed something that could only be considered a bad omen. While I was checking my pads and triggers, making sure that all my connections were sure and they were all registering with their module, I saw two gentlemen walking about the casino floor, one taking copious amounts of pictures of the cabaret area with a cellphone, while the other talked about putting things here and there. These gentlemen clearly fit the profile of people who were about to purchase the place, confirming what Mikey had said the night before over breakfast at the Denny's inside Boomtown, that the casino was about to be sold to new owners.

Ownership changes in casinos never bode well for bands here in Northern Nevada. The last time Boomtown changed hands (to its current owners), among the first things they did was to not only cancel all live entertainment, but to tear out the previous cabaret, and move the sportsbook into its place. That said, they did rectify that (IMO) mistake, and while the cabaret area is only portable staging and flooring, it's still in a good location with good sound and lights. The truth is that this happens all over the area, as new owners suddenly realize that casinos require a lot of capital, and seemingly the first thing to get cut from the budget to save money is live entertainment. And the process has been ongoing for decades now. Back in the old days, the largest casinos had live orchestras, and the musicians were unionized, and the union was strong. But as the first generation of casino operators gave way to corporate owners from far away, the union was broken, and smaller bands took the place of the orchestras. Now the bands are being replaced by DJ's and karaoke hosts - if anything at all. I look around, and see how few people on the circuit are even my age, let alone younger than me (Miguel notwithstanding), and I wonder sometimes if I'm the last of my generation.

And sometimes I wonder about the newest generation of casino owners. The phrase I keep hearing over and over is 'Vegas-style'. 'Vegas-style gaming'. 'Vegas-style attractions'. There's just one problem with 'Vegas-style':

This isn't Las Vegas.

The biggest difference? Here in Reno, you don't have to stay inside because of 120-degree heat. Even when the temperatures hit triple-digits here, there's a nice cool river to play in. There's a nice cool lake just a short drive away that's usually a good ten to twenty degrees cooler than the Truckee Meadows. Then there's the audience itself. More gamblers here are older, and they generally don't respond well to late-night 'party pits' where the dealers are pretty girls in sexy costumes that dance as much as they deal blackjack. Not a lot of younger people (as in my age and younger) gamble that much here, there are just a lot of other things to do here than just stay indoors and gamble. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to be a part of those 'Vegas-style attractions'. That'd mean stable, longer-running shows that pay better, right?

Oh well.

And karma being the bitch that it is, I got back to Sun Valley to resume living in my trailer for a few weeks of personal business (and maybe a fill-in gig this weekend - who knows?) before going home, and I promptly left my truck's headlights on. And only came to realize this about ten hours later. I got my truck jump-started, but the battery is weaker than a sick kitten, even with the solar trickle-charger I have. Hopefully, Michelle and Bill's friend Frank will come through with the battery charger Michelle says he has.

Like I said before, nothing's ever easy. And more often than not, I'm no help making it any easier.