Archive for December, 2004

  • Rob Spectre
  • 31
  • Dec
  • 04

So, let me tell you about my first time flying first class. On the way back last weekend, for some reason still unbeknowst to me I was seated in First Class, this strange section of the plane that I had always passed on the way to the area where they fold the plebians into neat little pockets and keep under the plane. Never before have I ever sit in first class, but apparently American executes as poor judgment in seating as they do in on board meals, so there I was in the absolute front most (passenger) seat of the airplane.

I learned the luxury of privilege first when, as the peasants in the back were shuffling about, a woman came up to me and asked, “Mr. Spectre, may I get you something to drink?”

My initial reaction was one of alarm. How did this woman know my name? Why was she wearing a uniform? Maybe she was an operations agent from some clandestine government agency and “may I get you something to drink” was actually a code prompt, Mission: Impossible style?

Shrewdly, my mind raced through every Bond film I have seen until I looked up at her and replied suavely, “Why yes. Do you have tomato juice?”

She smiled and replied, “Yes.”

I nodded and said, “Then I would like the tomato juice.”

Then she got it for me. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t microfilm or something.

So there I was, with tomato juice and pretzels before coach even had their bags in the overhead bins. I had a remarkably comfortable seat, a full selection of personal videos, and the latest issue of Mobile PC. In short, I was fucking hooked up.

What I was not, however, was fitting in. With my green chuckies, Less Than Jake hat, and Nintendo T-shirt, I was certainly defining business casual for the flight with a populace of mostly affluent salesmen, a CEO of a small company, and a trust fund sorority girl. I actually had a couple people come up and ask if I was in Less Than Jake, to which I had to sadly reply, “No, I’m in a band that’s far worse.” They smiled, I gave them the website, and undoubtedly they are currently rueing the day they ever spoke with me.

Time passed and I had my drink refilled near constantly and tons of amenties that made the flight distinctly more comfortable, not the least of which being as far from the fucking engine as possible. However, as we neared Boston it was clear that shit was about to get pretty Western.

For the better part of the flight, all I saw out the window was cloud. Soupy and New England clam chowder looking, the ice accumulating on the window clearly indicated blizzard, but aborting our first landing confirmed it. The plane before us had crashed on the only runway that was left open and the rest of us were left moseying around Boston hoping to land. We would try to land two more times before finally getting it right, which sent us sliding sideways for a good while and almost exhausting all of the emergency runway.

After this ridiculously harrowing landing and everyone cheered and breathed huge sighs of relief the real benefit of First Class was clear.

“Mr. Spectre, do you need a moisty napkin?”

Yes, Agent 99. Yes I did.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Dec
  • 04

I was talking with a colleague a few weeks ago about the youthful illusion of invulnerability; this naive concept of infinite time to do anything. Over the course of the past week after accomplishing fully nothing I had intended, I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. A lot of people who gave the sort of sage advice that seems to grant old people comfort when speaking to teary-eyed kids like me lamented that it was so sad that I had to grow up so quickly. It was almost as though they regarded the passing of a loved one as some sort of maturation rite.

Times like these seem to serve as exploration in spirituality, or in my case obviously the lack thereof. I rarely give much consideration to my areligious non-beliefs unless prompted but I have to confess the sort of universal yearning of the philosopher looking out at a red Kansas sunset on top of a speeding four-wheeler. Something about acceleration and tragedy made me wonder if I was supposed to feel empty while going through this. If I was supposed to feel a need for some divine comfort or supernatural support. It’s easy to look for it. Simple tasks seem nearly inconsequential when filled with this grief. Such an accurate word, one wonders if they really need to shave or eat or sleep or get up in the morning.

But it seems almost ducking the question to not face this thing head on. My sister passed away. This exploration doesn’t stem from any particular desire to defend atheism or soothe a guilty conscience; I think really it’s more of an evangelical impulse to share the story of how we don’t need God to get through stuff like this, we just need each other. Atheism is a lot of things to a lot of different folks. For most its a thoroughly academic subscription, like saying one was a capitalist or a utilitarian. For others its another in a string of rebellious phases against an increasingly divisive establishment. For some its another opportunity to get in an indignant argument. I think I’ve found a way of life in this non-practice. It’s a way of accepting responsibility for what you’ve done and freeing yourself of the guilt of what you haven’t. It’s a way of facing the difficult seriously and being reverent to the moment. I’m not sure if assigning predestination to the passing of a loved one makes things easier or worse.

That’s one of two phrases that I’ve been tormented with over this whole ordeal. My sister “passed away.” It was a phrase my mother insisted on in her obituary. “Passed away” as a euphemism for dying. Times like these, it would seem, would be more difficult for the atheist than the religious. The thousands upon thousands of prayers, the church service, the supposedly divine comfort and trust in some ethereal plan is supposed to help one make some sense out of a freak tragedy like this, I guess. I suppose I should be looking up for guidance on how to make it through or for solace knowing that Vick has “passed on” to a “better place.” Her “work” was done here. This was all a part of his “plan.” Canned phrases and cliches of helpless, hurting people. I can’t at all blame them.

Causality is a hard thing to find in something so senseless. It’s a hard thing for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. There was just more sand on one side of the road than the other. It was just an accident. A horrible, tragic, freak accident. She was just “Local Girl Killed In Auto Accident” as the newspaper read. She was just a quarter mile away from home. She was just not wearing her seatbelt.

So, what do you say in reaction to that? What do you say to a friend who lost someone so dear to him in such a freak thing? What can you possibly say to take away even a single iota of the agony and loss of losing someone so quick and so completely?

I just wanted to tell the people grappling with what to say that it was okay. I know you care. And I know you’re searching for something to bring meaning to this. I know you’re feeling guilty. I know you’re worried about me. I know you’re feeling helpless. I know you’re searching for an answer when a question wasn’t asked.

I wanted to comfort them. I wanted them to know we were going to be alright. The last time I saw my sister I hugged her like I’d never see her again. And it’s that memory and this writing that will get me by. I’ll always feel a loss, but I’ll never feel incomplete. There’s a unique hope in living in the here and now that no Scripture reference can replace. The singular comfort in knowing you said all you could say, you did all you could do, and you loved with all of your heart because you never knew if you’d ever get another shot.

A lot of people told me, “Don’t worry son. You’ll see her again.”

There’s an outside chance they might be right. But, if they’re wrong, I’ll never be sorry they were.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 25
  • Dec
  • 04

Just this minute Christmas ended. So, tomorrow I head back home. It’s a unique burden dealing with such a sudden thing. But I think home will do some good, and I think home is definitely Providence, the city tbat feels like a suit.

The very last time I got to see my sister I got to show her my city. My town. *My* place. An element I finally understood, a place where I finally belonged. A crisis of identity might seem a little out of place in the grieving process, so it may be necessary to back up to the other night.

Traffas and I get together for dinner and hear of a poker game that is allegedly going on in Sharon. We haven’t seen each other for a couple of years and, after a little whiskey, it seemed like a suitable idea. So we hop into this guy’s shed in the middle of this teeny berg. Sure enough, a small table scooted next to a wood burning stove had a set of card sharks around it, ready to take my city slicker dollars. Take they did, but not before I learned a few things. 1) Never play poker when you don’t know the denominations of the chips. 2) Home isn’t where you were born; it’s where you die.

In the middle of the game one of the big chip winners had to interrupt the game because, on a hot tip that game from a recently received phone call from “this guy across town,” there was “some booby on Channel 5.” If that weren’t pathetic enough, the gentleman next to me – through the scrambled reception – identified it as the apparent Cinemax smash hit “Pornucopia.” He left it to his buddy to describe the current scene.

For some folks, that’s home. And that’s okay.

But, it isn’t for me. But tomorrow will be. And I know my sister knows that too.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Dec
  • 04

I’m so sick of people I could scream.

So let’s talk about the sticks for a little bit.

Mom told me some time ago that she had “moved to the country,” and she was quite accurate in this. I’m always careful to tell folks that I came from a small town rather than a small farm, as we always did have such modern amenities like cell phone service and Internet access. For the past week, my office has been the cramped cab of an old Chevy pickup truck trying to hijack the local ISP’s insecure wireless access point. Like a high tech redneck, I’m simultaneously balancing a laptop on one leg while propping myself up over the shifter with the other. It has been a less than optimal work environment filled with packet loss and frequently flubbed emails. That aside, my laptop and PDA were enough to get me by, but when the DSL guy finally pulled up to the house this morning I thought I was going to kiss him.

Then I remember they usually kill people for doing that around these parts.

I’m predictably buried in email, and without my usual anti-fucking-spam measures that are afforded my home and office PCs, picking the wheat through the home equity loans and penis enlargement treatments becomes a quickly tiring affair. Picking out heart-breaking notes of sympathy through heart-draining notes of discount XXX videos is not precisely how I had pictured my day, but here we are.

I got some more word about the funeral. I guess the lady who was directing traffic for the procession to the grave stopped counting at 400 cars. By her estimate, the procession was fully 5 miles long. Flowers and cards continue to arrive and I’m still getting word from folks who just heard the news. I’m told to expect this for another couple of months at least.

One of the gems through this whole mess was a 2 gallon bucket of potato soup that a friend of Mom’s brought over last week. Now, the carnivores had been gobbling up most of the enormous amount of food that is usually brought to the house during tragedies such as these. At last, some blissful woman brought something my veggie tummy could take. After reading the eulogy and comforting Mom and the outrageous amount of stress and tension generated from the whole mess, all I had was my girl and a bowl of potato soup. Some combination of the two absolutely turned my entire world view around. I don’t wish to be melodramatic, but this soup *changed* my mood. It made me a fundamentally happier person.

Which subsequently made everyone else want to try it. And in about 6 bowls, the entire cache of soup was gone, leaving me without seconds. Ro said she would be have to learn how to make it. I told her that if she would do that, I might have to pop the question.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 20
  • Dec
  • 04

After we buried my sister, the funeral director came up to me and indicated, “Rob, I’m sorry to bother you with something like this right now. But, I *need* you to come by at 2pm and let me know what is going to happen to all those plants.”

The funeral home was literally filled with offerings of condolence for my sister. The director said he’s never seen so many plants in 37 years in the mortuary business.

Similarly, Joe Tatro, the priest that gave the joint service, estimated over 600 people at the funeral, half of which could only stand outside on the church lawn during the entire thing. When my mother and I emerged from the church through a fog of tears and grief we were stunned by the outpouring of support from the community for these two wonderful young people.

They just didn’t know what to do with all the people and all the plants.

It has been a singularly terrible tragedy and easily the worst thing to ever happen to our family of three exclamation points. Many folks asked how I was able to hold my composure through most of the eulogy. It sounded cliche, but “With the strength of friends and family.”

Thursday night after the funeral, a few of mom’s close friends came over with a bunch of beer and tomato juice. And finally, after nearly four days of nearly constant crying, me and my mom got to laugh and joke and remember our baby with smiles instead of sobs. It was one of two acts of unbelievable generosity I saw.

The second was Wednesday afternoon. I got a call from my boss, Dave, who asked if there was anything I needed. I said there was not much anyone could do, which of course he understood. He then said he was down at the funeral home.

He flew down from Providence for fifteen minutes to see if there was anything I needed. He shook my hand, gave me a hug, and went back for his flight.

I’ve been equally stunned during these days by love as I have by loss. Each one a living memorial to my sister, each one a debt I can never repay except with humble gratitude and a few tears of joy in between those of grief.

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