Thursday, March 22, 2007

Time out for Thomas

The last ten (10) days or so have blown by in a blur. What kicked it off was sad news: my cousin Thomas had succumbed to bone marrow cancer.

Tommy was my paternal cousin and a key player in my life. He was tall and lanky, and I looked up to him in more ways than one. For example, he patiently taught me to roller skate in Grandma's long driveway in Queens; often hung out with my dad, my brother and me when we went boating, picnicking, and to auto races and movies; visited me at Harvard and attended my graduation; helped me move (many times, and on each occasion advised me to rid of some stuff); and was one of my go-to guys whenever I had electronic or mechanical problems.

Tommy, like my brother and father, loved gadgets and cars; all three would have been miracle workers if they'd applied their passions and talents to medicine. It's largely because of them that I am so handy and that I admire smart men who are willing to roll up their sleevs and get their hands dirty once in a while.

Tommy was generous and civic minded, too. He was an auxiliary policeman, and frequently extended favors and hospitality to others. Talking with Tommy was comforting to both Daddy and me when Dad was dying, and I appreciated my cousin's big brother wisdom afterward.

Obviously, I knew Tommy had been ill, but I thought he was getting better. That's what he had led me to believe. As his brother explained at the repast, Thomas' positive, hopeful attitude had bought him five and a half years longer than his initial, six-month, prognosis.

Thomas' death hit me hard. I was the first in my branch of the family to learn about it. Thomas' sister had distributed the news the same way that most organizations and social groups do when they want word to get around quickly: by email and by phoning key nodes in the network, otherwise known as gatekeepers.

I've now the go-to node-gatekeeper for Dad's family line. In that capacity, I spoke to at least one member of each of the other clans (all now headed by my first cousins). Some of the conversations were comforting, but a few others were shocking, such as the one that informed me about the car crash that killed second cousin Mark-by-marriage this January, and others in which my midwestern cousin (another favorite) informed me he was returning (!) to the hospital to review his recovery from a serious fall from a tree and in which a close family friend said she was took ill from AIDS to go out that day.

There's a lesson to be learned there: don't wait for funerals, weddings or holidays to touch base with loved ones. Our time together is too short and uncertain to squander it.

As someone remarked at Thomas' funeral: our clan's shrinking fast. That observation is not completely accurate: marriages and births are constantly replenishing the family tree. But I know what Cousin meant; I feel it too. We're newcomers to the old guard - the family gatekeeprs - which is a role we grew up attributing to Great Grandma and Great Aunt Lizzie before they passed the torch to Grandma, who then passed it down the ladder of aunts and uncles to us.

Now my generation is at the top of that ladder, and it is kind of lonely at the top. From that vantage point, two things are clear. One: families don't grow as large as they used to. Two, and more importantly: as much as we welcome newcomers with loving, open arms, there's no substitute for the long-term relationships we're saying goodbye to at an alarmingly rapid rate. Consequently, it's all the more important to cherish our loved one while we can.

I hope Cousin Tommy knew how much I loved him. I'll make sure those who are still living know that now.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pas de deux: James Lipton and Dave Chappelle dance and dish Inside the Actors Studio

Niggar please! This is some funny stuff! Watching James Lipton and Dave Chappelle's Chappelle's Show (e.g., the Rick James spoofs and the Niggar Family sketch), will crack you up. Before you finish rolling, though, you'll hear some things will make you go, hmmm, and aha!

Read the reviews, then watch the show on Bravo TV or, better yet, on DVD. The must-see DVD includes such features as James Lipton: Flashbacks, and Great Moments That Didn't Make the Cut.

Man, I hated it when the show got the hook (i.e., when the Actor's Studio theme music began playing, signalling the end of the show and the rolling of the credits). That episode, like so many others, needed to be longer. In this case, somebody should have told Director James Wurz to make it a double. After all, it's Dave Chappelle, b*tch!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Maybe we can find a banana for your aye-aye

Today I stumbled across the slideshow: "Bye-Bye to the Aye-Aye." Slate Magazine summarizes Mike Levitin's piece thusly:
The aye-aye may be one of the most repellent animals in the world. It also happens to be on the verge of extinction. Click here to read a slide-show essay about an effort to save the endangered species that got hit with the ugly stick.
The piece addresses serious issues: endangered species, conservation and ecology. It also highlights how shallow we humans can be:

"Cute" animals [...] are the cash cows of the conservation movement; we pull out our checkbooks for the faces we find most adorable. For many years, conservation efforts tended to focus on individual endangered species—the white rhino, the gray wolf—that could be easily marketed to the cute-loving public. However effective these programs may have been, they gave short shrift to ugly, endangered, and genetically distinct animals like the aye-aye.
My concerns about those topics run deeper than that. Nonetheless, I confess: reading "WHO WANTS TO SAVE AN UGLY ANIMAL" made me recall Flip Wilson's ugly baby skit. I couldn't help myself; the devil made me do it.