My mom died May 3rd, 2023. She lived in Dallas, Texas, and was 80 years old. We weren’t estranged, but we weren’t close. I last saw her when I flew to Dallas for Thanksgiving in 2013. I stayed two weeks and spent the whole time getting drunk at her house, sobering up long enough every couple of days to drive to the convalescent facility where she was staying to visit her.
She had been in that facility for over a year by then, following a serious fall at her house, and stayed in it for the rest of her life. Or until March, 2023, when the home closed down and she was moved to a hospice facility. She died there two months later.
I said my goodbyes a few days before her death via Zoom. I am deeply estranged from my younger sister, but she was in mom’s room and orchestrated the Zoom thing via smartphone. Though she was heavily sedated for pain and non-verbal, I spoke my final peace to mom. This is a photo I took of her last time I saw her:
I’ve spent most of my time since mom’s death beating the shit out of myself for not being a better son, for not visiting her more often, for not truly talking to her about the things she had done throughout my life to both enhance it and to fuck it up.
Mostly to fuck it up, if I may be both honest and blunt. Over the years she threw a couple of sizeable monkey wrenches into the clockworks of my life. In particular she rejected and repudiated my wife. I never could forgive her for that. But it doesn’t matter now. We all end up gravel and dust scattered above and within an indifferent Earth.
So I’ve been sitting here for past six weeks trying to get a handle on my very complicated grief, and waiting to hear something, anything, about my mother’s estate. My sister doesn’t want any contact between us and therefore she will tell me nothing. Like I said, we’re deeply estranged.
So I’ve been coping with my grief with my photographic work, of course, which is how two weeks after mom died I stumbled across a group of young women in San Francisco holding street a memorial for a deceased friend. These women were basically partying in the streets near a Baptist church in the Sunnydale neighborhood, drinking and dancing and carrying on to honor and celebrate the life of another young woman who had recently died.
It was beautiful to behold, as were the women in the participating crowd. And it was a joyous, exuberant release of grief unlike any I had ever seen. I was honored to be allowed to photograph it.
Because these images are special to me. I look at the women in these pictures and I’m able to live through them a little. I see in them a joyous release of grief that I am unlikely to have, though I keep trying to summon up some kind of redemptive happiness in knowing my mom no longer feels any pain and nor has any Earthly worries.
Worries and pain are part of the constant feast reserved for the palates of the living. We dine on them every day. But when I look at these images of these jubilant young women, I see people turning pain into joy to honor a fallen friend.
I hope you see that too in these photographs. And I hope Boba Ryan, my mother, and Monette Lathan, whose memorial you see in these photos, truly rest in peace.
You can see all the pictures I took at this street memorial here.
Five years sober and
I’m loving every minute of it and
I’m hating every minute of it and
I’m indifferent to every minute of it.
Humans are complex, you know?
I mean, it’s not an excuse,
but it is a reason.
When I decided to stop,
to decline my animal vice,
I started building a new type of animal.
An animal that’s neurotic,
and happy to be dying at a slower rate.
These things were always there,
but are now enhanced, intensified,
because there’s no monkey-time booze
within my grimacing veins to suppress them.
The depression is so intensified it could drive you to drink,
which is an irony I hold close
so it can warm my aging heart.
I’m more dependable than I used to be,
I can come pick you up at
the Kaiser ER or the police station
at three o’clock in the morning.
I won’t be passed out
under beer sweat-soaked sheets
next to a box of old family photos on my cold basement floor.
So keep that in mind,
I might come in handy.
I mean, someone’s got to have a use for me, right?
Because some days
I find it hard
to even find a use for myself.
There’s so much shit
swimming around in my head
even though the beer filters are five years gone.
Five years gone and still no love for Jesus.
I’m actually rather proud of that.
I’d rather spend the rest of my life
Struggling like Sisyphus
to find solace in myself
than to look to some spook in the sky
and try to give his ass all the credit.
I’m the one doing the fucking work, for chrissakes.
If I’m to suffer or sparkle, I’ll take all the blame.
I’ll get more of the royalties that way.
There’s no shame in suffering,
and no suffering in shame.
And when I get to that place,
if I get to that place,
where I never think about booze at all,
how much of my life I wasted with it,
it will be, I think it will be,
a notable, happy day.
I could use a notably happy day, let me tell ya.
And I will give you a call, and
offer to take you out for a drink.
You can pick the bar.
I’m pretty sure they’ll have club soda.
The first Sunday in April, I went to a memorial at an Eagles hall for a man a I never knew.
My wife and I went together. She had known the man, and so had my brother-in-law who was also at the memorial.
My brother-in-law actually served as the quote-unquote minister for the event, and he said some kind words of remembrance for a man who was universally liked by everyone in the room.
I did what I always do at the many memorials I’ve attended at the Eagles hall for people I didn’t know or barely knew.
I wandered around and shot photos.
I’m not an Eagles member, but I have friends who are. And I know other members on a social basis. And, like my wife, I knew some of the folks who knew the deceased, the man we were there to honor.
It was a somber event, but it wasn’t entirely dour and funereal. I talked to a lot of people, and photographed them, and that was fun for me.
But as I was leaving after an hour and a half I remember hoping that when I’m dead there’s 55 or 60 people who remember me fondly enough to gather together at an Eagles hall on a Sunday afternoon and talk about what a good man I was.
Photographed at the Eagles hall, FOE Aerie #3255, in Brisbane, California on April 3rd, 2022.
See the entire collection of 33 photographs on Flickr.
The dancing kind
dances with her daughter
in the street
on the sidewalk
both of them radiant
like champions of love.
Betty was Hawaiian, she was short, she was my mother-in-law, she was (I think) 86, she was beautiful, she knew she wasn’t educated but she knew she was smart, and she died two years ago today.
Betty loved mumus (she looked great in them), she fiercely loved my father-in-law (her second husband), she was gentle and compassionate, she loved her kids deeply, and she hated Windows computers and didn’t trust email or electronic commerce.
Betty was a Christian, she fucking hated it when I cursed around her but eventually grew to tolerate it, she once “paid” me 1,200 bucks (when I was recently unemployed from teaching public school) for a series Windows computer lessons it quickly became clear she never intended to take she just wanted to help me financially, and she made this sort of jellied white crab dip that it was absolutely to die for.
Betty laughed like she invented laughing for all of humanity, she knew I struggled with alcohol abuse for years but loved me anyway and didn’t judge me for it, and she died peacefully in her sleep in a mumu thankfully never knowing how much I wish I’d spent more time with her during our lives and how much I’m going to miss her until the end of my days.
This is a short, simple story. I was on my way to my favorite discount supermarket in San Francisco when I encountered these three guys on the sidewalk at a bus stop, and a couple of the gents decided to smoke some meth.
They were really nice guys, though, so don’t get the wrong impression.
The fellow who initially pulled out the glass pipe wore a wrist band that suggested he’d recently been a patient in a hospital someplace. While a few people at the bus stop looked on with obvious disdain, he pulled out his lighter and sparked up his gear…
Then he took a few drags from it. He sucked on it like an infant feeding from a milk bottle because his mother’s breasts had run dry…
Then he passed the glass to his pal, who had been patiently waiting to take a few hits himself. The big fellow on the end didn’t partake, he just kept chatting with me about the plumbing business he was saving money to open up one day. He and his companion were sitting on a huge audio speaker and I have no idea why…
And’s that’s pretty much it. Despite the fact that these gents were smoking hard drugs at a moderately-busy bus stop, It was all rather low-key and somehow calm and civilized.
Like I said, they were really nice guys.
During the first weekend of June, 2021, my wife and I took a trip together for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdowns began in California in March of 2020. After 15 months of basically being locked up together for 23 hours a day, she and I were looking forward to the short road trip.
We were headed to Hollister, California, to stay with my niece and her family. Her daughter, my great niece, was graduating from San Benito High School.
We got to my niece’s house on a Thursday afternoon, but after spending the night and waking up there Friday morning it was clear that the whole endeavor was a disaster for me.
My rheumatoid arthritis had decided to act up, and I was in a lot of pain. So I decided to drive back on Friday to my quiet house just south of San Francisco where I could get the rest and sleep I needed to get through the arthritis flare-up.
I left my wife in Hollister, to enjoy the company of our family and the graduation festivities. I drove back down to get her that first Sunday in June. I really wish I had been able to spend that whole weekend in Hollister, but at least while I was there I shot some pictures I liked.
See the entire album here.
During the first week of May I was driving from San Francisco into Brisbane, California along Bayshore Boulevard, and I encountered this interesting scene…
It turns out that the man with the beard was driving along Bayshore Boulevard too, but the upper control arm on the driver’s side of his big old car snapped and he had to immediately pull over and call an emergency mechanic.
So while the mechanic worked away, I snapped a few photos and the young man and I talked for a few minutes. He showed me the groove out on the street that his damaged car had cut into the pavement as he pulled it out of traffic.
He was a nice young fellow, very warm and open.
The mechanic was a nice guy too, but very busy.