Monday, January 30, 2006

Remembering Hector

This is another memorial post, one I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to write. Hector Diaz died a little more than a week ago, and I’m still not sure what I want to say. Hector was another really good person, an artist, a writer, the man who founded the local SF and comic book store, Jumpgate, and somebody I was proud to call a friend. He died of colon cancer. His diagnosis put our (very fledgling!) book group on indefinite hold, mostly because we couldn't imagine going on without his input. When Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer (and the book group went into permanent retirement), Hector and Sharon were among the first people to step forward with help, advice, and support. Hearing from Hector what chemo had been like — unvarnished, but never unhopeful — was incredibly helpful to Lisa, particularly the little, practical things, like the suggestion that she put lavender or some other strong scent on a handkerchief to help override the hospital smells that made her gag. Because we were all going through hard times, I fell out of touch, surfacing now and then to send an email, half afraid to find out what was happening — but I will never forget Sharon showing up (in an incipient blizzard, too!) right before Lisa had to go to Dartmouth for yet another radiosurgery, to bring us soup and chili for when we got back. We almost overlapped at Dartmouth the last time, too, when Hector was admitted for a new treatment protocol, but our schedules got shifted, and we didn’t see him.

The thing everyone talked about at the memorial service was how Hector was a teacher. He worked with kids, he worked with adults, he worked with anybody who was willing to take the chance of being creative. He ran a writers’ night at the bookstore (and one of my most serious regrets is that I worked Wednesday nights for so long and couldn’t participate). And about 5 years ago, he asked me if I’d like to try writing a comic script, which he would illustrate; it would have to have something to do with a “jumpgate,” and the resulting comic would be sold through, and for, the store. I said sure, I’d be interested, but I had no idea where to start. So Hector showed me. He loaned me comics, showed me scripts, talked about how they connected; we bounced ideas around, and I went home to write. I gave him an outline, and he did some sketches, and then it was time to try a script. I read some more comics, and some more scripts, tried and failed and tried again to get my mind around what I was doing. I knew I needed to give Hector room to draw, but I also had to tell him what was in my mind in the important scenes, and at least give him something to jump off from.... And finally, I got it — it was almost literally a lightbulb going off, or a switch being thrown. I started writing, and it worked. I finished the script, and Hector said he could work with it. Oh, there were the usual revisions, and I’d given him a real challenge by making the main characters masked Censors who dressed in near-identical robes, but he said he liked it, and could work with it. Seeing the first few pages fleshed out, laid out in proper comic book style, was one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me. I’d gotten it, gotten the technique down well enough to communicate the story. He’d gotten it, taken my words and turned them into something I’d only partially imagined: it’s a kind of collaboration I’d never experienced before.

And then the cancer. And then Lisa got cancer. And somehow the comic never got finished. But when I think of Hector, all my memories will be illuminated by that glorious golden “wow” — the moment when I saw my words and his drawings merged into one story and realized I’d learned a new language.

You’ll be much missed, man.,

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ignorance and bliss

The things you wish you’d known sooner....

The other night, Lisa and I were talking about childhood activities, and I mentioned how cool I thought it was that kids actually ice skate on the pond in the cemetery at the end of the street. She agreed that it was wonderful that the pond froze so reliably, and that the cemetery owners welcomed the families who come there, and I agreed - but what I thought was cool was that people really do ice skate on frozen ponds. This was something I read about in books, or saw in Currier and Ives prints, and here were kids from around the neighborhood, out there in their pink and lime green parkas, ice skating not in a rink but on real frozen water in the middle of a snow-covered field.

Lisa: that’s just “skate.” You don’t need to say “ice skate.”

Me: But then how do you know I don’t mean roller skating?

She gives me The Look. I try to remember not to say “ice skate” next time.

Lisa: Have you ever actually been skating?

Me: Yes! Twice! Once even at Rockefeller Center!

I was on a high school trip at the time, about 30 kids and chaperones on a bus trip from Little Rock to New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was an adventure, for sure, but it’s not germane to this post.

Lisa: So what kind of skates did you wear?

Me: The ones they rented me....?

This is when I found out that there are two kinds of ice skates, hockey skates and figure skates. (And I may still have this wrong, so bear with me.) After cross-questioning, it was determined that I had been given figure skates, because they had the jagged teeth at the front of the blade. Hockey skates don’t. So, I asked, how do you stop on hockey skates?

And that’s when I had the real revelation. The little teeth on the front of a figure skate blade aren’t at all like the button at the front of a pair of roller skates (which are the brakes, at least on the old-fashioned, out-of-line variety). They really are for figure skating, for kicking off into those fancy jumps, and pivoting in spins, and stuff like that. To stop, you turn the blade sideways and slide to a stop in a spray of ice chips - which isn’t showing off at all, or at least not much, despite how cool it looks. You don’t tip your foot forward and drag the teeth in the ice. Doing that results in falling, usually flat on your face.

I just wish I’d found this out twenty years ago.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Conspiracy Theorists

This morning, as I was walking the dog, I noticed a car (SUV, actually) parked in front of one of the apartment houses that fill the first block of our street. It had been ticketed - a miracle in and of itself, except it had probably been there all night - and as I smirked to myself, two guys and a girl come out of the apartment.

Girl: Omigod, we got a ticket!!!

Boy #1: It says, parking in a no parking zone. When did this become a no parking zone???

(All three look at battered sign on telephone post directly opposite them. It says, "No parking either side.")

Boy #2, with great confidence: They put up old-looking signs so you can't protest the ticket.

Honest to god, that's what happened.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Best Presents

I got a great present from my parents this year: the 2006 calendar published by in and support of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. ( if you’re interested.) Now, this is cool in a lot of ways, not least because the January photo shows a rabbit from the I.Q. Zoo in Hot Springs, a place I loved when I was little. This was a piano-playing rabbit, as opposed to Henry the Home Run Chicken, my personal favorite, but it dated from the time when we were going there a lot. (About Henry: you paid your money, a bell rang, and Henry came out. A ball came from somewhere in the innards of the machine - that whole set-up was a lot like a giant pinball machine, really - and Henry worked a lever that swung a bat. If he hit the ball, which he mostly did, he ran around the bases. If I remember correctly, there was information on how the animals were trained, which was on the reward system rather than with punishment, but I was more interested in watching Henry hit that baseball.)

There’s a lot more in the calendar that I remember in the same vague way. For example, the entry for December 4 reads “State Speaker of the House John Wilson stabbed and killed Representative J.J. Anthony on the House floor, 1837.” Now, I seem to remember that when my 7th grade civics class toured the Territoral Restoration (now the Historic Arkansas Museum), we were shown the room where it happened, which was the second floor of a tavern becauase that was where the legislature met, and were told that the legislature adjourned, reconvened downstairs as a court, and acquitted Wilson, though I don’t remember why....

And then there were all the things I’d never heard of, like the fact that Craighead County was founded on February 19, 1859, and named after the senator who opposed its establishment. Or that a “bazooka” was first of all a musical instrument invented by an Arkansan; the anti-tank weapon and the bubble gum were both named after the instrument, not the other way round. (Makes you wonder what it sounded like, doesn’t it?) Best of all, there was the Paragould Meteor, which fell to earth February 17, 1930.

I’ve already mentioned the project that’s growing out of my short story, “Mister Seeley,” which is about bootleggers in the 1930s, and the more I find out about the meteor - which exploded into three parts somewhere over Paragould; two parts were found, the larger of which sold for $3600, and the third disappeared completely - the more sure I am that the meteor has to feature somewhere in the novel. I don’t know how yet, exactly, but the unearthly quality of it, and the money to be made from it, seems to make it a perfect choice. And, as Lisa said, doesn’t “the Paragould Meteor” sound like a car??

Sunday, January 01, 2006

In Memoriam

This has been a tough week, beginning with the death of a good friend’s husband, and ending with his funeral. There are a lot of reasons to grieve here, starting with the simple fact that Walt was a really, really good man - Ren Faire costumer and performer and Klingon extraordinaire, and that just in his off hours - and ending with the selfish regret that he never had chance to convince me that Attack of the Clones actually was a decent movie. Plus there’s the fact that he and Barbara had been married only two years. Even the priest who officiated at the funeral acknowledged that this wasn’t fair.

Barbara did him proud at the wake. She brought in photos, hundreds of photos: Walter at various faires; Walter in Klingon garb; the two of them at their wedding, in beautiful formal wear and red clown noses; Walter as a Klingon grinch; the pair of them in Walter’s trademark Hawaiian shirts. She also brought in some of his costumes, and the prizes he’d won, and the acknowledgements from all the faires and conventions and groups he’d worked with. They filled the room, and so did his friends. The funeral was standing room only, which was as it should be.

Walter died waiting for a liver transplant. There are no guarantees, of course, but you can't help wondering. I’ve known at least two other people who had a liver transplant, and they’re both fine now. There just has to be a liver available. And there’s a shortage around here. At one point, they were even thinking of taking Walt to Florida where his odds might be better, but he got sicker, and that was no longer an option.

So I got out my wallet yesterday and made sure my driver’s license said “organ donor.” I told Lisa for the umpteenth time that if anything happened to me, make sure the hospital took any usable parts. And, since I’m not in a huge hurry to donate the irreplaceable bits, I went to the Red Cross site and found the next blood drive in the area. I figure it’s something.