Nightstand with lamp and  framed quote: ‘Life isn't about the breaths we take, it's about the moments that take our breath away.’ — Heidi Wills
My sister’s nightstand, February 17, 2023

Another Week: Number 8

by | February 19, 2023

Lori, the youngest of my four sisters, died a few hours ago of acute myeloid leukemia, which was first diagnosed in May 2021. She was 55.

This last week was a steady decline. On Super Bowl Sunday she was tired and experiencing some pain, but well enough to walk next door and watch the game. By Tuesday, she needed a neighbor friend to drive her to transfusions.

Thursday night at 11:36, my sister Karen texted me, but I was asleep after shoveling the seven or so inches of snow that fell all day, closing all the schools. Karen phoned at 2:04 a.m. and again at 2:07.

I called her back at 2:08. She wanted help steadying Lori, who was making hourly trips to the bathroom that left her too exhausted to stand. I drove to Kenosha, trailing a county snowplow most of the way.

Paramedics took Lori to the hospital before dawn on Friday, and Karen followed. I spent all day with my mom, relaying text messages and images to her from Karen, and from family members driving in from Rockford or keeping a vigil in Ohio.

The photos and short videos of her hospitalized daughter tore my mom apart. The distance — not four miles — was infuriating. It was like she wanted to reach into my phone and touch Lori.

My brother-in-law Kevin and I took Mom to see Lori at 6 p.m. They exchanged a few words, but mostly it was my sister breathing deeply in her morphine-induced nap, and the rest of us watching silently in the dark hospital room. At one point, my mom reached out from her wheelchair to touch Lori, but their positioning didn’t make that easy.

Eventually, we called it a night. On the way home, Karen told Mom she’d bring her back to see Lori tomorrow, though it went without saying that there were no guarantees. But what else could anyone do? They had both already been up for two days straight.

As promised, Karen brought my mom back to the hospital this evening. This time Mom took Lori’s hand in hers and told her, “Your mama’s here, and I love you.”

With that, Lori’s breathing immediately changed, and the nurses said, “She’s about to go.” And she died.

The nurses said it was the most obvious case they had seen of someone waiting. We had long known that Lori had an astonishing will.



Lori loved Paul McCartney and this song.


Super Bowl LVII

You have to be willing to waste some effort. If you want to see a great bullfight, you have to go to all the bullfights.

Pablo Picasso, quoted in The Ultimate Seduction, by Charlotte Chandler

Super Bowl LVII was not real great.

The Fox Sports production gave it more of a cheesy, Battle of the Network Stars feel than the sacred national climax a Super Bowl is supposed to be. Chris Stapleton was no Whitney Houston, Rhianna was no Prince, and the field was an $800,000 shitshow.

It’s been almost four decades since a Super Bowl commercial dropped jaws the way Apple’s 1984 commercial did — and rightfully so, because commercials are for bathroom and food breaks, not Monday morning critiques.

Patrick Mahomes is an outstanding player, and gutting it out with an aggravated ankle injury shows a lot of heart — but with his puckish personality he comes across as less godlike than, say, Joe Montana and less hell-bent than Jim McMahon.

Still, it was a close game at times with a come-from-behind underdog victory, even if the last few minutes were an unsatisfying muddle.


Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark

In search of distraction while my sister was dying this week, we turned to comedy. Hoping said comedy would somehow be imbued with poignant commiseration, we clicked on Marc Maron’s new HBO Max comedy special, From Bleak to Dark.

Never has TV delivered so perfectly on demand.

We’ve been listening to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast since that New York Times story about it was published back in 2011. I have seen him perform live once. Amy has seen him a couple of times and even got a selfie. We have watched his previous specials, as well as all four seasons of his IFC sitcom.

So we’re familiar with him.

In this new hour, though, Maron goes fully sublime. He’s a Saturn V rocket roaring off the launch pad. He’s the Rolling Stones 1972 tour.

Right out of HBO’s Static Angel, he steps confidently around the stage dropping honesty bombs like stun grenades.  I usually don’t laugh out loud even at high-quality comedy, but this show busted my involuntary gut a few times. When they say “tour de force,” this is one of those.

The show’s centerpiece, of course, is grief. Maron’s girlfriend, filmmaker Lynn Shelton, died unexpectedly of undiagnosed leukemia in May 2020, two months into the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Marc Maron has been all over doing publicity for this special. One of the stories I read — Marc Maron Calls Anti-Woke Comics the New Hacks, by Dustin Rowles at Pajiba — contained the following mention:

It’s been illuminating to listen to him process his own loss during a period in which many of his listeners also experienced loss, and his interview with Andrew Garfield is one of the most remarkable hours of podcasting I’ve ever heard.

So after From Bleak to Dark, we listened to Maron’s August 22 WTF episode with Andrew Garfield.

It is an outstanding conversation. Prior to the closing portion comparing notes about losing loved ones, Garfield is bursting with admiration for great acting, exemplified for him by Robert DeNiro’s cathartic scene in The Mission (1986).

Garfield is effusive:

But the impulses, the wildness and the choices … seeing an artist so free — any artist, painter, whatever it is, comedian — without censorship, with an open, raw, kind of vulnerable heart and the trust of themselves, and a longing to reach deeper — that’s it.

This quote jumped out at me because same description now applies to Marc Maron.


All That Breathes (2022)

Because the reviews for All That Breathes were so unanimously glowing, because the trailer made it seem uplifting, and because it has just arrived on HBO Max, we watched it Wednesday night.

It was not quite what I was expecting.

The documentary is centered on two brothers in New Delhi, which looks like a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland. The surroundings are just urban poverty, mud, garbage, and smog in all directions.

Nevertheless, creatures keep doing their thing amid all the junk — including Saud and Nadeem, two young men who have taken it upon themselves to rescue black kites, medium-sized birds of prey that should be gliding on the breeze inspiring awe and folklore, but instead increasingly fall from the polluted sky sick and injured. Many of the birds are hurt by the strings of battling paper kites, which are coated with glass.

This is a quiet film with no narration. The brothers speak Hindi, so there are English subtitles. Mostly we just observe them carrying out their mission, day by day — bringing the injured birds in boxes to their makeshift veterinary practice, treating them one by one, and letting them recuperate in rooftop cages. Sometimes, the unruffled caged birds just stand around staring into the camera.

Speaking of which, every shot in this film is a work of art, wonderfully composed even though none of it looks posed or contrived in the least. The camera finds beauty in the dismalness itself, as we hang out with these two soft-spoken guys and their inscrutable patients.

The situation gets worse — anti-Muslim violence intrudes on their neighborhood — and the situation gets somewhat better as well. Through it all, the brothers carry on and improve.


Mike Pence and his bullshit ‘courage’

DAVID MUIR: 2:24 p.m. — The president tweets, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

MIKE PENCE: It angered me. But I turned to my daughter, who was standing nearby, and I said, “It doesn’t take courage to break the law. It takes courage to uphold the law.”

World News Tonight with David Muir, November 14, 2022

Sure he did.

Mike Pence is a godawful actor who has been desperately trying for years to ride his pathetic impression of Ronald Reagan — himself a mediocre actor — all the way to the presidency. He’s gotten maddeningly close.

But now Mike Pence has dropped his courage charade. Subpoenaed by special counsel Jack Smith in a grand jury proceeding investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Pence is trying to hide behind the Speech or Debate clause to avoid telling what he knows.

In other words, Pence doesn’t want to be a snitch. Snitches get stitches. Or rope burns.

As one cowering citizen tells District Attorney Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) in the 1951 movie Storm Warning, in which Rainey is investigating mob violence by white supremacists: ”Please Mr. Rainey — don’t ask me any questions. I don’t want to lie to you. A mob that did what those people did tonight would burn me out like that.” [snaps fingers].”

That’s not the “courage to uphold the law.” It’s buttoning your lip to protect your own neck.


Nate Bargatze: Hello World

Another comedy special we watched this week was Nate Bargatze: Hello World. I always love stuff that tickles Amy, and she gets the giggles watching Nate Bargatze, so we were happy to see his latest special pop up on Amazon Prime Video.

The show is recorded live in the round at Phoenix’s Celebrity Theatre. I instantly recognized it as the same venue that hosted HBO’s George Carlin: Again! in 1978. I was proud of myself upon googling confirmation of that fact.

Bargatze is a very funny guy. His style is easygoing and self-deprecating. Amy laughed. I was entertained.


Bing + ChatGPT = HAL 9000?

This was also yet another week packed with breathless stories on artificial intelligence — particularly ones about the creepy behavior of Bing’s ChatGPT versions when pushed or prodded.

For example:

Which all led to this defensive chess move:


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