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Thursday, October 28, 2010

“It’s a hard knock life…”

Tonight I'll attend a special service in memory of those who have passed away, in particular my step-daughter KaSandra (KK to her friends, Truc Han to her family). I'll listen to my wife remember the kindness of others and acknowledge those groups that rally behind families in need a helping hand, a caring pair of ears to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a reason to smile. Inspired to reflection as I listened to her practice the words she had written, I was reminded of this post, written when there was still hope. I'm reposting tonight to reminded myself that there are still many relying on faith for hope through prayer. My prayers are with them as well.

I love baseball, always have, always will. Having a catch (whoops, curse you Field of Dreams), I mean playing catch with my Da, my brothers, and my friends are fond childhood memories. We still play catch off and on, only now we’ve included sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and a tomboy wife or two. I remember sandlot games between neighborhood pick-up teams. I remember choosing sides by tossing a bat into the air, catching it before it hit the ground, and the opposing captains racing fist over fist to the end to determine who chose first. Of course then there was the elation of being chose first, the agony of being chose last, and the relief of being anywhere in between! Good times…

I always go back to those times whenever I’m stressed, angry, scared or confused. Baseball’s slow familiar pace comforts me. And I find peace in knowing that it rarely if ever changes. Peace and comfort, yeppers, that’s what I get from my sandlot memories of days gone by. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone there to ease the pain or pressures that life brings intermittently to us all. They say that life ebbs and flows, that it oscillates if you will, and it’s true enough. So what?

So, here I am again at my sandlot altar, calling upon these memories like old friends to help me cope with another one of life’s curveballs (there is a baseball metaphor for EVERYTHING). In my last post I wrote a poem for a child, not my own flesh and blood, but a child whom I’ve grown to love as my own. I wrote about the challenge that life has fated her with. It is perhaps life’s greatest challenge, survival. It is a big challenge for such a little girl and in the face of seemingly untenable and definitely unfair odds. Only by the grace of God have you and I avoided a similar fate.

When I was told of her illness of her challenge, I was shocked, scared, and then angry. It’s not hard to understand the compulsion toward anger and bitterness. But these are shallow reactions of one who insists on understanding the reasons for God’s will (for those of the faith) or the natural order of things (for those who are not). Admittedly as one of the former, I succumbed to those base emotions, instantly demanding to know WHY! And shamefully I brought that bad attitude with me to hospital that first night, not sure if I would explode in a grief inspired tirade or if that rage would remain dormant inside me, and simmer into bitterness.

Imagine my surprise when in a nanosecond all of that was washed away as I sat by her bedside and looked at her face. It was the face of an angel. She lay there quietly breathing, doing her part to recover from surgery, mankind’s first pass at miracle working. Surrounded by doctors, nurses, social workers, machines, family, friends, and well wishers, she seemed to me to be the only person at
peace in the room. Oblivious to the chaos around her she lay in quiet repose, somewhere beyond REM, in a quiet place where only those on the brink are allowed to visit. In that short period of time my attitude changed. It was like erasing a blackboard. During the next few hours calmness washed over me and I felt my hard heart soften, the anger and bitterness turning to peaceful acceptance. I imagined that I heard voices and I wondered if someone were speaking to her. I strained to listen but the voices were faint and low. Whatever was being said was meant for her ears alone. I imagined that they were tender words, words of encouragement perhaps, but from where from who? Perhaps from loved ones passed, from her father perhaps or maybe it was God? Who’s to say, it mattered only to her.

The coming days brought good and not so good news. As she continued to recover, every new day brought a new challenge, a new hill to climb, each one a little steeper than the one before. ALL of them met with a strength that I had not seen in her before now. Terms that I would not have used to describe her, like stoic, determined, focused, and brave were now written all over her face, shielding her beyond her natural abilities. These were the characteristics of the baseball giants that I idolized in my youth, whom I still idolize to this day. These were the traits that defined my heroes. This child before me was walking along side them now, and I am in awe of her.

Today I am sweating over a hot BBQ, cooking up burgers and dogs for her tenth birthday party. I am watching her out of the corner of my eye holding court at a table surrounded by her friends and her family. She is happy and smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world, as if none of what she is dealing with is worth tears or fears. She is living in the moment and she is an inspiration to me.

As I reminisce at the foot of my sandlot altar I am introducing my past to my new hero. Her name is Truc Han or KaSandra, and I ask you, all of you, to keep her in your prayers.


KaSandra’s battle may have been lost, at least from the perspective of those of us left behind. But from another perspective, in a way I cannot understand or accept just yet, she has been spared the years of struggle that is mortal life and has received her reward of everlasting life from a loving and merciful God. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, like I did every time she’d hug me and tell me that she loved me…more.

Nicholas Sheridan Stanton

June 2, 2009
October 28, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

(“but when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of, love potion number 9”)…The Clover’s…1959

Chapter Fourteen

Bella Terra Restaurant, Los Angeles…2009

Ever notice that there never seems to be a quiet moment in a restaurant? It’s just an observation. I mean I’ve never actually owned one or worked in one, but I eat in them all the time, six days out of seven since returning to bachelor status. I don’t know, maybe early mornings, before the staff arrives, or late at night when its time to lock up? Those might be good times to grab a moment’s peace? I wonder about that whenever I think about the Manzano brothers, Johnny and Angelo or when I’m remembering Lu and Jai, my favorite swishy Asians. It’s hard to believe that they’re gone. It’s harder still to believe the murder suicide theory that Oscar and his minions were trying to sell to John Q. Public. I’ve been in this business long enough to know things are rarely exactly what they appear to be, especially at first glance.

You know, another saying my old mother was fond of sharing was, “the apple’s always sweeter near the core.” It was part of her whole “patience is a virtue” lecture series. The point is I knew those two guys pretty darn well. After all, I’ve been noshing on freebies at their deli for better than twenty years. This puzzle wouldn’t be that easy to solve. From the proper angle even 2 plus 2 isn’t a sure thing. Besides, there’s no way either one of them could have murdered the other. Even a card carrying homophobe like me could see they were in love, truly in love. Those guys (that’s right I said guys) had the kind of love every girl dreams of and every fella fears. The kind that merged two lives, blended them, and transformed them, from individual to couple. Seriously, until I met Lu and Jai I can honestly say that I never really understood what it meant to be a ‘couple.’ But I digress...

Fat Johnny stirred a huge pot of Mama Manzano’s famous Sicilian marinara sauce on the front burner. It must have been near ready because he was also dipping some crusty bread into the pot and giving it a taste.
“HEY, knucklehead, whatta ya doing, you’re going to get sauce all over your suit! Mama mia, we gotta go in fifteen minutes Johnny, we’ll be late for the service,” scolded brother Angelo! Johnny looked down at his white shirt and black silk tie, checking for splash stains. There weren’t any, luckily. He turned to face his nagging older brother and pointed at his clothes with half a loaf of bread. He would have fired off a snappy reply too if not for the fact that the other half of the loaf was sticking from out of his mouth as he chewed. Instead he grunted and gave the pot another lazy stir.

“Lovely,” replied Angelo as he stormed out of the kitchen and out into the restaurant.

Johnny chuckled, stepped away fro the stove and removed the dish towel tucked into his waistband. He folded it quickly and draped it through the bar on the pizza oven door then followed his brother out of the kitchen. He didn’t want to be late to the little homo’s funeral either. I’d meet up with them there later, but first I had some unfinished business with Dr. Looney, strictly business, unfortunately.

UCLA, Molecular Sciences Building

Just being on the enemy’s campus couldn’t be wrong, could it? I mean it’s not a venal sin or anything; Judy was pretty sure about that. But, just to be on the safe side, she made a mental note to keep this visit short and remember to light a candle before Mass on Sunday. Actually, she wouldn’t have had to come here at all if not for a piece of special equipment she needed to use. Why the Bruins could afford one and Tommy Trojan couldn’t was beyond her? It wasn’t worth pondering though; those decisions were made way above her pay grade anyway. All she knew was that she needed time on the machine in order to answer a few nagging questions that involved the blue threads I had left with her a few days ago.

Apparently Doctor Looney had hastily drawn her conclusions and was feeling a little guilty. Or maybe she felt sorry for me after giving me the bum’s rush earlier today? Okay, that was probably wishful thinking on my part. Anyway, between bites of her cup-o-noodles supper she had an epiphany and presto the need for the XHR SEM at UCLA. Judy had access to a scanning electron microscope on her home turf, but the one on the Bruin campus was much sexier. It was an XHR model, an extra high resolution SEM. And Judy Looney wasn’t above using her physical attributes to worm her way into whatever lab housed that unit. Apparently I wasn’t the only fella trying to coax her back onto team hetero! So after wolfing down the last of her workaholic meal she changed into her very best pair of guy friendly jogging shorts and her favorite one size too small USC sweatshirt, minus the sports bra of course, fishing was always better when the girls swung free. Whichever lab tech was her admirer, he (or she, I shouldn’t assume) didn’t stand a chance!
“Sweet,” exclaimed Judy, spotting a space right in front of Young Hall, right next to the Molecular Sciences Building!

Down-shifting her little two seat sports car, a Mazda Miata (not her dream ride, but on her salary it would have to do), she whipped into the prized slot and screeched to a halt. The maneuver was totally unnecessary this hour of the day, but Judy loved her new toy and she took every opportunity to show off her sports car skills. If memory served she thought, Ernie Namura would be noshing on a NY style pizza right about now, and likely craving a cold one to help wash it down. She reached around and tapped her backpack with her key ring and listened for the reassuring clunk of metal to glass. Satisfied with the dull retort she locked the car with the beeper and headed toward the building entrance.

Ernie had been one of her less than stellar undergrad students a couple of years ago. But where he came up short scholastically made up for as a teacher’s pet, satisfying her Starbucks addiction every morning like clockwork, occasionally adding a cheese Danish for good measure! She wasn’t sure if it was a grade he was after or a shot at fulfilling a “hot for teacher” fantasy, but, he was a guy so she felt confident in her chances of getting onto the SEM with a little harmless flirtation. She remembered him as a total frat boy, beer (Sapporo) and pizza (Dominos) were the essence of life as far as he was concerned, typical for a thirty something techie and perennial bachelor.

Judy took the steps two at a time up to the heavy security door and entered the code Ernie had sent via text before she had left her apartment. The light on the little black box changed from red to green as it released the magnetic lock, allowing her access to the building. Entering quickly she headed down the long hall toward the radiology department. He shouldn’t be too hard to find, all she had to do was follow the pepperoni vapors wafting down the long hallway. About halfway down she heard Led Zeppelin emanating from one of the labs behind a set of swinging double doors. She knew the tune, The Immigrant Song she thought, recognizing the familiar melody. Suddenly the doors burst open and out popped Ernie Namura, his arms heavily laden with a stack of thick manila folders that he could barely see over. He was working on a half eaten slice stuffed in his mouth, chewing loudly as he rushed by her. Judy side stepped the fast moving techie, flattening herself up against the wall.

“Whoa, sorry ma'am, I didn’t see you,” apologized Ernie, the words nearly unintelligible through the mouthful of half chewed pizza.

“No worries Ernie-san, it’s me, Judy.”

Ernie stopped abruptly and turned back toward the voice. He leaned against the wall to free up his right hand and pulled the pizza out of his mouth. Swallowing hard, he choked down the wad of food clogging his airway and managed a reply.
Oh, man, sorry Prof, I totally forgot you were coming, it’s been wicked busy here tonight,” Ernie apologized, wiping the cheese and pepperoni grease off his mouth with the sleeve of his lab coat. Judy gingerly took the half eaten slice from his hand with her thumb and forefinger and put it back into his mouth.

“That’s okay, you go drop off that stack of files and I’ll just wait for you right here in your lab. I'll break out a couple of the cold ones I brought to bribe you to look the other way while I log onto the SEM with your code. Does that work for you,” Judy asked, reaching around with both hands to tap her backpack, and giving Ernie a good look at her C size beauties as they stretched the fabric beneath the USC logo? It was like watching two bobcats fighting under a thin blanket, the poor guy was hypnotized.

Ahhhh, yeah, sure, I’ll just be a sec, make yourself at home,” he replied as he sprinted off to wherever he was headed.

“K,” she said sweet as pie.

Judy smiled coyly and went on into the lab, this was going to be fun she thought. The instant she entered the room and the heavy doors closed behind her she felt it. The thermostat read 72 degrees yet she was chilled? An air of foreboding surrounded her, why? And a familiar clinical smell hung in the air, just like the embalming room at the County morgue where she worked while pursuing her PhD. That was weird, all she should smell is pizza she thought looking at the extra large pie from Mario’s setting on an old metal desk. It had probably been donated by old man Hughes himself before he went nuts! Weird she muttered, as she set down her backpack and walked over to Ernie’s boom box. She cranked up the music up to level six and plopped down into the swivel chair to wait for Ernie. The room exploded with noise as “Whole Lotta Love” blared out of the speakers.

Leaning back in the chair she closed her eyes, just for a minute or two she told herself. But her body was screaming for a catnap. Burning the candle at both ends was catching up with her. Her head dipped and swayed, looking as if it would just fall off of her shoulders at any moment. Each time, she jerked herself back to consciousness and each time she fought the compulsion to sleep. But after a minute, maybe less she began doze off. And with unconsciousness the foreboding feeling returned, what was that? She felt her skin crawl, as if a bedbug was dining on her naked thigh under her covers. She didn’t trust what her mind was telling her, her eyes felt heavy and she couldn’t open them no matter how hard she tried. Was she awake or dreaming? She felt awake, she felt as though she were looking around the room? She could describe in detail every stick of furniture, every piece of equipment, even every tile in the ceiling. She was losing track of time, it was irrelevant in a dream state. How long had she been here? Where the hell was Ernie anyway, and what was taking him so long? A hinge squeaked. It was the doors in front of her. She thought she saw someone standing at the doors. How could she know? She was asleep right?

“Ernie, is that you,” she wondered in silence? No reply came.

“CUT IT OUT ERNIE,” she screamed without making any noise!

Her heart raced and if you were standing over her you would see her eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. She was asleep and awake at the same time. She was also scared. A wisp of a shadow passed over her and quietly exited the room. She imagined hearing a faint sound, a low and soft chuckle. It made her smirk involuntarily, yet chilled her to the point of shivering, as if she stepped over an open grave? She remembered an old saying from childhood, “step over an open grave today and someone you know will die tonight.” It wasn’t an exact quote but it was a clear memory nonetheless. Judy’s breathing slowed and slowly she settled into a peaceful state. She was startled awake by a loud crash at the double doors as Ernie Namura returned from his errand at a sprint.

“Am I boring you Dr. Looney,” he said sarcastically as he reached for the Sapporo she had left on the table?

“What, no, no, sorry, long day after a late night, you know me the workaholic poster girl,” she answered as she got up to stretch. Ernie admired the view and took a long drink of the beer.

“Uh huh,” he replied.

Judy straightened her sweatshirt which she had twisted out of sorts while she was catnapping she guessed. She actually blushed when she caught her former student checking her out. He wasn’t shy, that was for sure, and she wondered if the beer was going to be enough of a bribe to get her onto the SEM? Raking her fingers through her hair she broke eye contact with him and wandered toward the equipment she needed.
“So, do you think I can get some time on this thing tonight? I won’t need much, maybe a couple of hours,” she asked, pretending to look over the machine but really watching Ernie for his reaction.

“Yeah, I think that can be arranged,” he replied smiling over his beer.

Sweet! When can I get started,” she asked?

“As soon as I finish my dinner and this beer, but you have to join me, it’s rude to let someone eat alone ya know,” he answered. Judy sighed, putting herself on alert, wondering if she had miscalculated by labeling this guy tame.

“Uh, yeah, okay. Why don’t you open up my beer while I put my stuff over here near the SEM. I really appreciate this Ernie-san,” she said, quickly walking over to fetch her backpack with her samples.

“Hey, you didn’t pass anyone on the way in here did you,” she asked matter-of-factly?

“Nope, it’s you and me till dawn Dr. Looney, just the two of us,” Ernie replied with a shit eating grin.

“Swell,” Judy replied, suddenly wishing she had packed the sports bra in her bag.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

(“all in all you’re just a nuther brick in the wall”)…Pink Floyd…1979

Chapter Thirteen

Alexandria Hotel, Los Angeles…2009

No doubt about it, I was being watched, my spider sense confirmed it. They had to be cops! The oinkers must have tailed me from USC and then ratted me out to the boss-man, which means Lt. Celaya knows Judy Looney has been talking to me. It also means that I should expect a personal invitation downtown for a come to Jesus meeting with the fat headed beast and his flying monkeys, marvelous! You know, getting grilled is the pits, I know, I used to do it for a living. It’s not just a matter of being questioned; tactically there’s quite a difference. Typically, when someone is being questioned it’s to rule them out as a suspect. A grilling however involves a ride on the big blue choo choo courtesy the LAPD as they railroad you toward a confession. And make no mistake; they’ll get it, one way or the other, they’ll get it!
So, to recap, questioning, easy quick and painless, grilling, well, let’s just say that a good grilling will leave a mark or two! As a general rule I prefer to avoid either! However, given my naturally nosey nature and general don’t give a flip attitude, that didn’t seem likely because I am back in Oscar’s crosshairs, again! You know, for a smart guy I seem to be lacking common sense more often than not these days? Let’s face it; I enjoy winding up that palooka way too much. It’s a wicked little pleasure, I know, but I hope to outgrow it someday. Hell, I’m getting too old to be a full time smart ass anyway. Besides, the price of chuckles gets higher and higher the older I get. Seriously, I should be more careful where he’s concerned because I’m pretty sure that under the right circumstances or given the slightest provocation the flatfoot would put one right between my eyes! And who could blame him? My lack of respect for him is legendary in this town. I’ll be the first to admit that our little feud is totally sour grapes over his involvement in my early “retirement,” more on that later.
I quickly crossed the room to the small writing table resting cozily under the corner window of my shabby one room apartment, and debated whether or not to call Judy Looney. I don’t know why it was such an internal issue? It should be a short debate at best; I mean professionally it was a no brainer. She was a source of critical information, right? I needed that brain of hers; she was a key element in this case. I decided face to face would be best. A grin spread across my face and made me feel a little high-schoolish. I’m not a child, really, I’m not, but I’ll admit, I can see where I might seem like one at times given my arrested adolescence, much more on that later! Look, there’s chemistry between us, I’m aware of that. Okay, it’s based totally on sarcasm, but like my old mother used to say, “the girl who treats you worst, loves you most.”
Dr. Looney was attractive in her own way, physically I mean. And it wasn’t just her nice features (nice cans), that attracted me either. Actually, brace yourself; it was her intelligence, and the comfortable smile that came with every shared moment that seemed to get my motor running. I could be myself around her, without compulsion to put on airs. I dunno, lately I just wanted to be around her more often. I’ve even caught myself looking for reasons to drop by the campus. I’ll be honest, being easy on the eyes might have had a little more to do with it then I let on, but hey, I’m a man aren’t I? Listen, her head might be packed solid with gray matter, but the rest of her is firm where it should be, soft where I like it and she smells good. What can I say, that’s what’s important to me these days, go figure? Ah well it was moot anyway, she was Ronnie’s girl now, and they were madly in love, or so they kept telling me, whatever! I should quit pining over nothing. Sometimes I wish I could kick my own ass!
Something caught my eye suddenly just outside the window? I studied the group of people crossing the street and counted noses. Nothing out of the ordinary, whatever I saw had merged with the crowd and disappeared. It was getting late and if I was going to catch Judy at home before Ronnie rolled in from the office I needed to get a move on. I grabbed my keys off the desk and turned to leave, then suddenly whipped around to look out the window once more. Something was making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, like I had just shuffled across a shag carpet in my socks. I stared out the window for a few seconds not exactly sure what I was looking for?
“Ah, bag it,” I muttered and left the room.

Hollenbeck Station, Los Angeles

“Until I say you’re done, that’s when,” Oscar Celaya shouted into the handset as he slammed it back onto its cradle!
The five o’clock shadow poking through his weathered face had grown thicker by a couple of hours, and the hot headed lieutenant was tired and pissy. It was way passed supper time and bed time wasn’t far off either for a man whose work day started at 5am. He had put a couple of gold shield transfers from Parker Center on my tail earlier and apparently I was boring them to tears. Maybe those guys were the ones giving me goose bumps back at my apartment? Nah, I’d have spotted them sooner than later. I didn’t see them when I left, but I knew they were around, I could smell their bacon as soon as I hit the pavement. Odds are the jack-holes were around the corner at Clifton’s swilling coffee and stuffing their fat oinker faces!
Lt. Celaya leaned back in his chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He decided it was time to call it a day. Fishing out his car keys from his center desk drawer, he got up and put on his worn and torn sport coat, the one with the patched elbows. It was his town and country look. He watched the busy precinct staff go about their business through the glass surrounding his center office as he slipped his arm into the sleeve. The night shift was never dull, there was crazy shit happening from dusk to dawn, it’s when the animals roam the city. He rapped on the window signaling for a skinny sergeant to meet him at the door. The startled officer took a quick sip of her coffee and rushed around to see what he wanted.
“Yeah LT, what’s up,” asked Sergeant Ann Kowalski?
“Annie, do me a favor will ya? If my phone rings again, and it will, tell the chuckle head on the other end of the line that they can go home,” Oscar said yawning.
“Sure LT. Any reason we can’t just have dispatch call them now?”
Yeah, two reasons, BE – CAUSE!
Sergeant Kowalski knew that tone and decided to zip it before she wound up Corporal Kowalski. Oscar waived at the room as he headed toward the exit and home to his teeny bopper wife who would re-heat dinner and yammer on and on until he fell into blissful slumber. Actually, if I know Oscar Celaya he’ll be hit Tito’s Tacos on the way home and choke down half a dozen taquitos with cheese and extra guacamole. Hmmm, actually that sounds pretty good right about now. Maybe I’ll grab a bag–o–tacos my own self and treat Dr. Judy to a little snack and chat? I tipped my hat at the precinct building as I drove by on the number 30 bus then leaned back and closed my eyes for the rest of the twenty minute ride. I would have slept too except for this nagging moment of anxiety that I couldn’t explain?

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