When I was in high school some friends and I sometimes went to a racetrack about halfway between Shaker Heights and Akron. We weren’t old enough to bet, but one of us–Dudgie we called him, though how we spelled it in our minds is uncertain–looked old enough, so we picked horses whose names we liked. I will never forget Happyfellow Bob.

I went to the Casbah a few months ago, my first time out alone after my life changed last October, to hear, as I’ve put it, God, Dave Thomas as Pere Ubu, about which not too much could be said. Tonight (actually, three nights ago now) I went just to hear music, three bands, two with interesting names, and a third whose name I couldn’t remember talking about it beforehand. The interesting names were Kitty Plague and The Digital Lizards of Doom. That latter name in particular was my reason for driving down from Escondido to this dive bar near the San Diego airport.

This is not a music review, nothing like that, just a few impressions from an old guy who heard Hendrix, Cream, Butterfield, and Janis live back in the day. So I’m not complaining about volume. Kitty Plague, a power trio like Blue Cheer, made me think of the Ramones and the Dead Milkmen, and produced a wall of sound more powerful than Phil Spector could have pulled off. I liked them, painful as it was to listen, or want to have liked them, a third my age probably but who’s counting. I was told some of their songs were humorous. I tried not to leave the room. And, to tell the truth, I would go hear them again, particularly if I could get a t-shirt with their name on it. (I saw one tonight, but someone was already wearing it, and it would have been too small for me.)

From three we went to nine on stage, Unsteady, a band I hadn’t heard of but reportedly with a long history in San Diego. But I haven’t been our much the past few decades. They were billed as a ska band–a genre I don’t quite get, something like working class white reggae, but maybe something else–but didn’t sound so ska to me. A trumpet, a trombone (!), and two saxophones in the front row, a keyboard player with a hat the reminded me this was the night of the last day of Comic Con (a Wonder Woman showed up, and a guy in a costume I didn’t understand but clearly a costume). They were loud too, but it was easier to stay in the room, and hear the lyrics. The trombone player looked about my granddaughter’s age, and I pictured her up there, a different kind of life.

I remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix–sort of by accident, I’d gone to Winterland to hear James Cotton or Albert King, who can remember for sure. I was quickly in awe, and amazed that he could make all that sound without a rhythm guitarist. But he didn’t do it without a bass player and a drummer, to keep him grounded, or at least to remind him where to land. The Digital Lizards of Doom was a single guitarist up on stage with some equipment not clear to me. Even if he hadn’t started with a bad joke he would have had trouble. He didn’t fly like Hendrix. He did fill the room with sound, and I tried to appreciate it, but I thought Kitty Plague did it better. I didn’t stay for his whole set, so maybe I missed something, but driving home I remembered that Happyfellow Bob didn’t make us any money.


Nine months ago today, almost to the hour, my wife of 21 years, companion of 27, died in this house, upstairs from where I’m writing, after an afternoon binge-watching Inspector Morse next to each other in the bedroom, a pleasant day until it wasn’t. The suddenness was, not the way the word is used now by ignorant children, awesome. She was here and then she wasn’t, though her body lingered for a while until it became ashes in a box next to the chair she sat in every morning writing. Before and after: everything else was the same, but not the important thing.

Nine months in the house we lived in together, the home she made for us after the Witch Creek fire burned us out of Del Dios, in another October (2007), just less than nine years before she died. Another “tragedy,” people called it, which took most of our possessions but left us, and the cat, alive. I went back to the empty lot today where we lived then, cleared now of brush and dead trees for fire season, picked up a piece of tile from our old walk-in shower, and a shard of a vintage stoneware cereal bowl, all while thinking about these words, and our life there, and the time between.

In another context nine months is time for a new life, but not in this. Most of today I tried to find words, drank coffee and looked out the windows, walked around the house, touching this and that. Dust has settled everywhere I hadn’t looked, and many of the places I had, I can’t keep up, I don’t keep up. She said I wouldn’t keep up if she died first, in one of those hypothetical conversations we used to have before they became real. I said I’d get sixteen cats, but I haven’t. Nine months living with the things she left behind and, it should go without saying, not over it. I have no illusions, I believe I have no illusions, but in a way I’m still inside her life, a different possibly better person than I was 27 years ago, annealed in the fire of our relationship, both of us happy (my belief) just before the end.

It’s not that nothing has changed in nine months. The awesome suddenness imbued everything she’d touched, particularly on her last day, with a patina of sacredness (there may be a better way to put that). Just a couple of examples, the chair she sat in every morning has not been sat in by anyone else, though it’s the most comfortable chair in the house, and the towel from her last shower is still hanging in the bathroom, on the hook where she left it. It wouldn’t bother me anymore to put the towel back into the laundry cycle, I don’t feel, no longer feel, as Joan Didion wrote she felt about her husband’s shoes, that she’ll come back and need it. It’s still sad, but I no longer feel the need to protect it, no longer tragedy but part of life, one or the other of you if you’re lucky enough to have something like what we had. I guess that’s, however slightly, moving on, but truthfully it feels worse, like a traumatic injury where, when the shock wears off (and I’m not saying it has) the pain rises.

This is, as she would have predicted, all about me, all about me missing her, and not about her, the person she was, the life cut short like a bird shot out of the sky (but see www.saraiaustin.com for some of that flight).

I miss her every day.