Nov 21, 2014, 07:08AM

The Lights of Our Lives

They eventually go out.

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Scooter Jackson was three weeks old when he was found in Central Park. Somehow he’d gotten separated from his mother and his litter, and he got lucky. At six weeks, he was adopted by an investment banker named Jamie, who worked for Morgan Stanley and had a place on Central Park West. About three weeks into the relationship, Jamie realized that she worked too much and too long to have a feisty little kitten around shredding her curtains and destroying her furniture. He was nine weeks old when Daisy brought him home in August of 2003. I’d heard about Maine Coon cats, but I’d never actually met one before.

Daisy had a bowl of shiny ornamental plastic “stones” on a shelf in the dining area adjacent to the kitchen. One day we came home from the grocery store to find that Scooter placed one stone on each of the six shelves in the kitchen cabinets. He repeatedly stole her watch and earrings. He’d climb in the shower with me and play in the water. He made a hell of a mess one day trying to pee standing up on two legs in his litter box. We had to unplug the printer after he discovered how to turn it on and make it spit out sheets of paper. He loved playing fetch. He laughed: he had this weird little hissing laugh he’d do when he pranked us, and he was always pranking us. He persisted in attempting to walk on two legs, and his attempts at speech were hilarious. He was fascinated by music, and loved the tiny xylophone that Daisy used to sing to the children in her kindergarten class. She had a set of tiny chimes in a pretty little frame on a windowsill, and he’d climb up and play them very gently, delicately caressing them with his paw. We had friends over for Thanksgiving that year, and he sat very politely and attentively watching us all eat. Not once did he attempt to get up on the table or solicit food in any way. We were all pretty impressed with that.

By February of 2004, it became obvious that he needed another cat around, if only to play with when we weren’t around. On Valentine’s Day, Daisy and I drove over to Brooklyn, to a pet Adopt-A-Thon in Prospect Park. The minute we laid eyes on Buster, we took him. He’d been found on the streets of Brooklyn, in the snow. He was a strikingly beautiful tiny long-haired orange Manx with a tail like a rabbit. He was very dirty and he screamed all the way home in the car. Scooter initially flipped out and tried to kill him. He was as furious. Buster was sick with some kind of respiratory ailment and nearly died that first night. We nursed him through it, cleaned him up, and within a few days he and Scooter were snuggling and playing together as if they’d known each other since birth.

On Murlagan Ave., in Mountain View nine years later, I’d sit on the lawn and smoke pot, drink beer, and consider the extraordinary beauty with which I was blessed: the towering redwood, the hedge, the garden, the birds. It’s not enough to be surrounded by beauty. One must acknowledge it, while it is present and alive. Beauty fades and dies, but gratitude lasts forever.

I was essentially unemployable: over 55, white male, no tech skills, native-born American, with a crumbling spine and HCV. I had a good unemployment claim. I was content and serene. There is no point in worrying. “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” has been my motto since I ran away from home at 15 back in 1968. Having an HCV virus load that was literally off the scale, my liver functions were completely normal, despite my drinking. Sulfasalazine. I could still walk, although missionary-position sex, bicycling, and dancing were definitely off the table, probably forever. Bone loss is a side effect of sulfasalazine. Your bones or your liver, make the call. I had the cats and the garden. I had easy legal access to quality pot. I had Daisy.

I also had a shitty little un-insulated apartment that needed a lot of work. At $1200 a month in 2006, it was a cute bargain. In 2013, at $1600 a month, it was an oppressive burden. Neither one of us had gotten a 33 percent raise. Chris Hopkins, our landlord, swanned around on his rare visits like a feudal lord. I got the general impression that he was an Ayn Rand fan. I wish that reading Ayn Rand caused cancer, I really do. Where I come from, swans get beaten to death with baseball bats wielded by filthy mindless savages from the island of Hispaniola, courtesy of global capitalism run amok.

Jim King first joined up with Bill Graham Presents in 1983. An incredibly large man of a uniquely kind and gentle disposition, he gravitated toward security. I first met him in 2006, when I started working for BGP. He was ubiquitous, at every gig, running security, protecting the artists from overenthusiastic fans, stalkers, each other, and occasionally, themselves. He saved lives. He’d toured with the Stones, the Dead, and numerous other lesser acts, but touring wasn’t really his thing. He was not a freak, like me, compulsively in motion to remain sane. He was a family guy, an Eagle Scout, into having an actual home, and a family. Cookouts and kids, all that quaint Fourth of July stuff. I really loved his Buddha nature. That guy had more Buddha nature in his little finger than most people have in their entire lineage. I took to greeting him at gigs by saying “If I had to grow up, which I don’t, I wanna grow up to be Jim King.” He was 53 years old.

I’d met Justin Estrada working the BGP shed up in Concord. He also did gigs with Theatreworks, and popped up all around the Bay Area at various BGP events. He was a young guy of tremendous genius and ethical quality upon whom one could always depend to be the only completely sober person in the room. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of drunks and stoners, but he just wasn’t into intoxication. By 2013, he’d already beaten non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and felt like Rocky Balboa. He was 31.

I re-connected through Facebook with a fellow named Kris Dowling. He’d been the one who first initiated me into Aleister Crowley’s infamous OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis) back in the 1970s, in the temple in the back of the Magickal Childe on 19th St. in Manhattan. He’d renounced the OTO thing long ago and obtained a Bishoprick in some arcane Irish Christian religious obsession. Despite my very firm belief that Christianity is to the Irish as Ebola is to Africans, I went ahead and renewed our friendship. He was battling colon cancer somewhere in Ohio. In the language of the angels, known as “Enochian” and translated by the great English thaumaturgist Dr. John Dee, “ohio” means “woe.”

Warren Pilcher served BGP faithfully and with great dedication for 26 years before he was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2012. He served as the Operations Manager at Shoreline Amphitheatre, always ready with a smile to do what needed to be done. He was a warm and friendly guy, utterly competent, always capable of handling and managing young tweaker maniacs and under all circumstances smiling and pleasant. In 2013, he was fighting for his life. Brain cancer.

The windows still hadn’t been fixed.

Scooter got sick in February, 2013, while we were patting ourselves on the back for surviving the Mayan Apocalypse. The vet cut into him, removing a full quarter-pound of weird crap he’d eaten over the years. Pica: worst eating disorder ever. We had to give him IVs, jamming big needles into his back. We force-fed him. It was a struggle, but it was a struggle for his life. We adored him. He cooperated fully. He fought like hell to stay with us.

On May 26th, Jim King died while working on improving his home. His friends and co-workers had done everything they could to raise the money needed for his triple-bypass, in vain. Where illness equals profit, you cannot have a healthy society. Live Nation gave a personalized 757 to Lady Gaga instead of saving Jim King’s life. Do you remember Lady Gaga?

On July 7, Kris Dowling lost his fight with colon cancer.

Scooter died on July 12. He had liver cancer. Daisy cradled him in her lap and we held his little hands and sang lullabies to him as the vet administered the lethal injection. Daisy and I were destroyed. Buster was furious when we came home without him. So was I. Daisy just wept.

Daisy was heartbroken, as was I, but I’m better at concealing it, and I wasn’t working at the Walmart School Of The Peninsula, being systematically broken and degraded by a male sadist that identified as a lesbian woman. I was unemployable, thank God.

Nothing was the same. Everything was over. The light of all our lives had gone out. The situation could not be saved. Liver cancer, 10 years old: trichloroethylene. The grass he loved to munch on, sprouting out of the tainted soil of Mountain View.

The three of us moped our way through July and most of August. The oven died, and I had to hammer Hopkins into replacing it. On the Thursday before Labor Day, both Buster and Daisy somehow came out of it, like the sun emerging from behind a bank of clouds. He went prancing to the kitchen door to the little fenced-in outdoor space he’d shared with Scooter. Daisy went skipping after him, the picture of delight, and fell through the door and down the steps, breaking her wrist and very nearly her skull. I rushed her to the hospital.

The hospital experience was infuriating. At every single station, the first question was “How are you going to pay for this?”, followed closely by the deeply insulting “Did he do this to you?”, invariably trailed by “You should quit smoking.” I stood by her throughout the ordeal, repressing an increasingly urgent need to smash one of those scumbag capitalist health practitioners squarely in the face.

Her wrist was very badly broken, and needed a metal plate. She went in for surgery on September 4th. I stood by her bed as they prepped her. They wisely refrained from asking her if I’d inflicted the injury, but they did admonish her to quit smoking. I’d had it with that shit, and interjected “The CDC says that smoking-related illnesses are the fourth leading cause of death in America.”

“That’s right!” said the doctor.

“You know what’s the number one cause of death in America? Doctors and hospitals. She’s safer with her cigarettes than she is with you.”

An ugly little Goth anesthesiologist with pink hair, fake eyelashes, and way too many piercings came in. It was time for me to leave. I drove home thinking that if they lost her on the table, I was going to kill the little Goth anesthesiologist’s whole fucking family, right down to the pets, and maybe the neighbors. I went home and got drunk. Buster came to bed with me, snuggling up like Scooter used to do for our afternoon naps.

When I picked Daisy up the next day, I was informed that she had, in fact, died on the operating table for a few minutes. There are no surprises in the American health care system: it is consistently overpriced and mediocre.

With autumn came yet another rent increase. We were now paying $1700 per month for a lousy un-insulated shack surrounded with flowers. Daisy was depressed and stressed out from her relentlessly oppressive job. Buster was just depressed. We got him a kitten, a sweet little scratchy girl we named Betsy. He spurned her attempts at affection.

On my 60th birthday, I found him standing under the faucet in the tub soaking his head. He then scampered off to the back of a cabinet under the kitchen sink, where I couldn’t get at him. It was one of the coldest spots in the house. He was committing suicide. I didn’t think cats did that, but here it was, right in front of me. When we got him to the vet, his body temperature was 89 degrees. The normal body temperature for a cat is about 102 degrees. They kept him overnight in a special heated cubby and ran a bunch of tests.

His kidneys were failing. According to the vet, they’d started failing in July. There was nothing to be done. On December 5th, we spent our last hour with Buster. We sang to him and caressed him, kissing his sweet little head and holding his paws. Daisy held him in her lap as the vet gave him the shot. “Go find Scooter,” I said. “Look Buster! It’s Scooter! There he is!” He faded away in her arms. Gone, like snow on a river.

The grief was unbearable. Twelve days later, Justin Estrada lost his final battle with cancer. Warren Pilcher was sinking fast. There was no Christmas that year, no savior was coming, no light was shining. No light at all. We binge-watched Lost again, and finally understood the last episode: everybody dies.

Everybody dies.


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