Taillights Fade in to Darkness

taillights fade

Four years ago I surfed my way on to a eulogy of sorts for Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner. I grew up reading the Times while I chomped on my cereal before school every morning. I remember Penner, Mike Downey, the best-ever Jim Murray and his page two replacement Alan Malamud.In a 2007 Times column, Penner announced to the world that he was a transsexual.  He returned from a vacation as Christine Daniels until March of 2008. In October of that year, he returned to using Mike Penner as his byline. He never explained the change. Penner killed himself November 27, 2009 after he ran a hose from his car’s exhaust pipe into the car while it ran in the underground garage of his apartment building.

Penner’s friend, Kevin Bronson of buzzbands.la, wrote beautifully about his friend and former colleague two days after Penner’s death.

Bronson’s ending haunted me.

Penner would smile knowingly whenever I effused over the years about the staying power of that Buffalo Tom selection from 1992. “Taillights Fade,” the Boston trio’s epic anthem of anguish and isolation, embodied that vague sense we had of the inevitability of sadness — but with a cathartic roar that made us hungry to embrace the next moment. When they lower me into the ground, I remember telling Mike Penner with a wink at my own mortality, this is the song I want them to play.

The liner notes to “KPEN 1992″ captured the song in six words: “A suicide note set to guitar.”

I opened another tab in my web browser, fired up You Tube (I’ve embedded the song at the bottom of the post), and listened to Taillights Fade as I re-read the column. And I wept. A lot. The song tore at my guts. I was a mess.

A few days ago Taillights Fade popped up on my Pandora custom station. As I went to thumbs-up the song as a favorite, my eyes set on the lyrics. This is me, I thought.

Sister, can you hear me now
The ringing in your ears
I’m down on the ground
My luck’s been dry for years

I’m lost in the dark
And I feel like a dinosaur
Broken face and broken hands
I’m a broken man

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

I read a thing about this girl
She was a hermit in her world
Her story was much like mine
She could be my valentine

And although we’ve never met
I won’t forget her yet
She cut herself off from her past
Now she’s alone at last

I feel so sick, lost love’s last licks
But I’m closing down on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

Lost my life in cheap wine
Now it’s quiet time
Cappy dick nor Jesus Christ
Could not help my fate

But I’m underneath a gun
I’m singing about my past
Had myself a wonderful thing
But I could not make it last

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so small, underneath it all
Watch my taillights fade to black

Watch my taillights fade
Watch my taillights fade
Watch my taillights fade

In grief recovery people say you don’t move on from losing your loved one, you move forward. After Christmas I stopped moving forward, and slid backwards. I fell to the ground, too tired to get up. My luck’s gone dry and I’m on a losing streak. I’m a broken man. F it all, I thought. F. It. All.

My luck’s gone dry. I’m a broken man. Lost in the dark. Down on the ground. I feel so weak, on a losing streak.

And I feel alone. This has changed everything. The way I relate to people. The way people relate to me. Broken relationships. Apathy. The fake smiles. I feel myself pulling away. Anguished and isolated.

I wanted to write a post and update you all, since I went about three months silent. This song does that for me. These feelings, these thoughts. It’s why I haven’t updated this site until Jax’s birthday. I’ve been too tired, too overwhelmed and would rather just pull away. I’m not going to sugar-coat anything, it’s been pretty dark. I’ve felt extreme hopelessness. The anger has returned. And I don’t want to feel better. I just want to stew in my shit.

Had myself a wonderful thing. But I could not make it last. 

I’m sorry, Jax. I’m so sorry.

Memo to The Boy: Jacque Cousteau you are NOT

Jax’s memorial service took place in our packed church at Christian Life Fellowship on Saturday June 30, 2012. So many people came that the church had to air a live stream in an adjacent multipurpose room to accommodate the crowd.

Several people spoke, including a friend who asked if it was okay to read a post I wrote about Jax on April 16, 2011. Since the censored version was well received, I figured I’d re-post it here. I want you to know my boy. And this story encapsulates Jax’s personality quite well.

Jax gazes in awe at the Long Beach Aquarium

Jax gazes in awe at the Long Beach Aquarium

The Boy, my 3-year-old, is easily influenced by what he sees on television. If something catches his interest, he commits every atom in his being to that one thing. It started with Toy Story and culminated with us buying him a Jessie hat, which thankfully he’s stopped prancing around the house in.

Then came Cars, and that obsession is still rocking. In fact, he’s sitting on an office chair next to me, watching YouTube on my iPhone. I don’t know what the video is, but I hear an adult male speaking with a slight accent describing a new Cars toy he recently purchased. He’s reading the box, extracting said toy from its container and describing it in detail…and it’s creeping me out.

Sometime after The Babies were born my mother-in-law brought over Finding Nemo to keep The Boy out of our hair while we figured out what to do with two freaking babies at the same time. We popped the DVD into the XBox, tossed a couple of Red Vines at him and hoped he’d be interested. And whether it’s because Pixar has a hypnotizing strangle hold on children across America after its pact with the Devil – or they’re just very talented – The Boy’s latest obsession was born after viewing the tale of a neurotic clown fish father that pushed his son to rebellion only to have an Aussie dentist capture the son, Nemo, to give to his ADD-ridden niece as a gift and the father’s quest across the ocean with his lesbian pal Dory to find Nemo.

So now The Boy is fascinated by anything from the ocean, though he’d prefer they talk and have names like the oxygen-challenged characters from the flick. He also has two interactive point-and-play Finding Nemo books which he reads about 11 times a day that fill his head with oceanic terms and names of the creatures in the world of Nemo.

A week ago I figured it’d be fun for him to see some of these Nemo fish up close. With a plastic blue whale he is borrowing from my dad (and sleeps with every night) clutched in his arm and his shark backpack loaded on his shoulders, we made our way out to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.

Immediately The Boy found Dory and Gill from Nemo, walked under a giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the aquarium and watched seals bark and play.

Then came the shark tank, and out came his fucking marine biologist hat. Now the shark tank isn’t very impressive if you’ve been to Sea World or larger aquariums, but sharks are sharks and young children don’t care. There were about five different species of shark in the tank. The Boy proceeded to identify the sharks in the tank that looked anything like the sharks from his Nemo books, name them, and then educate anyone fortunate enough to stand next to him at the front of the viewing glass.

This went on for at least 20 minutes.

“Mako shark,” The Boy would announce to the three children that just walked up. Except there’s no mako shark in the tank. This aquarium isn’t that cool.

“Bruce! Here comes Bruce!” The Boy shouted every time the largest shark completed its path in front of the viewing glass. Bruce is the great white shark from Nemo. I’m sure the 25-year-old emo dude and cutter girlfriend next to The Boy haven’t the slightest idea who the hell Bruce is. But The Boy doesn’t give a fuck.

Now, The Boy is generally shy and reserved in public. But not this day. This day he was like Regis Philbin after an all night coke binge. He was loud, he was excited, and he wanted everyone else to share in his experience. Everyone.

I talked The Boy into checking out some other sections of the aquarium as I figured he had made enough face prints on the viewing glass. We came up on a tall cylinder of a tank that had orange and white striped fish. They weren’t clown fish, yet I let him call them Nemo since I wasn’t sure if they had any real clown fish at this aquarium. A girl, about 7, noticed the charm of The Boy and ventured off from her family to watch the fish with him.

“Nemo,” he said. Of course, it wasn’t.

Finding Nemo,” she replied with a dash of bitch. Apparently she thought he was missing the beginning of the title of the movie, rather than just pointing out, incorrectly, that Nemo was in the tank.

“Nemo,” he answered and pointed at the tank.

Findingggggg Nemo,” she repeated as she ratched up the bitch meter.

This went on for another couple of minutes. Now the girl had her back to the exhibit, facing The Boy, and shifted her feet left and right to keep him from having a clear view to the tank. Her mom finally noticed and scolded her for being a brat.

We made our way around the rest of the aquarium, spotted jelly fish, eels and starfish – all of which he identified thanks to his interactive books. We came across a large tank with a couple of hammer head sharks, which he made sure everyone knew, darting around reefs and coral with other fish, and large sting rays.

“Manta rays!” The Boy cursed at me. Like, how DARE I call those things sting rays.

Another dad stood next to The Boy with his two tween sons and pointed out the sting rays.

“Manta rays!” he yelled at them. Now I’m standing behind him to allow other children to get close to the glass. I’m hoping that they can’t hear this little troll yelling at them.

I had to explain to The Boy that he shouldn’t sweat it if people called them sting rays. He didn’t care; he was fired up and there was no excuse for ignorance among the patrons of this fine aquarium.

A few days later I looked up the difference between the two, and you know what? He was fucking right.

Opening Day Shines Through My Darkness


Via Sports Memes.

On March 28 last year I sat in the office of a marriage and family therapist’s office and explained how everything in my life seemed gray. Beyond stressed by work, the usual rainbows for me were buried behind ominous, dark clouds of depression.

Just over a year later, one of those rainbows is about to pop through the darkness. Today is Opening Day in Major League Baseball. Sure, there was a game last night, but watching the Texas Rangers take on the Houston Community College Astros is just one last Spring Training tune up, right?

I fell in love with baseball when I was 8. I was in third grade at a new school and all of the boys I wanted to be friends with were California Angel fans. It was 1986. Wally Joyner took Orange County by storm and Wally World officially opened for business. He quickly became my favorite player. Lanky Mike Witt with his breath-taking curve balls was my favorite pitcher. My iPhone and iPad are named after them, respectively.

I signed up for Little League the next season and played through high school. I’ve run a fantasy simulation baseball league since 1998, I have season tickets to Angel games and my wife just renewed our mlb.tv subscription for another year. I’m a huge baseball nerd. And I love it.

For many baseball fans, today is earmarked with hope for their favorite teams. Everyone is tied for first. Maybe that big trade in the offseason will push your team into contending for the division. Or maybe that flashy prospect you’ve been drooling about in your farm system will be 2013’s Mike Trout or Bryce Harper.

I make myself dig for hope now. My therapist told me that the loss of a chid is the worst loss one could ever experience. Our kids aren’t supposed to die before us. Looking forward to small things like Opening Day, Gray and Ellie’s t-ball classes or a night out with the boys gives me hope. I need something to look forward to in order to keep from hyper focusing on loss. Without hope I’d lay in bed all day clutching a bottle and smelling of death.

The Angels open up today at Cincinnati against the Reds. Local hero Jered Weaver takes the mound with phenom Trout, the legend Albert Pujols and the big free agent Josh Hamilton behind him. Their hope is a World Series. My hope is to bask in the beauty of baseball for a day before the dark returns.

Jaxson William – The Boy

I wrote the following in February of 2011 for the About section of my previous blog:

The Boy – The 3-year-old first born.

He made it fun and easy enough that we wanted kids. He scammed us. He’s absolutely obsessed with Toy Story and Cars. He loves Moo (stuffed black-and white cow he won at the fair) and Jessie from Toy Story. He’ll either be paying his way through college on a baseball scholarship or in rehab for a heroin addiction by age 14 as a result of his dad’s “encouragement”.


Moo - his best friend

Moo – his best friend

Moo now sits in our bedroom atop a dresser in a white pail with the number 3 on it. Jax’s number for the Corona Little League T-ball Brewers was 3. It’s a very special number for my wife and I.

Jax, Buzz and Woody

Jax, Buzz and Woody

His toys are still scattered throughout his bedroom. The day he died, before we left the house so mom could sleep after two nights of work as a registered nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit, my wife told him he had to clean his room. In addition to Toy Story and Cars, Jax took a massive interest in dinosaurs, 100-piece puzzles and Marvel super heroes.

First t-ball game running in from center field.

First t-ball game running in from center field.

His left-handed baseball glove still rests in our Honda Odyssey below the passenger seat. Jax just finished his first season of t-ball and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He had a sweet lefty swing and was starting to drive the ball with power. With just a few games left in the season, my dad coached him to hit the ball like The Incredible Hulk. The tip worked effectively. Jax wore a grimace to the plate (by now the tee was replaced by coaches pitching) and whipped his hands through the ball quicker and with more force than he’d been doing all season. He was becoming quite the little stud.

I miss him so much.