September 6, 2018

"Found Treasure"

I have not posted anything in several months, as I've been doing more private writing lately, leaving me with 5-6 drafts I want to post here eventually. Nearly four years after his death, I am still adding to my collection of notable tidbits to share with those of you who knew Amir and savored his unique wit and sense of humor.

Another Labor Day has come and gone, a holiday that each year prompts me to reflect on my most recent time spent with Amir. Labor Day weekend 2014 was the last time I would ever see my sweet brother. We created some great memories that weekend, talking, drinking, taking long walks and relaxing with our parents. Fortunately, we had the chance to spend a few precious hours talking alone, during which we covered some important ground. I will always be grateful to have had that time together.

At the close of our lovely weekend together, I hugged Amir goodbye at the airport and watched him walk away from me, his tall, lanky, backpacked frame breezing through the automatic doors and disappearing into the terminal.

"Terminal" seems a sadly appropriate word now, doesn't it?

A few weeks ago, Amir's friend Ian sent me an email he titled "Found Treasure," in which he excitedly reported his recent discovery of some ink drawings Amir had created when he was 18. Fittingly, Ian labeled the series "Human League Hangman," which I imagine Amir would find entirely appropriate. After all, I can't think of any subject Amir would have been more inclined to designate for a round of hangman than "Musical band."

Upon opening Ian's email and checking out the photos, the first thought that occurred to me (as I smiled) was that I'd fucking forgotten Amir could draw so well.

How the fuck could I have failed to remember this one of his many talents? I need to search my own archives for more of these priceless objets d'art!

"Signed original!" Ian exclaimed in the email, declaring Amir's drawings among his most treasured possessions. And now they are among mine, as well.

Post-script: In spite of its user-friendliness, Blogger doesn't provide many options for tweaking the page layout so that photos appear the way you want them to. So be it.

April 25, 2018

April 7

April 7 was Amir's birthday. I wrote this piece at the time but decided to keep it to myself for a while.
My dearest brother, today, you SHOULD be 42. But you are not here to turn 42. That fact never gets easier to believe or write or say or think. The shocking sadness of that first year or two has subsided into a dull, relentless ache that sits on my chest and doesn't demand much in the way of grief. Sometimes it feels as though it will never truly sink in for me that you are not here. How is it possible? Fuck, you'd be so disappointed in yourself and the universe for letting you slip away so young and sharp and full of countless items left to check off your ever-growing "To Do" list. Like me, you'd feel fucking cheated and indignant at the world for stealing so many years from you.

The other night, I began thinking about how many regrets you'd have had you known your life would be cut short. I've thought a great deal about regret over the years and I have always tried to live my life such that, when my end comes, I have precious few true regrets about how I lived, loved, learned and treated other people. Still, as much as I've thought about regret in my life, I've never considered it more than I have since you died. What regrets did you have? What would you have changed, in haste, if you'd known your days were numbered? What would you have told me? What would you have written down or recorded for those of us who love you to find?

One thing that brings me peace in thinking of you is how proud and happy you were to have been able to be a confidante and counselor to me over the last year of your life. After years of frequent leaning on Yael and me for guidance and support, you had entered a period of stability and maturity in your life that allowed you to be there for us -- a welcome flip of the playbook, as you put it. You talked with me for hours, offering advice and support, and I know you felt proud that your guidance was trusted and helpful. Just two months before you died, the last time I saw you, you confided in me about some issues that had arisen in your life. In retrospect, I realize you may have admitted these things to me in the hopes that I could help or guide you, though I don't know if you'd have accepted help. I don't know if you actually needed help, nor whether you'd have realized it if you did. You wanted my advice about your girlfriend and your job, throwing in a confession about your having recently "dabbled" in some pills to help with your anxiety. You told me it was a minor sidestep off your chosen "clean" path and that you weren't willing to jeopardize your health, job or relationships to fall back into the inviting haze of self-medication, however much it beckoned you.

Amir, you were one of the most intelligent, funniest, brightest, sharpest human beings I have ever known. Those things mean nothing when it comes to susceptibility to anxiety, self-doubt, unease, overthinking and self-medicating. In fact, your brilliant mind and unique outlook on the world likely contributed to your inability to quiet the racing thoughts in your head when you needed to. Why isn't that a skill taught in school? Wouldn't the ability to quiet your mind and its relentlessly-swirling chatter be more valuable in terms of life skills than fucking algebra or chemistry? Why not teach children and teens the much-needed skill of calming their anxiety via meditation or journal-writing or deep breathing or even exercise? As someone who often falls victim to racing thoughts and endless brain chatter, I'd certainly have benefited from training in self-calming methods that don't rely on drugs or alcohol. I would wager there are few people who wouldn't benefit from such training.

Yet, there's still a horrible stigma around mental-health issues, no matter how slight, including the common misconception that it's a personality or character flaw. I have decided I need to make an effort to help people suffering from mental illness or addiction in any way I can. You'd be intrigued by my occasional toying with the idea of becoming a therapist or counselor, but you'd also relate to my uncertainty and agree that it may not be the best path for me. You would also likely support my longing to help people in other, smaller capacities, which I'm focusing on now. I have a unique and rich perspective on relating to people struggling with mental-health issues, including addiction. I can empathize with their battles and I believe that empathy, along with compassion, will get me farther than years of schooling and training to be a certified counselor. I know you would encourage me and support me in my efforts, limited as they are for now.

Back to you, brother. It's your birthday today and you should be here. You are so terribly missed. You might not have believed it had you known just how many people miss your presence in this world. Your absence is voluble every single day. I often wonder what words of wisdom you would impart to me? How would you guide me? What hilarious emails and texts would you send me daily to keep me laughing? How would you be celebrating your birthday? How much contempt and scorn would you muster for the absurdity of our political landscape?

On your birthday, I will listen to music you loved, read things that spoke to you or made you laugh, talk about you and celebrate you, as I do on so many days that are not April 7.

February 27, 2018

The Lunatic Lumberjack

A few weeks ago, I shared excerpts of some letters Amir had written his good friend Patrick in the late '90s, when he was 22. I've started a few other blog posts since then but nothing I'm ready to share just yet. In lieu of something new, here is a further amusing glimpse into Amir's mind, courtesy of his own detailed writings to a friend:

October 1998:
To the normal observer, Arcata [CA] seems to provide little food for thought. That is to say that it seems like a slow, ordinary, uneventful town. But Arcata's true eccentricities lie below its dank-nug, lumber-lined surface. There's an underlying text to McKinley's domain.
I'm sure you remember our friend who runs Hutchin's Liquor Store. Up until recently, I still held him in high esteem for the fact that he was the "strangest" guy in Arcata. Well, he's not. In fact, he's not even the strangest liquor store clerk in Arcata. I live downtown now, so my local beer supplier is Arcata Liquors, on the plaza. Every night when I go in, I am treated to the presence of the shifty, angry mountain man behind the counter. This is a big bearded man, with exploding pectorals and a neck the size of a small house. He's got narrow, threatening eyes and sometimes breathes heavily through his nostrils as if he were a wild boar.
Most of time, all you can get from him is an indifferent "How's it going?" or other empty salutation. He just sits back there, arms folded, looking like he's about to tear the world a new asshole. Sometimes, however, he's Mr. Joe Social and talks up a fucking storm to anybody who walks in. I think he's on coke, or maybe speed, when I see him act like this. He'll be pacing around, babbling to customers about bourbon, hunting elk, and how if one more damn hippie pays him for beer with pennies, he's going to declare war on this whole tie-dye clad group once and for all. Clearly, this man has a bone to pick, an axe to grind.
One night, I walked in... all I wanted was a bottle of vodka and some O.J. Well, the lumberjack probably just snorted a line out back because he was totally revved up and I could have sworn I saw veins popping out of his neck and his face was all flushed and he was doing that whole nostril-breathing thing again. I asked him how much for a 375ml bottle of Smirnoff and he proceeds to go on a tangent about vodka and the difference between brands. So I humor him for a moment: "Which one do you like best?" I ask.
Before I know it, he's got 4 or 5 bottles out on the counter and he's extolling the virtues of each one. "The Smirnoff is good," he says. "But Sky vodka is the cleanest."
"Really?" I mumble.
"Fuck yeah," he says, getting excited now. "Shit, man, last weekend some buddies and me were shooting birds down at the marsh and I got so fucked up on that shit that I almost had to crawl home on my hands and knees."
"Sounds like good shit," says I.
"You bet your ass it's good shit. Turned that marsh into Bosnia for a while, if you know what I mean." I didn't, and I was scared to ask.
[A few days later], I paid another visit to the aforementioned liquor store. This time, I was in line behind a gutter-punk street guy who asks of the lumberjack, "What's a good warm drink for a cold night like this?"
"Cyanide," the lunatic answers. Then, he looks at me, laughs (because I was chuckling at his recommendation) and rings me up.

January 13, 2018

On the Outside of Normalcy

2018 is upon us and still I struggle to accept that my brother is not here. The complexity of grief can be distilled into a simple fact: I miss him every day. There's always something I wish I could share with him, something he would find uproariously funny, something he would guide me through. Just last night, I watched a movie taking place in 1995 that featured a song Amir had introduced me to (and, as a side note, was not actually released until 1996, making it misused in the film). Sigh.

A few weeks ago, Amir's close friend Patrick Crawford sent me copies of a handful of letters Amir wrote to him in the late '90s, when they were in their early 20s. The letters are hilarious and dripping with Amir's typical flavor of sarcasm, angst, wild descriptions and intense cerebral navel-gazing. With Patrick's permission, I'd like to share some excerpts that offer a particularly deep dive into Amir's mind.

First, an intro from Patrick:
Your brother and I were frustrated writers...we emulated the Beat correspondence of the 1950's as pen pals in the late 1990's.
I sent him 4 letters and he responded with 4 letters.
I have those four letters and they are awesome.
I have cherished these letters for years because they are so honest and real and just really funny and a snap shot of the times.
They are also dark and dry and talk of depression, drugs, and loneliness.
These are personal letters only meant for me to read. However, I really feel you need to read them because they will give you another glimpse at his fantastic brain and sense of humor.
Amir's letter to Patrick, October 1998:
Now and then, I'll strum the guitar, jot down some lines, or have a sick silly time getting drunk with Berman and Levy and these activities are my respite from dull reality. My love life is in a state of quiet desperation as all of the wistful eyes those college girls turn to me soon look away, and my reaction is usually to laugh and say something cynical and mocking to myself to try to dull the wound. But the fact is, loneliness only comes in short spurts for me--most of the time I'm content to be absorbed in music and books and gratified by wordy exchanges with fellow slackers.
Yes, it's good to be on the outside of normalcy. Respectable life is far too sterile. I bring this up to you because you and I are educational misfits... we are self-taught stylists and the more we cultivate our own art, the more artistic it becomes as all great art (grand statement) is the result of individuality.
I've just completed a long day of work and am relishing the silence of solitude... One thing I can say about the last few months is that I've become real chummy with our dreaded friend loneliness. Solitary living has become an uncomfortable reality. When I'm not at work, I spend all my time reading and writing. I've actually become quite diligent in my writing practice. It's really the only thing that keeps me sane. But I do love good novels, and lately I've been devouring one book after another, sometimes reading all night long.
Some recent favorites include: Rand - The Fountainhead; Hemingway - A Farewell to Arms; Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden; Kerouac - Vanity of Duluoz; Kesey - Sometimes a Great Notion; Wolfe - Short Stories. I am truly addicted to the written word, almost to a fault. It's gotten so that I almost substitute the fantasy world of novels for real-life experience.
"Addicted to the written word"... there's an addiction I have shared with Amir since we were kids. It's an addiction we talked about for hours at a time, one we shared with Yael and one I'm proud to have retained over the years. My life would be sorely lacking without it.

But it's Amir's line about being "on the outside of normalcy" that I carefully ingested and, holy mother of shit, do I relate to it. In myriad, infinite ways. Since I was very young, I could recognize the feeling that I existed somewhere on the edge of what others perceived as normal or typical. I never felt completely at ease with other kids, apart from Amir. Even at a young age, I could sense that he shared my feelings of not quite belonging; of being fascinated by geeky things like maps and encyclopedias and astronomy; of being an inveterate introvert in a world of extroverts.

I agree that, the majority of the time, it IS good to be on the outside of normalcy. I welcome it. However, Amir and I talked occasionally about how much easier and less anxiety-filled our lives would be if we could experience life inside that boundary of normalcy, if only temporarily. But we agreed we wouldn't be happy existing in that sphere for long. I have always believed that, in spite of its pitfalls, the outside of normalcy is a far more interesting place to dwell. I like it here.

The superb Joan Didion once said: "I am a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people." I relate to this in every way possible, knowing too well that strange longing to connect with what I imagined (and have learned) were a precious few others in the world who felt similarly. Amir was one of them. And how fucking lucky does that make me to have had him as a brother?

More letters to Patrick at a later date. For now, here's to a happy 2018. xo

November 21, 2017

Three Long Years

As impossible as it is to believe, Wednesday marks three seemingly endless years since Amir went on ahead and left us behind to endure this life without him. The vast, cavernous hole of his absence in our lives never shrinks, however we strive to fill it with love and support, of which my sister, my parents and I are lucky to have from so many sides. 

On those occasions when I allow my brain to venture into territory unbefitting of an otherwise optimistic, hopeful human, I ponder how sad it is not to believe in some sort of life after death, if only because I wish so badly I could see Amir again. Then, inching further down that depressing rabbit hole, I think that if I did believe in an afterlife, I'd consider killing myself just to be with him again--even just to spend a few precious hours talking to him. Then, I think how fucking furious he would be with me if I did that and how he'd kick my sorry ass all the way back to the land of the living. Then, as I often do when thinking of Amir, I laugh to myself at the idea of how he'd react to such ridiculousness.

For those who knew him well enough to be beneficiaries of his wit and cleverness, Amir's absence is painfully reflected in the acute decline of sharp humor in our lives and will continue to be felt through the years. As far as I'm concerned, every fucking day that goes by without a snarky text or email from my brother is deficient, for as much as I strive to acquire life's essential levity and ridiculousness from other sources, none will never match what Amir dished out. Nor would I want it to--he had a sharp tongue unlike no other.

So, in asking all of you to remember and celebrate Amir this week specifically, I'll share some further glimpses into his singular mind (from various emails):

Sept. 2005I'm shamelessly enjoying some Hall and Oates on the radio, nursing my second beer, and missing you intensely, as I have not a soul to share my BRUTALLY APOCALYPTIC thoughts with. With love and disgust, Amir (self-style black sheep of Prizant lineage).

Oct. 2007After talking to Yael today, I am now firmly convinced that we are a clan Under the Gun. Somebody, something is clearly testing Team Prizant and, of course, we are more than ready to meet the challenge. I can't remember a time in which we've experienced so much uncertainty as a family. I too feel as if I'm in limbo, and change is a foregone conclusion. As for you, I ask that you remember Timon and Pumbaa from "The Lion King" and the wisdom of "Hakuna Matata," which means "no worries." Bobby McFerrin may have been on to something after all. I have no doubt that you will succeed, against all odds. I'll stick with the gambling metaphors and tell you that my money's on YOU; I'm willing to bet the farm that everything will work out fine, as it always does.

Dec. 2009Bored at work, though I did just have a 50-year-old woman introduce herself to me as the "resident cougar" of the tennis club. I suppose she was hitting on me, though it was hard to see her facial expression through all the botox.

October 20, 2017

This Game's in the Refrigerator

Chick Hearn

As I'm sure I've mentioned on too many occasions, Amir was a committed L.A. Lakers fan beginning from the age of about 8 or 9. He loved Magic and Kareem and Worthy and he reveled in the mid-80s Lakers/Celtics rivalry. Of course, every Lakers fan loved the team's inimitable play-by-play announcer, Chick Hearn (who purportedly coined such terms as "slam dunk" and "air ball").

In 1986, someone produced this fantastic mix of memorable "Chickisms" and interjections over an unfussy, out-of-the-box drum-machine beat. The "Rap-Around" got some airplay on local radio and, of course, Amir and his young buddies went fucking apeshit for it (including Mike Kelly, who reminded me of the song's existence just a few months ago):

Chick Hearn, "Rap-Around" (YouTube)

Amir adored Chick's colorful language and phrasing, just like my father loved Yogi Berra's. I loved hearing them laugh from the TV room while watching a game; joining them occasionally, I'd snicker right along with them when Chick threw out gems such as "The mustard's off the hot dog." Owing to my minimal interest in the sport itself, I found the witty wordplay of announcers like Chick to be the most enjoyable part of listening to a game.

As a young kid, Amir filled notebooks meticulously with pages of sports statistics and scores. He collected baseball cards and preserved them carefully and lovingly in plastic sleeves filling scores of three-ring binders, which he cherished. As a teenager and into his 20s, he wrote fairly extensively and wittily about sports, particularly basketball and baseball. I often encouraged him to parlay his extraordinary perceptiveness, cleverness and natural wordsmithing talent into becoming a sports writer. He could have been so fucking great, infusing sharp humor and wit into observations derived from his bottomless knowledge of and love for sports (a la the fabulous Frank Deford, whose greatness in my eyes comes from the fact that I enjoyed his sports commentary tremendously in spite of my possessing almost no knowledge of or interest in the subject matter).

An aside: in writing this post, I came across this Chick Hearn quote, uttered at the point in a game when it became clear the Lakers were en route to victory: "This game's in the refrigerator: The door's closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-o's jiggling." I don't remember having heard the phrase before, but I'm sure Amir had, as its influence was clear in his writing style. Plus, I'd bet he got a huge fucking kick out of it and that makes me smile even now.