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It’s All Right, It’s Okay, You May Look the Other Way

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on October 19, 2017

When we were with my dad on his first (and last) day in the Palliative Wing the nurse asked me what kind of music my father would like to listen to, since they had a small CD player with speakers in each patient’s room. I was still in shock, still trying to call various people, and still dealing with the unrelenting volume that comes with Italian relatives that I think I uttered something along the lines of “What did you ask about cheese?” So the staff chose Andrea Bocelli, and the moment the music started playing I finally snapped back to awareness, thinking, “This has to be the kindest, most thoughtful example of ethnic profiling ever.”

The music was ostensibly for my dad, but like a funeral or a wake it was also very much for those who had come to visit and grieve. And equally as important, asking us to choose the music was the nurse’s extremely empathetic gesture to allow us a sliver of control in a situation in which we had none, to let us do something for my dad when we really couldn’t do anything at all but be there.

All of this comes in to play over the past two Sally Forth strips. Hearing the music chosen by the staff is what snaps Ted out of his shock. Demanding what music should instead be played is Ted’s way of both trying to do something when he feels can’t do anything for his dad. And by speaking up for his dad, by saying what his dad would prefer instead, he can give his dad a voice and so still emphasize he has not left yet.

Yes, my dad loved disco. Even though he was in his 40s when it the disco era began, my dad loved to dance and so this became the soundtrack from here on out. Sure, he listened to all kinds of music, but disco made him both happy and energetic. So he would play the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack over the outdoor speakers when we were on the patio. He would play it in the car, resulting in speeds that are not recommended on suburban roads. And he played it in the open garage as he silkscreened his line of softer pornographic t-shirts. (In case the sentence itself didn’t clearly indicate, the link is to a post both endearing yet decidedly mature-audience in content. It also involves Bugs Bunny.)

Now, my dad didn’t hate Andrea Bocelli. He would sit through whatever concert footage PBS would show during pledge drives as he and my mom waited to see the next episode of Poirot or Inspector Morse. But he found it all a bit dull. Yes, he liked Luciano Pavarotti in an era when I think all Italians legally had to in the 80s, but he never liked it when he covered pop songs. And my dad didn’t exactly rush to the movie theater or stop flipping channels when Yes, Giorgio came out or aired.

As for disco, I will say mentioning a song by name in the context of the current storyline proved an absolute minefield given just how many of the genre’s most popular titles inadvertently mention death or illness—”Stayin’ Alive,” “I Will Survive,” “Night Fever,” and so on. “Night Fever” was a particularly hard one to skip because I do like the song and it was to serve as the outro music at the very end of this entire story arc, but I thought better of it. In fact, I had written a strip in which Ted, trying to say what song his dad should be listening to, rattles off those very three titles only to realize what he is saying and ask someone to make him stop talking. And it was in the second to last draft of this week’s script (yes, I do a few drafts and not just ramble on the paper as some may think) when I was still wresting with how wrong that would sound. And so it was in the shower (sorry for that image)—where along with walking several miles a day I do my writing—when inspiration struck and I ran out naked (REALLY sorry for that image) and made the changes. I think being able to do that may be one of the perks of working from home. I mean, sure, I guess you can run naked to an office job, but that would have involved me hauling ass for several blocks to BusinessWeek. And true, if that were the case why wouldn’t I just take the subway or a cab instead? But taking public transportation naked seems all too predetermined, deliberate, and completely insane. Whereas just running out naked is far more immediate, extemporaneous, and would lead people to exclaim, “Now there’s a person on the go!”

Let me conclude by addressing a few comments that have come up the past two days. Some have mentioned that during their own visit to a Palliative Wing they never encountered any music or cd player, and so the very situation presented in the strip is patently false. All I can share is what I experienced. As I have said before, just because it happened to me does not make it universal. But because someone else’s experiences differed does not make what is shown here false.

Which brings us to a very important point—to have a story be approachable by many I believe you have to be singular in its telling. If you flatten it out too much—if you avoid personal experiences, brand names, a unique perspective—the story becomes so bland as to almost become unreal. But if you go all in on the detail, a strange thing happens. You don’t distance yourself from most readers simply because the minutiae differ from what they recall. Instead, you give them something tangible that they can hold, study, and relate to. It’s like when you share an anecdote with a friend and they respond with “Oh, that reminds me of when…” It let’s someone react, respond, and return to a moment in their own life. In the end, not every story should be a mirror. But every story should be a passageway.

7 Responses

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  1. Bill said, on October 19, 2017 at 11:54 am

    I’m going to try not to comment too often here and at the comic site over this arc, but I appreciate this tale and the effort (and truthtelling) you and Jim Keefe have put into it. But mostly, I appreciate the additionally commentary you provide here at Mediumlarge. This sharing of common experience is what makes us human. Thanks for the reminder.

    • cesco7 said, on October 19, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Thank you, Bill. And thank you very much for reading the strip, reading these posts, and taking the time to write.

  2. kathiwrites2013 said, on October 19, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    This is so beautifully written and says so much. Love the memories you shared and your Dad sounds like a one-of-a-kind man who would have been incredible to know and love. A real “character” in the best sense of that word. I’m so sorry for your loss, Ces.

    • cesco7 said, on October 19, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Thank you very much, Kathi.

  3. Jose C said, on October 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    My dad was partial to reel to reel tapes of American Airlines in flight music from the 60’s amongst other things. How he put up with me putting a reel of Monster by Steppenwolf on that same tape deck and not strangling me while I slept I will ponder to the day I pass on myself.

  4. oldskool said, on October 19, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    … was not expecting a literal L.O.L there, but the double meaning background music (noted earlier as a nod to tv) mixed with the internal reality it was the hospital’s… That was sheer brilliance!

  5. LBD "Nytetrayn" said, on October 22, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    “Some have mentioned that during their own visit to a Palliative Wing they never encountered any music or cd player, and so the very situation presented in the strip is patently false.”

    It’s a sad thing in today’s world that some people think the only experiences anyone has are their own.

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