Only his neighbor Jorge knew the old guy was sick. In fact, Mr. Casten had been failing for almost two years. Whenever Jorge saw the old man, he asked if there was anything he could do to help. When Mr. Casten was not seen for a week, Jorge would go knock on his door. If the old guy felt well enough he would stand in the doorway and talk for a while. If it was morning, he would invite Jorge in for a cup of coffee.
By the time Casten had passed away, Jorge probably knew him as well as anyone. Their little chats on the stairs, in the doorway or at the kitchen table revealed a lot about an old guy who had lived alone in the same small apartment most of his adult life. The place was stuffed with memories and memorabilia.
Mr. Casten had collected and saved things throughout life, but in the last few years he tried to de-clutter his small existence. He gave things away to charity resale shops. He sent pictures he had from his parents on to other relatives. He even sold some items on eBay. It was all too late to clean up the house, however. Mr. Casten’s small efforts were not enough after a lifetime of accumulation.
Since there were no siblings, no children, no mate, the matter of cleanup and disposal was left to a crew of cousins. Jorge know just who to call as Mr. Casten had prepared a list of contacts in case of his untimely demise. Although Mr. Casten was only in his late 60’s, his death arrived right on schedule the way Jorge saw it. Mr. Casten has gone as far as he could.
When the cousins arrived one Saturday morning to clean out the apartment, Jorge was waiting with the key that had been entrusted to him by Mr. Casten. Four cousins and two of their teen age sons figured they would make fast work of the four room apartment. They figured wrong.
“Oh my, who knew one person could collect so much stuff,” cousin Raymond declared. “This could take all day!”
“Mr. Casten said to tell you guys to be sure to take for yourselves anything you want, then give anything else that is still good to charity.”
“And did you take something, Jorge?” cousin David said in a rather accusing tone.
“Yes,” Jorge replied calmly. “I took the coffee cup he always gave me to drink out of. It was the only thing I wanted.”
“Well, I heard he had a good baseball card collection,” cousin Jeff chimed in. “I would like to have that if we can find it.”
“He’s got a lot of CDs here,” Raymond said in amazement. “I think I will see what I need.”
“Hey dad,” one of the teenagers shouted out to David. “He’s got a lot of DVDs. I am going to see if he has anything decent to watch”
As they randomly picked through the goods, cousin John grabbed one of the teenagers and said, “Let’s get to work. With those guys working so hard out there, we will never get out of here!”
So John and a bored teenager went to the kitchen in search of large garbage bags. “Under the sink,” Jorge instructed.
Armed with a box of bags, Jorge, John and the teenager went to the bedroom to empty closets and drawers. John told the teenager to take everything in the closets and put it in bags for donation. If it looked in bad shape, he should put it in a separate bag for the garbage. John decided to do the same with the dresser.
As John and Jorge took items from the dresser, they found many new things in each drawer. There were clothes with tags, new socks and underwear in packages, pajamas that were never worn and sweaters that looked new.
“I thought the old guy could not afford much,” John said in amazement.
“I think he was always afraid of running out of something,” Jorge said. “He told me more than once that he was afraid to be poor and have nothing, so he kept everything and did not use anything until he needed it.”
“If he lived another 10 years he would not have to buy any clothes,” John said somewhat incredulously.
“Yeah, I think that was the idea,” Jorge noted.
Mr. Casten’s mother had grown up in the Great Depression. She had nothing, so in her adult life she saved everything. Anything that had value or possible use, she would save for whenever she might need it. Of course, she had many things she never used, but they were there “just in case.”
When Casten was young, he knew they did not have much and he saw how his mother managed to get through the years with what they accumulated. He naturally took on the same habits. While everything may have seemed a jumbled mess to outside observers, especially cousins who never came to call, it was an organized home for Mr. Casten.
After many runs to the resale shop and the outside garbage cans, the crew had made a good deal of progress. John declared he would return with one of the boys to finish the job the next day.
“That box in the corner marked pictures should also say ‘Cousins’ on the top,” Jorge remembered to tell them. “You should take that with you.”
“What would we want with a box of old pictures?” David said rather sarcastically.
So Jorge explained that collection. “Mr. Casten thought that maybe someone would want to see them at a wake or service to remember how he looked, since he had not been invited to any family event in years. I would guess you guys would be in a lot of those pictures from long ago.”
The cousins said nothing. John grabbed the box on the way out.
“Karen Lewis was fearless.” It was the opening line of her obituary on the Chicago Sun-Times website. The Chicago Teachers Union President had endured treatment for brain cancer in 2015. In October of 2017 she had suffered a stroke. She had surgery for a malignant brain tumor. Through it all she battled on, and was widely respected for her tenacity and survival.
It was no surprise that her death would highlight the courage of her struggles. There was just one little problem with the story as was mentioned on Lewis’ Facebook page, “Contrary to an unfortunate slip, I am not dead.”
Yes, the 64-year-old labor leader and brain cancer survivor is alive and living in Chicago.
Did you ever wonder how a periodical could publish a lengthy story on a famous person’s life just moments after they die? Obituaries for prominent people are usually written before their deaths. They may be updated from time to time and only need minor edits when a famous person finally goes to the great beyond (or wherever it is you think people go for an “after life”) . When celebrities drop dead, it is no time to start researching the details of their lives. Pre-written obituaries are a common practice. Publishing them while the person is still alive is not.
Few get to learn of their own death while they are still alive. Apparently Lewis took the error in good humor. The obituary, which was online for a few hours, was taken down before Lewis or family members had seen it. She did learn of the opening line, however. Apparently believing the long time Chicago publication would have to say nice things of the dead, Lewis commented, “I think it’s a mitzvah…but I’m not sure it’s true.”
“James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – Mark Twain
While Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour in 1897, a London-based reporter was sent learn of the condition of Twain’s health. If Twain was dead, the reporter, Frank Marshall White, should send back 1000 words to the New York Journal. If alive, apparently 500 words would do. Meanwhile, according to legend, one paper had indeed printed an obituary for Twain. Was the great American humorist amused by this?
White wrote an article that appeared in the NY Journal in June of 1897. In part he said:
“Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London …”
Twain had sent back in writing what is now an often misquoted response. Twain’s hand-written response is restated above.
What if your obituary appeared online? What would it say? Would it recount that you are “fearless?” Would it see you as a great humorist? Would it recount the highlights of your life? Or would there be little to say? Would anything written be supplied by relatives after your death?
If someone was charged with writing a thousand words about your life, and you could read them now, how would this influence you? If the words were kind and encouraging, would this lead you to a better life? Would you try to live up to the words someone was about to supply upon your death? Would you try to have all the qualities relayed about you? Would you try to build on that legacy?
What if the words were not at all flattering? Would that inspire you to change your ways? Would you have a Scrooge-like awakening and live a better life? Would you be more kind? More generous? More loving?
We probably do not think much about our own obituaries. Those who do not have much public standing in the community will not get much more than the standard newspaper notice that includes a list of relatives and the time of funeral services. But what if you have a little bit of notoriety? Do you care what is written as your legacy when you are gone? What influence would there be on your life if you could read your obituary as it would be published today?
Even without online or social media notices, or publication in the local or national newspapers, we will all get an obituary, so to speak, in eulogies at funerals or memorial services. If these do not exist for you (and why not?) then there are the comments of your family and friends when they gather to honor your memory. If cousin Lewis is likely to sing your praises, having been a drinking buddy and travel companion, Aunt Bertha might just come along and upset the gladioli cart with her honest opinions of your character.
Your homework assignment before we convene here again next Sunday is to write your obituary. Pick out the highlights and significant life events. Write it all down. Is that really what someone would write in your obituary? Seriously? If it is not exactly what you want, dear Ebenezer, it may not be too late to change, as the report of your death has been grossly exaggerated.
Sources: “Reports of Mark Twain’s Quip about his death…” thisdayinquotes.com May 31, 2015 “Karen Lewis See Funny Side Of Her Erroneously Published Obituary,” ChicagoTribune.com January 8, 2018
You see stuff online — Facebook mostly — about “could you live in this lovely (log cabin) house (in the middle of really nowhere) without WiFi? And everyone says “Oh sure! I could live in that great little house — in the middle of a huge woods by a cold lake where the nearest shopping center is 50 miles on dirt roads — forever without so much as a VOIP phone.
Sure you could. NOT.
I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t even want to try. Because that’s not life or at least not my life.
There was a time when I could imagine a life without computers. I think that was before I owned a computer, before every house everywhere had one or many computers. Before every single thing in the house got “connected” and computerized in some way. Before your toilet got so smart you have to argue with it about the whole “flushing” thing. Before we had things in the house that you could talk to and would more or less would run your house for you, even if you weren’t there personally.
To be clear, I don’t have any of those super smart appliances because while I dearly love WiFi, if the power is out I need to know the toilet will flush anyway and the refrigerator will keep the food cold as long as I don’t open the door. I want to be smarter than my toilet or refrigerator. Call me crazy, but I like to keep at least one leg up on life.
But life without any computers? Without a way to blog? Oh, I suppose I could use a typewriter … but what would I do with it after that? There IS no blog without WiFi. And my wrists would not thank me.
Can I survive without Photoshop and Topaz filters? Without a Kindle? Or a GPS?
That sounds more like death than life. A computer is not just email. It’s all kinds of communications and these days, it really IS communications. Pretty much all communications is electronic in one way or another. Photography and writing. Paying bills, shopping, and entertainment. Games. Keeping in touch with the world and the people in it, without whom life would be incredibly lonesome.
So if I must have a life without computers, I am probably dead. Unless there are afterlife computers. You know, from Comp-AfterLife.com? Those “special” computers so the undead can keep in touch?
“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” — Old English proverb, dating to the 14th century.
Mass suicide at Jonestown – Nov 18, 1978
There has been an upsurge of interest in Jonestown over the past few years. This post went by with little notice when I wrote it — about 4 years ago. Since then, it has developed a life of its own. Not surprising given the current state of disunion in this country and elsewhere. Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits. More importantly, so do their followers.
This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning. Talk is not harmless. Lies matter. Corruption kills. To those of you who blindly follow, I hope you’re keeping the long spoon handy. I have a gut feeling you will eventually need it.
Tomorrow is the 39th anniversary of the massacre. A good time to remember.
From Nothing, Something Terrible Comes – Remembering Jonestown
If you are my age or near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are younger, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV or read a newspaper, you could hardly forget it. With fundamentalism enjoying a rebirth among our politicians and so-called religious leaders it’s a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing has led in the past and where it could easily lead in the future.
There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened; time has not made it less so.
The Road to Jonestown
The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the way back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. The origin of the saying is something else — darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.
Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly awful episode of American history.
Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist and occasional Methodist minister, he founded his pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”
The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it combined a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.
It was never a real church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It required a level of commitment and financial support from members plus a degree of obedience that’s the defining quality of a cult.
Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac. But he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included three Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had a child of their own.
The “Rainbow Family”
Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this story ultimately climaxes in the murder of all the Jones children by their parents.
The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested afterwards, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?
Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California and before the expected apocalypse, he moved the Temple and its peoples there. When the end-of-the-world deadline passed without a holocaust, Jones quit pretending to be a Christian and revealed himself as an atheist who used religion to give his own opinions legitimacy. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words since Jones was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.
As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.
In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people to a different site that Jones had been working on since 1974. It was located in Guyana and he modestly named it “Jonestown.” It was a bleak, inhospitable place. Built on 4000 acres with limited access to water, it was much too small and seriously overcrowded. Temple members had to work long hours just to keep from starving.
Nonetheless, Jones decided his people would farm the land of his utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown (he confiscated all his followers’ money), but wealth was not distributed. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a tiny, bare-bones shared house.
All Hell Breaks Loose
U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate rumors of abuses in Jonestown. Ryan didn’t travel alone. He took a contingent of media people including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. He assumed that this would protect him — a major miscalculation.
During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.
If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, remember they had not been allowed to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.
Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked with a knife by temple member Don Sly. This would-be assassin was stopped before Ryan was hurt. Eventually the Ryan party decided to leave. They and the Jonestown defectors drove to the airstrip and boarded planes.
Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” — after the Congressional party. These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.
When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.
He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled. Faced with this invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR or run into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide.
On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment by giving them cups of liquid that supposedly contained poison. Which they drank (???). After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.
Jim Jones had been stockpiling poisons — cyanide and other drugs — for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.
Don’t Drink It!
After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid, a beverage similar to Kool-Aid.
Jones told his followers they should commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable debate. Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying members to the USSR.
Of course, Jones was never really interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.
Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.
Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were allowed to drink poison from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped — primarily those who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.
Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head. It’s unclear if it was self-inflicted. Jones probably died last or nearly so and likely preferred the gun to cyanide. He had witnessed the horrendous effects of death by cyanide and preferred something quicker.
What’s With the Kool-Aid?
In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.
Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind. Therefore, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.
What with Halloween just around the corner, this seemed a good moment to revisit my all-time favorite vampire show, Forever Knight.
I discovered Forever Knight when it was in reruns on the Sci Fi channel. It was showing around 2 in the morning. Garry was working the dawn patrol and had already left for work by the time the show came on. I was working from home, allowing me to sometimes see my husband before he was off to work … and indulge my taste for weird TV shows you could only see in the middle of the night.
I became an addict. I needed my knightly fix. They were showing season two when I found the show. I didn’t see the first season until I bought the DVDs (used) on Amazon. We watched them one winter when the ice and snow locked us into the house. It proved a good antidote to cabin fever.
How cool can a cop show be? This one is extremely cool. A vampire, repenting of his formerly evil ways, joins the Toronto police department. How does he get around the whole “vampires can’t be in the sun” business? Not to mention they “only drink blood” thing? He has this big old American car with a huge trunk in which he can hide in a “sun” emergency. Drinks cow’s blood. Works the night shift. Invents a massive allergy to the sun to explain his inability to work days.
Nick Knight is more than 800 years old. A vampire working homicide. He is trying (with the help of Natalie, a lovely young coroner) to regain his humanity. Knight is not his name, of course. He was an actual knight in the 13th century when he became a vampire.
The show ran from 1992 to 1996, though the pilot ran in 1989. The DVDs divide into three seasons and no, I don’t understand how they count seasons. There are 22 shows in the first season, 26 in the second, 22 in the third for a total of 70 episodes.
The original broadcast channel in North America was CBS — May 5, 1992 to May 17, 1996. The show also ran in Germany, England and Australia. I don’t know if it was ever shown in Canada where in theory, it all happened. It has been rerun in several places since including the Sci Fi channel in the U.S. My DVD set originated in Germany and was afterwards repackaged in the U.S. The American and German sets are different in length editing. The German versions are longer and sexier. Mine came in boxes that say made in USA, but the DVDs were pressed in Germany. This link (in Wikipedia gives a full list of episodes. I think I have the “good” set.
A cop show with a vampire as the lead detective? It isn’t just a guilty pleasure. It’s actually a good show and was well ahead of its time. And last, but not least, it’s witty and clever.
Geraint Wyn Davies plays Detective Nick Knight. He also co-wrote and directed many of the shows. Nigel Bennett is Lucien LaCroix, Knight’s maker and the weirdest overnight DJ in radio history. Deborah Duchêne plays Janette DuCharme, Nick’s sexy vampire “sister” and sometimes lover. Catherine Disher is Natalie Lambert, the police coroner and Nick’s sort-of love interest.
The acting is good. The scripts are coherent, thematic, often with a moral twist and some interesting philosophical speculations. Who would have guessed Toronto was crawling with vampires? Fortunately most of the show’s undead are surprisingly circumspect showing far more restraint than they have shown in their pasts, which are seen in flashback.
During the show’s final season, when the producers, director and cast knew they were not being renewed, they methodically kill off the entire cast. That third season is memorable. Fascinating. Also, pretty much unavailable. It took me a couple of years to find a used set of them. If you want to see it, you’ll have to come here and watch in my house.
Forever Knight Season 1and Forever Knight Season 2can be purchased via Amazon Instant Video. Season 3 is not — for the moment — available anywhere I know of. Netflix has some part of it on DVD, but I don’t have a DVD plan and they won’t let me search to find out which seasons they’ve got. I’m betting they rent it DVD by DVD. There are 5 or 6 DVDs per season with 5 or 6 episodes on each disc. I bet they don’t have all three seasons either.
Garry and I have watched our way through the entire series twice, so it may have been a bargain after all. It’s a lot of entertainment … a lot of bang for the bucks. And what with Halloween an annual event, a Forever Knight marathon is always a good choice.
It’s fun. Well-written. Original, Unique. Sexy. Creative. It won’t gross you out with gallons of blood and gore, but I love it when Nick’s eyes glow orange or green, depending on circumstance. I like the music and Toronto is a fine city.
I recommend Forever Knight, though I’m not sure what you can do about season three. Invitations to watch at our house are available via Ticketmaster. Please bring your own beer and pretzels.
Gunpowder. TNT. Guns. Nuclear power. Anything that makes guns, modern weapons, and modern warfare possible. No landmines, howitzers, or automatic weapons.
I’m okay with knives, swords, maces, bludgeons, ropes, and other weapons of personal, intimate destruction. I want to eliminate everything that blows up, shoots, explodes, or kills from a distance — or en mass.
If you want to kill someone, you’ll have to do it face-to-face. Up close and personal. If you want to kill someone, stand up and fight. Beat him up. Have a knife fight. Gore is fine, but the blood will spray on you, too.
You can’t kill anyone from a distance. You can’t site your target with a sniper rifle from a rooftop. No sniper rifles exist. Not even a pistol.
Since I have this power to undo what has been done — and I’m sure there’s time travel involved here — if you try to work around this, I’ll take away your bows-and-arrows too.
Behave yourselves and don’t run with scissors. It’s okay to stab your neighbor with a pair or beat his or her head in with a bat because hey, we’re human. Killing are us.