Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sketch 1: Campervan and 25 years later

I remember Pat loading his campervan that morning as if the night before never happened. Annette, Doug and Gwen were sleeping off their hangovers, but he was up early getting ready to leave. 

He went from porch to van to porch to van, moving the boxes he’d packed between finals to their proper spots on the floor between the seats. His hair followed him like flaxen wake. 

Bing, his cat was mildly intrigued by the long braided leather lanyard, which held his keys, swinging from the back pocket of his cutoff Levis. But it was too hot to attack. 

When the last box was in, Pat stopped and pulled off his sweat-stained concert tee – I think it was an old Yes concert shirt – wiped his face and hands with it, and put it carefully on the back seat. He grabbed a cotton BoSox jersey from the front seat and put it on. 

“Good morning,” I said, weakly, from just inside the paint-choked screen door. 

He stopped and stared in the side-view mirror of the van, his back to me. He pulled a rubber band from his pocket and tied back his hair. 

“Morning,” he responded finally. He did not turn to look at me as he fussed with his hair a little more. The he moved to the back of the van, opened the hood and fiddled with the engine a moment, let the hood slam, then came up to the porch, holding his now greasy hands up like a surgeon after washing. He stopped just outside the screen.

“Would you open it for me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded, and opened the door and moved aside. He breezed past me to the kitchen. I could hear water come on and off quickly, then heard the step-can open and shut. He then came back out to where I stood, and stopped right before me. 

He looked right into my eyes, just as he always did when he spoke to me, when he spoke to anyone, but it made you think they were there for you. They were green or hazel or whatever we never agreed they were, but they drew me in and he never knew it and he did not know right then, either, that if he asked me to drive to the Andes with him in that rickety tin can on wheels – right there, right then – I would have done it. 

My mouth opened slightly. I wanted to say something, start stuttering it, “I … I … I…,” but he started speaking first. 

“Just send my piece of the deposit when you can. I trust you.”


He kept looking right at me – not staring – looking. My eyes darted back and forth from his left to his right but his gaze was fixed at the center of me.

“It was fun last night. Hope we can do that again someday.”


He let go his gaze slowly, as if following a feather floating through the air. The imaginary feather took his gaze to Bing. He walked outside and grabbed the feline like sack of potatoes. Before the screen door slapped back into the frame, he and Bing were in the van. 

I heard the engine roar and watched them back out of the driveway, and disappear beyond the hedgerow. He waved. 

It was then that I noticed I’d been wearing only a bra and panties. 

(x years later)

One man on the other side of the table never looked up. From the moment he walked in, sat down, and started writing notes, he never looked up. Occasionally, when one of his team spoke, he nodded in approval but he kept writing. Not typing into his Ipad like everyone else – writing in a pad of paper in a weathered oxblood leather binder with a Mont Blanc pen. He never once checked his cell phone like the rest of us. 

He wore no tie or undershirt like the rest of his team, just a clean black jacket, black slacks, a white oxford shirt. He ran his hand over his grayed brush cut every now and then, as if checking to see if his hair was still there. It was all there, more so than his younger team members. 

At one point in the negotiations, as his one of his colleagues spoke, he stopped writing for a moment and stared at a point in the center of the table. He quietly laid his pen down and soundlessly drummed his fingers on the table, to his right. As the colleague continued to speak about an important contract rider, his brows came together and I saw something familiar in his eyes. Then he quickly grabbed the pen, put his eyes back to the paper, and started writing again. 

During the first break he walked swiftly outside to a water fountain. Two of his colleagues followed him with travel mugs full of coffee and chatted with him as he took a sip of water. I could see through the glass that he was talking to them, but he did not look at them. When they were finished talking to him, they nodded heads and walked away. The man then leaned against the wall, held his left hand to his chin with his left elbow in his right hand. And he stared into the imaginary spot in the center of the table again from the hall.h

I could see his eyes and then I knew. They were hazel, or green, or whatever we never agreed they were. They were all that I could be sure identified him as Pat, but I was certain. I walked outside to where he was and without looking at him I took a long drink from the fountain. He did not acknowledge my presence, but kept staring. 

When I finished my drink of water, I stood up and looked at him. His eyes instantly shifted and he looked right at me. 

“I … uh …” I started

He kept looking right into the center of me. 

“… Pat?” 

“How have you been, Cynthia?” (He NEVER once called me ‘Cindy’ like the rest.) He said this warmly. Or at least that’s what I felt wash all over me. I was afraid for a nanosecond that I’d wet myself. But I felt relaxed all of a sudden. 

“Well, it’s been what – 25 years?”


“The last time I saw you, you just packed up and left us, you and Bing…” I was starting to relax. I fiddled with my wristwatch and looked about the office. But he kept his gaze right on me, and he still held his chin in his hands. 

“You had that ancient VW – what was it, already 15 years old when we graduated? And you packed it that morning and you left. We were all hung over, but you got up like you’d drunk water the night before…and packed your van. You’d packed your boxes all that week between finals, you didn’t study at all!” 

One of the lawyers called us back in the room. People started filing back in. But Pat and I stayed at the water fountain, him still with his chin in his hand, me rambling on.

“And you had that Yes shirt on that day, and you switched into a BoSox jersey before you left. I remember it like it was five minutes ago! How…” I started to ask, but he moved. He straightened his back and let his arms down, slowly to his side. 

“How have you been?" I said, dropping to a whisper. I went to look into his eyes, but he moved his gaze back to the conference room, through the glass. Then a sly grin slid over his face and he blushed.

“I remember you were wearing just bra and panties.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Brief Stint As a Performing Musician.

Bill's parents were gone for the weekend and he was throwing one more epic party before he and many of my other older friends left for college. He invited my friend Roger and me, but we had misgivings about going. Our friend Tony would be performing there with his band, and Roger and I had sticks up our asses about Tony impregnating some girl and abandoning her. We got uptight about that kind of stuff. 

Bill implored us to show up. He and I could take the mic between the band's sets and play our music, for fun. Unlike the guys in Tony's band, who could play music, Bill and I could bang out a few chords and maybe riff a melody and make it sound OK. 

Well, Bill could. He taught me how to write three-chord songs and fake a solo over them using ping-pong recordings (where you record on one device, play it back and play along with it and record on a second one, over and over again). He even taught me one of his own songs, "Kill Yourself". Together, we came up with "Prisoner of Pizza Hut" and I composed my very own "Cambodian Folk Song", which Roger would sing to, stream-of-consciousness style.

So Roger and I agreed to go to the party, but just to keep some sense of cool about ourselves, we showed up late. 

That fucker Tony was using my guitar. I had lent it to him for the gig, and he was playing it upside-down left-handed because that's what Jimi Hendrix did. And he had a cigarette stuck in the strings above the nut.

Their set ended just as we walked into the basement. It was full of the neighborhood friends and various others from around town. Tony feigned excitement to see us and we feigned excitement to see him. Bill was smashed and took me aside to tell me he was too drunk to play and could only sing. I had to play lead on the songs. 

Stone cold sober, my first performance in front of a crowd of my peers. No problem. I don’t remember the last time I summoned that kind of courage. Maybe when I jumped out of a perfectly good, working airplane or walked my daughter down the aisle.

I looked over at Bill as we started to play. His eyes were bugged out, lips were clamped shut, and he was sweating cold beer. He looked like he was about to fall over.

Whatever the first song was, I think I stayed in key, I don’t remember and I didn’t care. Laurie Tooley was standing there, before us.   She was leaning against a jackpost, slightly tipsy, with an off the shoulder sweater. One of the most stunning brunettes I have ever seen. Veronica Lodge with Betty Anderson’s body. If she’s on Facebook, someone tag her, she deserves to know this.

She smiled. I think she was just being nice.

Everyone humored us. It was nice, really. Makes me feel strangely warm. Can’t explain it. Might be nostalgia that I don’t want to admit to.

After a few bars of the first song, the “real” band members started playing along a little. It was a nice touch. We played “Kill Yourself” and “Prisoner of Pizza Hut” to mild applause and friendly laughter. Worst thing you can do is encourage me.

For the third song we played my “Cambodian Folk Song”. It was ad-libbed by my friend Roger – he rambled on in skeltonics and a lounge act's voice about all sorts of surreal shit that no one on all of God’s LSD could imitate – and he did it straight. I really admire people who can come up with surreal, absurd shit like that. Been trying to do it all my life. Roger sat Tony down on his lap and dedicated to the song to him, throwing in vague references to the fact that we were disgusted with him for violating a girl on his parents’ basement floor and then treating her like dirt afterward. I remember Pete playing rimshots along with the slow. tinkling sounds of a repeatedly arpeggiated D chord (that’s all the song was; Bill taught me this! Keep it simple! If it sounds good, it IS good!). Greg (guitar) and Chris (bass) added a few notes, too.

We finished and the party broke up a little later. Lotsa laughs. Tony got hammered to the point where we didn’t want him to drive. We forced him to let a sober driver take him home in his father's car. We made him wait in the passenger’s seat in the driveway while we summoned someone - I think it was Eric - with cleaner breath.

Roger watched him and made sure he did not go for the driver’s seat. He tried creeping over a few times but Roger would reach over and yank him back by his neck. At one point I think he clocked Tony in the face to get him to stop. 

I don't know what I miss more about those days, but whenever I feel the urge to lament how hard growing up was, I recall that I at least had refuge in a circle of accepting and decent people when all else seemed to be going wrong. 

Or maybe I just wish I could have my fifteen minutes as a garage-band star back. 


Recurring Dreams and Images

Images from some dreams I had almost 30 years ago continue to haunt me. I hesitate to use that word for the connotation of terror. The feeling is more one of captivation and mysterious wonder. Some of them make sense to me, others do not.

One particularly vivid image came from a dream in which I viewed myself through the eyes of another person waking up on a stunningly bright summer morning after a rain storm. The person walked through a house to see me in the back yard, hanging bleached white sheets on a line. The light coming off the sheets was blinding, and the I can still smell wet grass when I remember the image. The person asked me what I was doing, and I replied, "Tying up loose ends." I recalled this dream very vividly after brokering a meeting between may different people of late so I've rationalized some meaning out of this by noting my enjoyment at fostering connections between people and networking heavily to promote certain causes I believe in. Perhaps it was a premonition or an early, inarticulate realization of a talent I had.

I've had a recurring dream about the sky being on fire and my viewing it from the building I work in. I look south across a parking lot to where the clouds are on fire in the distance. I think I am alone until I am shocked to see a coworker leaving. I tell him that the sky is on fire. He shrugs and says something like, "Well, I am going home. Good luck!" The first time I had the dream it was an older man that I worked with who said it to me. The second and third times it was people closer to my age or younger than me. I can't figure this one out.

Then there are a series of four images I recall from dreams long ago. In the first, I am surrounded by or actually inside of a large machine, like an old mainframe computer, and I am frantically trying to make sense of all the wires and connect things to their proper mates. I have a wild, manic look as if I might be controlled by the machine as I try to control it. When I saw The Matrix I wondered if it had something to do with that kind of a feeling, but for lack of a better explanation it just didn't feel right.

In the second I am wearing a robe like a bedouin, I have long hair and I am carrying a staff in the desert. I have bent down to check what is either a prosthetic food or a brace around my leg. As my right knee starts to give with age in real life, I wonder if it was a warning that I would someday fall apart.

In another, I am still in the desert, but I have collapsed at the foot of a woman dressed like a fairy or an angel.

In the last, I am prostrated on a couch in a sun-drenched room, late in the afternoon, in a house near the shore of the ocean or a great lake like Ontario. There are three figures around me dressed in white but I cannot tell who they are. I hope this is what my death is going to look like because it's a very relaxing image.

Of all the images I have had in my dreams these ones persist the most. I have read that dreams may be our way of playing with ideas and imagining how we'd deal with certain situations should they arise some day. If that is the case, I wish I could unlock what I was toying with in my head, and discover why these images persist in my memory.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvey Weinstein and me, too.

I've struggled for a few days to respond to the sad reverberations of #metoo posts in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I examined my memories of transgressions against various people and found it pointless to bring up for fear of trying to excuse myself of anything I did wrong. I finally concluded, along with many other good men I know, that this is an opportunity for all men to examine themselves and I offer the advice given me by my father -  and later the Freemasons, when I joined them. 

"Treat all women as if they were your mother or your sister." You can call it a lousy heuristic or make some sick jokes about it, but the intent of it as communicated to me was clear: respect women as your fellow human beings. Furthermore - elevate them to a position of respect - because at the moment you probably haven't even considered that. It's not that they need elevation for some lacking of their own stature, but more that men need to re-calibrate their attitudes and expectations to faithfully measure that women are human beings, deserving of all rights, opportunities and dignities as any other.

But this isn't enough. It takes demonstrable actions toward your brothers. Your thoughts and prayers amount to naught. You have to speak out when you see a woman being dragged off in a drunken haze to another room, being pinned down against a bar, abused by her husband, or groped by a boss. This takes balls, tact, good judgement, and situational awareness. Immediate responses are needed in emergencies, delayed and careful ones when you have that luxury. Otherwise, book your seat on the celestial railroad to hell on earth.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My first IBM Blog post - Autism and hiring

For three years now, I have had an interest in hiring people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People "on the spectrum" often have incredible talent despite their diagnosis. Like many people with disabilities, just providing simple accommodation and promoting understand in the work place can help people with ASD become incredible, productive, happy, and loyal employees.

I've worked within IBM to promote a hiring program, spread understanding, and banded together many employees affected by autism by forming a small community inside IBM called an ERG (employee resource group) or BRG (business resource group). My reputation grew to the point where I was asked to write a short blog for IBM on the topic of autism and hiring.

We have just recently started a hiring program in Lansing, Michigan, that aims to hire 3-5 developers on the spectrum. If that succeeds, we hope to replicate the model in other cities and divisions of IBM.

Stay tuned and we may update that site with news in the next few months!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eulogy For My Father, August 2014

Last year, at my father’s 81st birthday, my cousin Linda remarked that we had to get together more often. I am sorry that it has to be under these circumstances.

Thank you for coming to comfort my family and my mother. My siblings and I may have lost a father, my nieces and nephews may have lost a grandfather, my uncle his brother – but my mother lost her companion, best friend and partner of 56 years. I don’t think even his brother could have lived with him that long.

For those of you who have not seen it, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a long, granite wall lining a tear in the earth on the National Mall. On it are the names of fifty thousand Americans who gave their lives in that conflict.

My siblings and I are fortunate that my father’s name is not among them. He came home, raised us with my mother, and together they saw their grandchildren and great-grandchildren come.

But as the sun set on that chapter of his life, it cast long shadows into the rest of the story. My father struggled to reconcile his distinguished military career with the horrors he saw in Indochina. Of the many demons in his life, this may have been the most formidable.

Still, he was a good father and a good man who instilled in us many virtues – among them patience, tolerance, selflessness, gratitude and charity.

He lived in the bosom of an extended family that welcomed him despite his troubles and eccentricities. For that he was ever grateful and fortunate.

I’ve heard many of you speak fondly of him over the years and now these past few days. I want to thank you for all the love and comfort you showed him.

In his memory, please think kindly upon veterans of war, for they are the ones who went to do what was asked of them by those who could not do it. Lastly, if you know of a person suffering from addiction, do all you can to help them. I would not be here if it were not for such help.

This Is How We Live Forever (Eulogy For My Grandmother Domachowski, 2009)

[A quick note...I asked my mother for permission to read a small message at my grandmother's funeral the day before at the wake. Within earshot when I asked were my mother's siblings, my Aunt Fran and my Uncle Jim. Both extracted oaths from me that I would not blaspheme or pull funny "masonry shit" (I am, in fact, a freemason). I have a reputation of being irreverent, yes, but I ascended the dais the next day without thunder or lightning, and this is what I read.]

My grandmother’s given name was Bertha. She didn’t like it; she chose to be called ‘Lena’, instead, and fought tooth and nail with her mother over it. She wanted the name because it sounded more American. She was proud to be an American, and she wanted to live like one, without any airs of the old world that her family might press on her. The name stuck.

The story may be utterly false, or at least warped into legend over time. I don’t care. It fits her, because she was stubborn.

When Lena was a teenager, her mother insisted she meet, and consider marrying, a young lawyer of Polish extraction. Lena would have none of it. When her family welcomed him through the front door of their house, she ran out the back, perhaps into the orchards nearby.

It was in those orchards that she would climb a tripod ladder – ostensibly to pick fruit – but also to get a look at that handsome young Anthony Domachowski. There are 33 people who are alive on the planet today because of her stubbornness – from Frances Gocek all the way down to Elle James Anderson. We’re all grateful.

I cannot think of a more perfect and loving couple. Maybe she drove grandpa crazy, but she was crazy about him. Grandma said that long after Grandpa died she still talked to him aloud, or wrote letters to him and took them outside to burn, as if the smoke would carry her message to him.

Grandma was always giving – not just of money or gifts, but of herself. These stories she told me, are a gift; so were her hugs, calling all of her children her “million dollars”. She really felt that. And she was that rich because she gave everything she had. She got so much back in life because she gave so much. You’re all here right now because of that.

This is how we live forever – by selflessly touching so many other lives that your soul lives on through them.

Grandpa, you have lived on this way. Grandma has returned to you. We will keep you both in our hearts, through all that you have given us, done for us, and taught us.