My Father, Wayne O’Neil

 

 

My father died last Sunday morning. I was awakened by the call around 3 am. His partner Maya told me he’d passed away and I couldn’t find the words to respond. He’d been sick for the last two years. Cancer and chemo and his body hadn’t reacted well to both. Final diagnosis was Leukemia—a direct result of the chemo’s radiation “therapy” destroying his immune system. My father had been despondent, tired, and detached. He felt the medical world had failed him and didn’t want to spend his last days in a hospital just to die amongst the uncaring surroundings of beeping heart monitors and endless blood draws.

Six weeks ago, another Sunday, my father called to tell me he had Leukemia and he’d made the decision not to seek treatment. I had just finished buying vegetables at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, my usual Sunday morning thing to do. I was sitting in my car. Numb with fear and regret. My father’s voice faint and calm. “I have to come out and see you,” I finally blurted out.

My father lived in Somerville, Massachusetts. Just over the border from Cambridge, a few blocks from where we lived when we first moved to Boston. When I was nine years old he’d completed his Fulbright and been appointed professor of linguistics and education at Harvard University. It was 1965. Vietnam was in full swing. He protested the war, refused to pay his taxes, and the FBI froze his bank account. By 1968 he found his home, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ultimately becoming chairman of the linguistics program, and then head of the department for linguistics and philosophy. He was well liked, loved and admired. Noam Chomsky was his friend and colleague.

 

 

A month ago I flew out to see him. He was very sick and even though we didn’t get a chance to talk much, I still was able to tell him I loved him. He said, “I had a picture in my mind that I’d just come home, lay on the couch, people would come by, and then I’d quietly die. But that isn’t happening.” I flew back dreading the inevitable outcome.

In the darkness I fumbled for the words that weren’t coming. I held the phone against my ear well after Maya had hung up. Earlier in the evening I’d had a feeling. I’d known my father was going to die that night. Yet I still wasn’t prepared. My first selfish thought was what a fucked up horrible son I’d been. I felt the shame of my father having to come to terms with his son the junkie bank-robber. Self-forgiveness is hard. In fact it’s impossible. I cried tears. I said I was sorry. I spoke out loud to the spirit of a man that didn’t believe in the afterlife. My heart ached. I can only hope that everything I have done in the last twenty years has made up for every fucked up thing I did in the previous thirty. I’d like to think he was proud of me. The picture used in a few of his obituaries was of him reading the French version on my memoir, so I’ll take that as a sign that he was. I know I was proud of him. I hate that I’ll never see him again.

There is never enough time in this life.

Hold those you love close.

 

Wayne Albert O’Neil 1931-2020

 
 

Boston Globe Obituary

Linguistic Society Of America

MIT Linguistic Facebook

 
 
 

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 29th, 2020 at 2:10 pm. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Conversational Anxiety

 

Political Telephone Solicitor: “did you know your vote counts!?”
Me: “counts for what?”
PTS: “it’s your right for change!”
Me: “ah, I keep voting, shit keeps getting worse.”
PTS: “but imagine if you didn’t vote.”
Me: “you wouldn’t call me?”
PTS: “no, how bad everything could be!”
Me: “it could be worse than this!?”
PTS: “yes! Much worse!”
Me: “well, thanks. You’ve cheered me up immensely.’
PTS: “voting is not only your right, it’s your voice!”
Me: “but no one is listening.”
PTS: “I’m listening!”
Me: “but you’re just some nutter on the phone.”
PTS: “I’m your local Democratic representative for progress!”
Me: “I’m registered Green Party.”
PTS: “oh…”
Me: “guess you’re not listening any more, huh?”
 

Male Voice on the Phone: “Hello, Mr. O’Neil? This is Geffen Playhouse. We’d like to invite you back for this year’s season.”
Me: “invite me back?”
MVotP: “our records show you’re a former season ticket holder.”
Me: “no, I’ve never been…”
MVotP: “yes, yes, you have.”
Me: “no, no I haven’t.”
MVotP: “I’m terribly sorry sir. Are you sure?”
Me: “well, you’re probably right. I do drink a bit, could’ve slipped my mind, and them damn Oxycontins screw up a man’s memory, make it hard to put on clothes just to leave the house. Although, I still get out, even with that pesky indecent exposure conviction from attending a performance of Rent at Pantages in 2009. Don’t see what the fuss was, just adjusting my underwear. You do have a smoking section, right? Gonna have any plays about prison sex this season? …Hello?”
 

TeleMarketer: “Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “maybe.”
TM: “is Mr. O’Neil there?”
Me: “why?”
TM: “I’ve a great opportunity to offer him.”
Me: “run it by me first.”
TM: “well, okay, who am I speaking to?”
Me: “why does that matter?”
TM: “just need to know who I’m talking with.”
Me: “is it required, or are you just inquisitive?”
TM: “not really comfortable not knowing.”
Me: “you’re calling me uninvited and now you’re uncomfortable?”
TM: “well, I’m…”
Me: “when someone I don’t know calls, I’m uncomfortable.”
TM: “ahhh…”
Me: “my life feels intruded upon.”
TM: “but…”
Me: “all of a sudden, my privacy gone, and it’s awkward.”
TM: “sir?”
Me: “is this where you apologize, then hang up?”
TM: “…”
Me: “hello?”
 

AT&T called to ask why I canceled my Internet service. It was a sad conversation. The caller and I were almost in tears, “why did you leave?” she said. “Because you weren’t giving me what I need,” I answered. “Come back, I’ll try harder,” she sighed. “It’s too late,” I whispered. “Why!!??” she wailed. “Because you suck!” I yelled. It felt like we’d been dating for years.
 

Bank Employee: “sir, can’t tell you exactly when your new ATM card will be delivered.”
Me: “not what I’m asking, need the tracking number so I can call.”
BE: “ok, but my records show it was to be delivered Friday.”
Me: “was here Friday, like all day, no delivery.”
BE: “UPS guaranteed a Friday delivery.”
Me: “wonderful. Still, there’s no card in my hand.”
BE: “hmm, I could recall it, then send another, only take 2 days.”
Me: “y’all canceled my card because YOU got hacked, sent a new one through a company that’s inept, left me without cash for the weekend, and now want to extend that courtesy 2 more days?”
BE: “apologies for any inconvenience.”
Me: “more than just inconvenient, it’s abusive.”
BE: “my records show you eligible for our diamond preferred card, with unlimited cash access, and bonus thank you points…”
Me: “could we stay on subject here?”
BE: “better than an debit card, plus you can make payments with %0 APR for 18 months.”
Me: “this is your best solution?”
BE: “get it to you in 5 business days.”
Me: “can I talk to your manager?”
BE: “I am the manager.”
Me: “the next sound you hear will be me blowing my brains out.”
BE: “so, is that a no on the diamond preferred card?”
 

Tele-Marketer: “Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “ah, no.”
TM: “you’re not Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “no, I’m not.”
TM: “is Mr. O’Neil at home?”
Me: “he might be, but this is a cell phone you’re calling.”
TM: “Oh, so who am I speaking with?”
Me: “someone annoyed you’re calling their cell phone.”
TM: “if I could, like to speak with Mr. O’Neil regarding an investment opportunity.”
Me: “I’m driving right now, you’re not only annoying, but forcing me to break the law.”
TM: “um…”
Me: “that’s all you have to say, is um?”
TM: “well, I, I, ah…”
Me: “what if I crash, burn up and die? That’s blood on your hands!”
TM: “…”
Me: “hello?”
 

Telemarketer: “sir, what would you say to winning a Florida sea cruise vacation?”
Me: “I’d rather you just shoot me now.”
 

Blocked Caller ID: “Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “ah, yes?”
BCID: “mind taking a quick survey.”
Me: “in regards to what?”
BCID: “our service people handling your issue.”
Me: “well, if they handled it, what’s the point?”
BCID: “this is for quality assurance.”
Me: “whose quality?”
BCID: “ah, ultimately yours.”
Me: “how’s annoying the fuck outta me add to my quality?”
BCID: “your input makes us a better company!”
Me: “but I had to call twice to get you to fix it.”
BCID: “yes, and we thank you.”
Me: “by calling me again to take a survey?”
BCID: “actionable feedback involves us all.”
Me: “really? And what’s your role in the scheme of things?”
BCID: “team leader for data analysis.”
Me: “team leader? Wow, I’m honored your leadership.”
BCID: “yes, I want to assure you we truly care.”
Me: “so what’s a team leader do exactly?”
BCID: “I define and evaluate our agent’s applicable skills.”
Me: “nice. So what happened that you had to call to me?”
BCID: “I’m not sure I follow you?”
Me: “um… you’re chatting the masses, why aren’t you leading?”
BCID: “well, we all put in work, regardless of hierarchal structure.”
Me: “what the hell, y’all communists down there or something?”
BCID: “you know, you could’ve just said no to the survey.”
Me: “were’s the fun in that, leader-dude?”
 

Unsolicited Telemarketer: “I like to take a minute to talk about your spending habits and how we could help you.”
Me: “take a minute? Since you’re already costing me sucking up my cellphone minutes, what more do you want?”
UT: “little negative today, are we?”
Me: “who are you, my mom?”
 

Academic Job Placement Phone Interviewer: “have you ever been arrested?”
Me: “arrested? Only arrested, not convicted?”
AJPPI: “well, yes. That is the question.”
Me: “now does that seem fair to you?”
AJPPI: “excuse me, what do you mean?”
Me: “is someone less credible because of an arrest?”
AJPPI: “ah… I’m not comprehending the issue here…?”
Me: “arrested is suspicion, nothing’s proven.”
AJPPI: “oh ok, yes, that is true.”
Me: “if you said ‘ever been convicted’ it’d make more sense.”
AJPPI: “just following protocol…”
Me: “like who hasn’t been arrested?”
AJPPI: “well, I’ve never been arrested.”
Me: “so let’s say I have, then what?”
AJPPI: “I make a notation, we continue the interview.”
Me: “has anyone ever admitted they have been?”
AJPPI: “no, not that I can recall.”
Me: “think you’d hire anyone that said yes?”
AJPPI: “ah… I’d have to confer with my colleagues.”
Me: “so, that’d be a no?”
AJPPI: “final decision would be up to the dean and faculty.”
Me: “with an arrest being the deciding factor?”
AJPPI: “ah… candidates are considered on a case by case basis.”
Me: “you do background checks then, I assume.”
AJPPI: “not necessarily, we do trust our applicants.”
Me: “well, that’s a relief.”
AJPPI: “so… ever been arrested?”
Me: “um… no?”
 

Unlisted Caller: “hello, Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “um… yeah?”
UC: “hi, this is Jane, from Dr. _____’s office.”
Me: “um… yeah?”
UC: “it’s time for a colonoscopy!”
Me: “…”
UC: “Mr. O’Neil? Hello?”
Me: “um… yeah?”
UC: “we need to schedule you.”
Me: “really? Didn’t I just have one?”
UC: “that was well over three years ago.”
Me: “my how time flies…”
UC: “so how’s next week sound?”
Me: “a bit too impending.”
UC: “we’ve an opening for next Monday.”
Me: “don’t think I’ve an opening.”
UC: “excuse me?”
Me: “Jane, how open are you to an anal exam?”
UC: “what? Not sure I understand?”
Me: “I don’t want a colonoscopy.”
UC: “but you have to!”
Me: “really? Now how’s that going to work?”
UC: “well, we can’t force you…”
Me: “I know. Goodbye.”
 

Unlisted Caller: “hello, Mr. O’Neil?”
Me: “um… yeah?”
UC: “hi, this is Jane, from Dr. __’s office, again.”
Me: “uh huh, ok.”
UC: “you still haven’t scheduled your colonoscopy!”
Me: “well, I, ah…”
UC: “I’ve left several messages.”
Me: “I’ve been kinda busy.”
UC: “sir, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to get checked?”
Me: “I’m not sure ‘owe’ is the word I’d use.”
UC: “what better way is there to say I’m healthy?”
Me: “I could think of maybe a 1000 other better ways…”
UC: “aren’t you going to feel pretty silly if you have cancer?”
Me: “if I have cancer, silly will be the last thing I feel.”
UC: “this is a preventive procedure, be in the solution!”
Me: “does this sort of shaming usually work with your patients?”
UC: “usually I don’t have to chase them down.”
Me: “can’t believe I’m the only one that doesn’t want to do this.”
UC: “actually, right now we’re booked, there’s a month wait.”
Me: “a month wait!? Damn, I’m busy next month.”
UC: “you’re busy all of August?”
Me: “yup. and September’s not looking good either.”
UC: “Mr. O’Neil, I find that hard to believe.”
Me: “Jane, you’re sort of cynical, huh?”
UC: “at least I’m not delusional.”
Me: “awh, now you sound grumpy.”
UC: “it’s your health. You can die a horrendous death if you want to.”
Me: “thanks Jane, always love talking to you, bye now.”

 
 
 

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 7th, 2020 at 9:46 am. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing

 

 

Hipster Dude: “so, like you’re a writer?”
Me: “ah, yeah.”
HD: “so, like what’d you write?”
Me: “a memoir.”
HD: “so, like what’s it about?”
Me: “heroin, dysfunctional junkie love, bank robberies.”
HD: “so, it’s like a movie script?”
Me: “ah, no…”
HD: “so, like you didn’t make it up?”
Me: “it’s a memoir.”
HD: “so, it’s like real life?”
Me: “ah, yeah.”
HD: “so, like who was the junkie?”
Me: “me.”
HD: “so, like who did the bank robberies?”
Me: “me.”
HD: “so, like wow.”
Me: “…”
HD: “so, like what’s your next book?”
Me: “a memoir on how I saved mankind from extinction.”
Hd: “so, like you’ve lived an amazing life.”
Me: “I’m like a saint, and shit.”
HD: “so, like wow.”

Scruffy Poet: “you moved to LA?”
Me: “yeah, like over ten years ago.”
SP: “oh man, didn’t know that…”
Me: “that’s alright, didn’t send out announcements.”
SP: “what’s it like down there?”
Me: “it’s great. Sunny and shit.”
SP: “no, meant the literary scene.”
Me: “that was the ‘great’ part.”
SP: “really? Always considered LA a cultural void.”
Me: “unlike this mecca of creativity?”
SP: “well, we do have The Beats.”
Me: “who are you, The Go Go’s?”
SP: “and Dave Eggers.”
Me: “wow, hard to compete with all that.”
SP: “well, yeah, I guess it is.”
Me: “um… so how’s the poet business going?”
SP: “poetry is not a business…”
Me: “I was joking.”
SP: “oh, ha ha. Have you seen my new chapbook?”
Me: “no, I must have missed it.”
SP: “it’s my ode to our diminishing environment.”
Me: “um… how ah… cultural.”
SP: “hand printed on tree bark and stitched with hemp…”
Me: “back to the basics, eh?”
SP: “made the ink out of dung beetles.”
Me: “you killed the environment to make your book?”
SP: “all the materials were scavenged.”
Me: “wow, you’re a nutter, huh?”
SP: “I’m totally committed to this issue.”
Me: “you should be committed to the nut ward.”
SP: “you’re very cynical.”
Me: “LA will do that to you.”

Hipster Woman Writer: “you write in French?”
Me: “ah, no. I don’t.”
HWW: “but your book is in French.”
Me: “oh, yeah. I had a book published in France.”
HWW: “how does that work?”
Me: “it was translated.”
HWW: “from?”
Me: “English.”
HWW: “so you wrote it in English?”
Me: “well, yeah, it’s really the only language I know.”
HWW: “and then someone translated it to French?”
Me: “why is this so hard for you to grasp?”
HWW: “just don’t understand why.”
Me: “because my publisher was French.”
HWW: “they don’t read English?”
Me: “they do, that’s how they read my manuscript, but it was published in France.”
HWW: “so, it can’t be in English?”
Me: “no.”
HWW: “why not?”
Me: “people in France read French.”
HWW: “that’s stupid.”

Slightly Inebriated Poet: “wow, great piece of writing.”
Me: “ah, thanks.”
SIP: “your protagonist, so venerable.”
Me: “um…”
SIP: “what was the significance of his duality of selfs?”
Me: “say what?”
SIP: “the juxtaposition of his realities, brilliant, but why?”
Me: “juxta… huh?”
SIP: “such conflict in your narrative arch. Life is your muse, no?”
Me: “life is a motherfucker.”
SIP: “well said! Still channeling the underclass I see.”
Me: “force of habit.”
SIP: “a modern day Sartre in our midst.”
Me: “wouldn’t say that. Awfully hard shoes to fill.”
SIP: “you are too modest, sir.”
Me: “no, I’m just not a pretentious ass.”
SIP: “ah ha ha, so what’s next monsieur wordsmith?”
Me: “bestiality porn scripts and copy writing for adult diapers TV ads.”
SIP: “really?”
Me: “gotta stay fresh, baby. Gotta stay fresh.”

Annoying Writer: “hey dude, how’s it going?”
Me: “ah, ok.”
AW: “writing?”
Me: “ah, yeah.”
AW: “what are you working on?”
Me: “um, things, ah, sorta like… ah, stuff.”
AW: “what’s that mean?”
Me: “means I’m writing, but not all the time.”
AW: “oh, ok. So when are you writing?”
Me: “like, ahhhh… when I can.”
AW: “oh, got it. So, it’s a time constraint issue.”
Me: “no, it’s just… why all the questions?”
AW: “trying to understand your process.”
Me: “nice. How’s this? I write, then I don’t.”
AW: “my friend, you need a schedule.”
Me: “I do?”
AW: “can’t just go about life unstructured.”
Me: “I can’t?”
AW: “try implementing a strict regime, schedule time to be creative.”
Me: “ah, you know strict isn’t really what I do.”
AW: “no? What is?”
Me: “loose, sort of manic driven. Write when it hits me.”
APW: “oh my god, you’re out of control.”
Me: “huh? Hey, it’s my process.”
AW: “what time is your alarm set for in the morning?”
Me: “what alarm?”
AW: “you do get up the same time everyday, right?”
Me: “wrong.”
APW: “how can you be so disorganized?”
Me: “oh shit, here, let me pencil you into my day planner.”
AW: “I just can’t work with you.”
Me: “didn’t know we were working.”

Overly Tense Poet: “um, nice reading.”
Me: “ah, thanks.”
OTP: “are you, ah… depressed?”
Me: “right now? No.”
OTP: “but your writing is so…”
Me: “depressing?”
OTP: “um, no, it’s…”
Me: “disturbing?”
OTP: “well, yes, but not so much that as…”
Me: “what, you don’t like the subject matter?”
OTP: “no, it’s your language…”
Me: “I have language?”
OTP: “the way you use it…”
Me: “um… yeah?”
OTP: “like you write with ah… butcher knife.”
Me: “what the fuck does that mean?”
OTP: “you’re killing the words, it’s murder.”
Me: “ah, killing, murder, really?”
OTP: “you don’t like your mother, do you?”
Me: “didn’t read anything about my mother.”
OTP: “bet she didn’t breast feed you.”
Me: “you’re like a total whacko, huh?”
OTP: “sure, go ahead, get angry, truth hurts.”
Me: “whose truth you talking about?”
OTP: “I see a darkness in you, screaming to get out.”
Me: “does that darkness have the butcher knife?”
OTP: “I don’t know? Why?”
Me: “because if it does, you should start running.”

Self Obsessing Poet: “hi, you look authentic, like a local.”
Me: “um… not even sure how to react to that.”
SOP: “I just love LA, it’s so… authentic.”
Me: “so you said. Recently move here, did you?”
SOP: “from Brooklyn.”
Me: “of course.”
SOP: “suppose you surf, do yoga, run the reservoir…?”
Me: “well one out of three, I guess.”
SOP: “I need to find a good Pilates studio in Silver Lake.”
Me: “sorry, not the guy for that.”
SOP: “really miss my mat class in Williamsburg.”
Me: “uh huh, imagine you do.”
SOP: “saw me read, right?”
Me: “yeah, that was me in the front row.”
SOP: “always try to personalize my readings with attendees.”
Me: “well, we actually shared a moment.”
SOP: “really? That’s so genuine.”
Me: “that line in your poem, about being dissatisfied?”
SOP: “I can always identify a dissatisfied person?”
Me: “yeah that one, and then you locked eyes with me.”
SOP: “I use intense eye contact, project the poem’s aura.”
Me: “well, we were in complete simpatico there.”
SOP: “really? How sagacious.”
Me: “yeah, you identified the right person.”
SOP: “that is so profound.”
Me: “that’s what I was thinking.”
SOP: “thank you for being so authentic.”
Me: “it’s the least I could do, welcome to LA.”

Hollywood Screen Writer: “so, what’s your book about?”
Me: “a junkie bankrobber.”
HSW: “yeah, what’s the creative direction?”
Me: “excuse me?”
HSW: “how did you develop your narrative?”
Me: “um… its a memoir, I lived it.”
HSW: “really? So, it’s based on a true story?”
Me: “ah, not based on, it is, ah, was… my fucking life.”
HSW: “so you’re the emotional impact?”
Me: “the what?”
HSW: “the delivery vehicle!”
Me: “are we speaking the same language?”
HSW: “you’re the hero facing insurmountable odds!”
Me: “if it makes you feel better to categorize it that way, sure.”
HSW: “look, you have to have the basics; character, desire, conflict!”
Me: “ah, you’re gettin’ a little worked up, quit yelling.”
HSW: “there has to be a compelling objective!”
Me: “ok, ok, calm down.”
HSW: ‘there are rules, you know!”
Me: “having a rough day, are we?”
HSW: “pitched a pilot this morning, barbarians!”
Me: “I assume it didn’t go well?”
HSW: “gave them the new Cheers, they wanted a funnier This Is Us!”
Me: “wow, your compelling objective faced insurmountable odds.”
HSW: “oh, shut the fuck up!”

 
 
 

This entry was posted on Monday, February 3rd, 2020 at 1:22 pm. Leave a comment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.