A Kiss Before You Go

When I reached my late 30s, I finally began to understand the kinds of sacrifices my parents had to make throughout their lives. Sacrifices for their kids and for each other. Of course there were also sacrifices my sister, brother and I had to make, and the real pisser was they weren’t our sacrifices and we never agreed to them. But we had to make them anyway; sometimes that’s the way it goes.

When I was still in grammar school my father lost his job. It was a tough time for our family, particularly since the job market was so poor. My father decided to sell real estate, and began selling land about five hours away from where we had temporarily settled in a rental home. He would be gone for long stretches of time, and when he got home, he was anxious to simply relax.

I’m not really sure why I missed him so much when he was gone. He hadn’t ever been what you would call an involved father. He wasn’t interested in children, not even his own, and didn’t delight in any of the things we did. Don’t get me wrong – I know he loved us, at least in theory if nothing else – he just wasn’t really there. And when he was there, he wasn’t really interested in us.

I remember one time in particular when he had been gone for what seemed like several weeks. He came home and was sitting on the sofa talking to my mother. I’m sure he was anxious to see her after so much time apart. I was sitting next to him, and I picked up his hand and began kissing it. I think I was about 9 or 10. I was just so glad he was home, and even though he wasn’t even aware I was in the room, I just wanted to kiss his hand. As I kissed it over and over I saw my mom look at me, then look to my father and direct him to me with her eyes. At that moment he became aware of what I was doing, and put his hand on my head.

I don’t really remember what happened after that. He probably went on talking to my mom. But I can clearly remember that look on her face. She thought it was so sweet that I was kissing his hand, and it hurt her that he didn’t even notice I was in the room. I don’t think it hurt me – not really – because it wasn’t any different than any other time I’d been around him.

As the years went by my relationship with my dad went through some difficult times. There was a period where I didn’t care if I ever saw him again, a period where I was extremely angry over his dispassion with his children, and finally, there was a period where I had children in my life that helped me understand him much more. It turns out, for better or worse, this apple didn’t fall far from that tree.

The year I turned 40, my father turned 81. He had been sick for quite a while with a bad heart, and after two open heart surgeries to install artificial heart valves and a pacemaker, we kept thinking each new illness might be the last. I would ask my mom if I should fly from where I was living in Virginia to California to see him. She would always say not, yet. Just like a Timex, he kept on ticking.

He finally died in October just over a month after his 81st birthday. My mom had called to tell me he was in the hospital again and I should fly out, so I knew it was serious. When I first saw him in the hospital, I was scared to see how thin and old he was, how frail and sick he looked. I just knew the end was very close. That night, I sat next his hospital bed while he struggled to breathe. And I mean he struggled. He would roll over and grasp the bars on the side of the bed to help with the effort of filling his lungs, and sometimes his hands would reach out between the bars.

I can’t honestly say I don’t know why it took me so long to take his hand, because I know exactly why. Not because of some old grudge, or because I didn’t love him. I just wasn’t sure if he wanted me to. How stupid of me. I finally reached out and took his hand. And, not sure why, I bent down and kissed it. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, so I said, “What was that?” “Thank you,” he said. I had no idea what to say, or how I felt. I just said, “Oh you’re welcome,” and bent to kiss his hand again. Then I laid my cheek on it and said, “It’s all going to be o.k.”

This time he knew I was in the room, and I knew it meant the world to him. As it turned out, that was the last time I spoke to my father and he died the next day. I’m glad I was able to send him off with a kiss.

Conversations with Death

Several years ago Dan (you’ll know about Dan if you read the first blog – he’s the artist who supplied the drawing accompanying this blog), gave me a call and asked if I wanted to work on a project with him. And of course I did, so he told me what he had in mind.

He was thinking about a series of stop-motion vignettes about Death. Maybe Death in a bar, talking to the bartender. Bitching about his job, being a regular guy – but of course he’s Death so it really isn’t regular at all. I thought it sounded fun, so I began coming up with concepts. Death and teenage girls, Death and the Darwin Awards, Death has a tough day at the office. We went through several iterations, and the scripts below represent a few of my favorites.

NOTE: In initial drafts I often insert little jokes to myself that not many people will get – I find it fun but I’m guessing a lot of readers would find that annoying. The reference to the “E-Ticket ride” is one of those. Some will get it, some won’t – but you can always Google it if you’re interested.


Scene: The bar. BARTENDER is behind the bar, DEATH is sitting at the bar, one hand curled around a drink, a cigarette in the other, smoke curling up. The door opens (or maybe we don’t see the door, maybe HUNCH just walks in from offstage) and HUNCH walks in (HUNCH is a very small skeleton with small bones and is slightly hunched over) and sits down next to DEATH.

BARTENDER: What’ll you have?

HUNCH: Milk. And make it a double.

DEATH looks at HUNCH and doesn’t say anything, looks at the BARTENDER. BARTENDER sets down milk.

HUNCH: (Takes a drink.) Good for the bones. You know, exercise, strength training, extra calcium. Don’t want to get too brittle.

BARTENDER reaches out to HUNCH, wait a beat, then pokes a vertebra (probably through stomach under rib cage?) Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses ever so slightly.


BARTENDER: Wow, that IS brittle. (Reaches out, pokes another vertebra. Slight cracking sound and HUNCH compresses just a little more.)

HUNCH: What the hell! Stop it! I’m not bubble wrap, damn it. (BARTENDER just laughs and starts to reach out again. HUNCH jumps up).

HUNCH: That’s it, I’m outta here. (HUNCH turns to leave. BARTENDER looks at DEATH. Without looking, DEATH reaches back and pokes HUNCH in the hip. Cracking sound and HUNCH goes down.)

BARTENDER: (Looking down over bar.) Nice.

HUNCH: (Pops back up on one leg.) I suppose you think that’s funny!

DEATH: No, not really.

(HUNCH hops out of the bar. Once offstage we hear a crack, then HUNCH speaks): DAMN!

BARTENDER and DEATH look at each other.

DEATH: Now THAT’S funny. (Holds up his drink, the BARTENDER picks up the milk and they click glasses. DEATH takes a sip, and the bartender tosses the glass of milk.)



DEATH walks into the bar, sits down and doesn’t say anything.

BARTENDER:  The usual?

DEATH:  Yes. Please. (Silence while BARTENDER gets drink. Puts it in front of DEATH who curls one hand around it.)

BARTENDER:  Tough day?

DEATH:  Not really. Just got back from a job in Florida.


DEATH: No. Tourist. Wanted to get a photo of himself petting an alligator. It’s kind of nice when they make it easy.

BARTENDER: Oh. Right. (Pause while DEATH takes a drink. We hear a buzzing noise and DEATH pulls out his device and looks.)

DEATH: (Sighs.) It never ends. Back to Florida.

BARTENDER: Tourist? Retiree? Jousting mishap at Medieval Times?

DEATH: (Stands.) No. This time I’m headed for the Tragic Kingdom.

BARTENDER: Don’t you mean the Magic Kingdom?

DEATH: (Looks up.) Not when I visit. (Stands and puts device away.) I’ll be packing an 8.5 earthquake in my carry on.

BARTENDER: (Nods head.) Innovative. That’s the ultimate E-Ticket ride, eh? (Pause.) See you later?

DEATH: Count on it. (DEATH exits.)

(BARTENDER picks up DEATH’S glass, looks around, downs the rest of the drink. Wipes out glass with towel and puts glass back under bar.)



Set is completely empty except for DEATH, standing to the left of the scene, studying his fingernails.   A moment of silence.

We hear the sound of a dog barking, footsteps running, and panting.  SKELETON goes running through scene R to L with DOG chasing and barking (DOG is a skeleton dog with a perpetually wagging tail).  DEATH’S head turns to watch them goes by.  Goes back to studying his nails.

Sound of dog barking, running, wagging.  SKELETON runs by L to R.  As SKELETON passes DEATH, DOG jumps and grabs an arm bone – hand and all.  SKELETON shrieks and keeps running, DOG chasing.  DEATH watches, studies nails.

Dog barking, footsteps running and panting, wagging furiously.  DOG comes running by with arm in mouth (maybe hand is hanging and flapping?)  SKELETON chasing.

SKELETON:  Come back here with that!  I need that!  That’s my arm dammit!

(Stops in front of DEATH, panting.  DOG is nearby, growling, taunting with arm, still wagging.)

SKELETON: (Looks at DEATH.) It’s my neighbor’s dog.  Barks all night, craps in my yard, and keeps taking my extremities.  He buried my damn leg last week and I had to hop all over for days before I could find it.  Left his damn teeth marks in my fibula.  (Holds out his leg for DEATH to see.  DEATH looks leg up and down, goes back to nails.)

SKELETON:  You ever have this problem?

DEATH: (Looks at SKELETON, then at DOG.) Play dead.  (DOG drops into a pile of bones.  DEATH picks up arm bone and hands to SKELETON, who puts it back on.)

SKELETON:  Thanks.  (Pause.) Huh, I had no idea that dog could do tricks.  (Walks off.)

DEATH: (looks down.)  Good dog. (The tail slightly poking out from the pile of bones wags back and forth.)