January 26, 2015

Eulogy for My Grandmother

The death of a grandparent is something that always lingered over my head like a gray cloud threatening rain. The older I got, the darker it got. Would I be ready for the downpour? Was I prepared to deal with the sudden change? Of course I did everything to ignore the looming possibility, but as the years wore on -- and as certain health scares popped up here and there -- I felt that prickly sensation, just like when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up before a storm.

Ever since elementary school, I was aware of this possibility because, every so often, a classmate of mine would be absent for a few days. And then I, along with the rest of my class, would learn of the reason why little Jenny or Timmy missed several homework assignments: one of their grandparents had "passed away, and she needs to be with her family right now."

This happened throughout high school, college, and even during my years as a post-grad twentysomething adjusting to life in a new city on the other side of the country. I'd hear about the passing of a grandparent, offer my condolences, and silently thank the Universe for keeping someone on this earth who could still call me her grandson.

Grandma at 88.
But I knew that, someday, it would be my turn to receive the sad news. And that day was January 11, 2015. Just three weeks after her 93rd birthday, my grandmother, Grace Riehm of New Rochelle, New York, left this life, this world, and my family.

In the past, with every passing birthday, I couldn't help but think about how fortunate I was to have a grandparent at the age of 30, then 31, then finally at 34. How many people can say they're someone's grandchild at the age of 34, or older for that matter? How many people, at the age of 65 or 70, can say they're someone's son or daughter? How many people, at the age of 21 or 23, can say they're someone's great-grandchild?

If you think about it, this one person was responsible for the existence of so many. If you think about it, one woman was the reason why a group of people is able to gather together for a holiday, for a birthday, for every little, seemingly insignificant moment that tends to be taken for granted. That's 7 children, 12 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. Not to mention countless in-laws and friends of the family, past and present. If you do take the time to think about it, take from it whatever you want.

Since I had been the baby of my family for the good part of a decade (most of the 80s), I had the privilege of spending a memorable amount of time with my grandmother. And while everyone in my family has their own memories of Grace Riehm, "Mommy," Grandma, or "Big Grandma," I have a lot of detailed recollections of my own simmering in my head -- enough to fill a book, my mother says. Here are a few of many:

Playing with my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars on her living room floor after school and soaking up the soapy developments on General Hospital while it played in the background...

Driving over the George Washington Bridge in her trusty Ford Escort, getting lost somewhere in New Jersey while searching for a park that probably didn't exist, and ending up on the banks of the Hudson River sipping some apple juice on a bench...

Witnessing her first heart attack at the age of 5 while stopping at the Centre Avenue Deli for a cold drink on a hot summer day. All I remember was a neighbor walking me the three blocks to the New Rochelle Public Library where my aunt Carol worked, and sitting behind the circulation desk, waiting for someone to take me home...

Subsequently visiting her in the hospital, my first experience inside the white corridors of New Rochelle General...

Grandma at 90
Watching me go down a giant slide and land in a tub of red JELL-O for charity after making a donation at an event in the Cross County Square Mall (I made a complete mess of my Levi's)...

A random sleepover or two...

Teasing her by calling her a "Golden Girl" because she always had to do her hair and put on make-up every time we took the 1-block walk to Meateria, the neighborhood market on Main Street.

Taking a trip to my aunt and uncle's cabin with my cousin Andy and sleeping with the blankets over our heads after trying to shoo out a renegade bat that had made its way into the cabin (We had seen enough vampire movies at that point to take the necessary precautions)...

Borrowing her car to go to school shortly after I got my drivers license...

Going on a road trip to Vegas shortly after I moved to LA and laughing over the fact that Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" followed us wherever we went -- every casino and buffet we visited played the song repeatedly. There was no escaping the newly crowned American Idol.

And now I have my final memory of my grandmother firmly ingrained in my mind: three days after Christmas, swinging by her apartment on the way to the airport to catch my flight back to LA (just like I always did for the past 12 years), her sitting on the edge of her bed, half-eaten toast left on a little tray, the volume of her TV turned up and tuned in to an episode of Hot in Cleveland; all I could glance was Valerie Bertinelli standing in front of an untrimmed Christmas tree, delivering a catty punchline.

It was just like any other goodbye. A hug, a kiss, and an obligatory "take care of yourself."

But it was the last one. And I'm very grateful that I was given that chance to experience it.

Here's to Grandma. Here's to "Mommy."

Here's to Grace.

December 21, 1921 - January 11, 2015


January 14, 2015

15 Things That Will Turn 30 in 2015

1985 was a great year.

It's also the oldest year I can still remember. (Don't do the math, it'll only hurt your head.) But little did my kindergartener self know what wonderful things were being birthed into the world back then.

What pop cultural goodies are celebrating three decades of greatness this year? Let's take a look...

1. The Golden Girls - Thank you for being a timeless piece of sitcom glory.

2. The Breakfast Club - To this day I have yet to try a Corn-Pops-and-Pixy-Stix sandwich on white bread.

3. Back to the Future - Great, now I have that Huey Lewis and the News song stuck in my head.

4. The compact disc - Sadly, I didn't own my first CD player until 1993.

5. Clue (the movie) - I can recite every line of dialogue, and I've attended several midnight screenings of this film. In unrelated news, I'm still single.

6. "We Are The World" - Still waiting on that "brighter day," fellas.

7. Microsoft Windows - Version 1.0 had a hard disk of 512 KB, two double-sided floppy disk drives, and a graphics adapter card.

8. Tommy Hilfiger - As if white people needed another excuse to buy overpriced jeans.

9. Thundercats - Is it me, or did a lot of 80s cartoons feature scantily clad and extremely muscular protagonists?

10. Teen Wolf - In which Michael J. Fox could've used a DeLorean to help him solve some hairy problems. Yes, children, this is what life was like before Tyler Posey and his homoerotic shenanigans on MTV.

11. The Goonies - "It's our time, down here."

12. VH1 - MTV's younger sister with an old soul who later developed a penchant for imitating sassy black women.

13. Whitney Houston's debut album - "How Will I Know" if this collection of pop perfection will still shine bright 30 years later? Just press play.

14. The Moldavian Massacre season finale on Dynasty - A lot of shoulder pads and sequins sacrificed themselves for the making of this May sweeps stunt.

15. The first dotcom/Internet domain - Unfortunately I have no idea which one it is.


January 08, 2015

TWENTY15: Sounds of a New Year

New year. New music. New playlist.

The following tunes are helping me kick off what I hope is a fantastic 2015. Can it top 2014? Who knows? All I know for sure is that I'll have some great tunes to keep me company through it all. (Translation: for the upcoming Golden Globes weekend and a trip to Vegas later this month.)

Sample the goods here:


January 05, 2015

An Open Letter to Trader Joe's Cookie Butter

Dear Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter,

You may not remember this, but we met sometime during the fall of 2012. You were sitting on a shelf in the snack aisle of the store, looking all cute in your unassuming, modestly sized jar. I was pushing a shopping cart full of my usual grocery fare – once again on an empty stomach. (You can imagine the poor decisions I’ve made while hungry for a hearty meal.) The guy at the sampling station told me you were available, and I couldn’t help but notice that others were checking you out, especially after getting a taste of what you had to offer. Mr. Sampling Station had spread you on an apple slice for me, and I knew this was the beginning of something special. My taste buds were telling me this was a match made in food heaven, but my brain was telling me I was embarking on a dangerous journey down a path of self-destruction.

I bought you right there and then. A spoonful of you, and all was right with the world. You brought the warm fuzzies. You comforted me in ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time. You were there when I came home from a grueling day at work. You were there when I was too tired to get up from the couch on a Saturday night. (I couldn’t help it if I had been fully committed to that Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon on cable.) I didn’t care if you were “smooth” or “crunchy.” I loved you for all of your characteristics.

I went through your first jar within a few days.

Then I introduced you to my friends. I told them that they had to meet you. I wanted them to know about how well you treated me, what you meant to me. It seemed as if I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without cookie butter. How did I get through my days without cookie butter before cookie butter? I wasn’t ashamed to declare my love, to shout from rooftops that I was in a relationship with a delicious and highly addictive processed spread.

Now this is just cruel.
I wanted to introduce you first and foremost to my friend Kaila. I knew she would love you the way I loved you. At first, she was suspicious when I gave her a spoon to try you out. But as soon as she closed her eyes and moaned, I knew she had instantly fallen in love.

“Fuck you. Why did you do that? What have you done to me? Now I have to get my own jar,” she told me after eating two more scoops of your smooth, buttery goodness.

See? That was just her way of expressing how thankful she was for me bringing you into her life. It was only a matter of time before I introduced you to my other friends, family, and coworkers.

But then, things started to change. I started to rely on you more than I wanted. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. My mind was consumed by the thought of consuming you. Luckily I’m self-aware enough to recognize the first signs of an obsession, and I knew I had to take some action.

I tried to keep my distance, but it only led me down a similarly disastrous road. When I attempted to avoid the problem, I turned to other butters. There was that organic almond butter I met at the farmers market last summer. It was fun while it lasted, but the truth is, almond butter isn’t as affordable as you, Cookie Butter. And that “business trip” I took to Peru? I had met a nice hazelnut chocolate spread that accompanied me on my excursion throughout the Sacred Valley. My tour guide had made the introductions, and it was just a fling. Please believe me when I tell you how guilty I felt while in the company of these other butters. The whole time I kept thinking, No one else deserves my spoon like Cookie Butter does.

But you might as well be a tool of the Devil himself. (My friends’ words, not mine – I swear.) Not only have you corrupted the nutritional content of food that’s supposed to be healthy for me (celery sticks, apple slices, multigrain wheat bread), you’ve corrupted my eating habits.

In no way am I placing all of the blame on you in this abusive relationship. It was a two-way street, for sure. I should have known that this is where we would end up. And that’s why I’m finally doing something about it. I can’t let this insanity carry on any longer. It’s not fair to both of us.

That said, I think it’s time for us to take a break.

I’ll still visit you in the aisles of my local Trader Joe’s stores. And maybe, every once in a while, I’ll bring one of your jars home with me for old time’s sake. But I can’t promise anything else beyond that. I have to take some precautions and practice what many health and nutrition gurus call restraint.

Trust me, Cookie Butter, this is for the best.

I have no doubt that you will find many other meaningful relationships. I’m sure you will find a cozy home in someone else’s cupboard. Maybe a lonely housewife who needs to distract herself from sex fantasies involving her Brazilian Pilates instructor. Or a potbellied security guard who needs some companionship during those late night shifts. I just hope that whoever is lucky enough to find you appreciates your deliciousness and comforting qualities. You deserve to be tasted by everyone.

Here’s to a long life full of happiness and joy.

Here’s to us.

Love always,


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