Milwaukee

I had to make an emergency trip to Milwaukee last month – haven’t had time or energy to write about it yet, but I probably should put something here. My wife’s stepmother passed away suddenly, and there was much chaos behind the whole thing. I don’t want to go into too many details here, except to say like 19 things were wrong with this story. And if you smoke, quit.

I’m not sure how I managed to get out of work for an entire week, but I did. (Well, almost — I still got pulled into two or three different problems via email while I was gone.) Sarah left the week before me, and tried to handle the pure chaos of the situation: no will, nothing planned, separate finances, lots of people in limbo, coming in to town and trying to help but it was like throwing ten decks of cards in the air and trying to sort them before they hit the ground. The funeral was gigantic, something like a thousand people, even the mayor of Milwaukee, and the will and the probate and the finances will probably drag on for months. So, don’t smoke, and get a will and write all that stuff down.

It’s unusual that I visit the midwest during the summer. The annual trip usually happens over the holidays, when everything is frozen. I haven’t been to Milwaukee in the summer since I think 2007, when we did a big IL/IN/WI trip. And I was there in the spring of 2008, for our wedding reception. I wrote about this phenomenon when I went to Indiana in 2015, and it still holds true – that change in temperature and sunlight and the ability to be outside for more than ten minutes without losing fingers and toes really changes things, sets off a completely different nostalgia profile.

My only real summertime nostalgia for Wisconsin is from 1993, when me and Ray and John Woods drove out for the Milwaukee Metalfest. That’s a whole other story, which we covered in the episode of the podcast with Ray. The bit that reverberated with me, at least on this trip, wasn’t Ice T or Cannibal Corpse, but was a brief moment in the morning. We drove to Milwaukee the night before, and slept in Ray’s car, on North 24th Street, next to the Eagles Lodge. Or tried to sleep, anyway — I think I got about 90 minutes of fitful rest in the back seat of Ray’s Oldsmobile, crunched between boxes of shirts and tapes and zines and whatever else.

At five or six in the morning, unable to sleep anymore, I got out of the car, left behind an unconscious Ray, and went for a walk in the neighborhood, looking for caffeine. It was oddly quiet, almost vacant, the calm before the storm. And the midwest in summer always has this atmosphere property early in the morning, when the sun hasn’t heated everything up, and the humidity is still dew and not a swamp of unbearable mugginess. There was such a peacefulness and stillness to the air, and I enjoyed that feeling of tranquility in my half-awake state.

For this trip, we stayed in a hotel, one of the only places we could find because of Irish Fest. It was out in this tech center area of Wauwatosa, which I guess used to be filled with old hospitals and asylums which went vacant after new hospitals were built, and during the Y2K-era tech boom, the area was sort of reinvented as a tech hub, with lots of low-slung office parks that looked like the generic office buildings in places like Denver’s tech center, or the east side of Lake Washington in Seattle. The hotel was pretty meh, but I got a place that had a gym, which I usually do. But I usually do that because it’s like zero outside, and I have to treadmill it; this time it was actually nice outside (in the morning at least) and I was able to walk around in the morning. And I got that same feeling of the air, that I had back in 1993. The walks each morning, although they were through an area that looked like a copy of Palo Alto research parks, still was tranquil and enjoyable, a nice break from everything else.

The week of the funeral was chaos. The service and the reception went well, or as well as these things can go. And aside from losing an exceptional person, and having to deal with all the bullshit of the death (or in my case, feeling like I really could not help enough), there was the usual sinking feeling of a major existential crisis, the “what the hell am I doing with my life” trip. And the “what the hell is going to happen to my life.” I have so many family members who have cancer, heart problems, everything else, and I look at that, and start mentally calculating my own glide slope, then start wondering what I’m going to get done, and of course, I don’t even know what I want to do. So that’s a lot to process, and part of me would rather not.

Usual travel junk. They lost my luggage on the way out, and I almost got stuck in Las Vegas. Had to sprint full speed from one terminal to another to make my flight. The way back was uneventful. I spent an hour in Los Angeles, and my old familiar Terminal 1 has been completely re-skinned and redone, so even though I was less than a mile from my old apartment, it wasn’t the same. Spent a lot of time at malls. Did an amazing amount of walking. Ate way too much. Every time I turned around, someone else was bringing over a fresh pie. It was wonderful, and I hope it never happens again, for several reasons.

Anyway, usual thing about how I need to write more here. Trying to get another book out, trying to get healthy and lose weight, trying to not think about this whole life thing too much.

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