Me and Grandpa [365portraits: 145]

Lots of Relatives

Sammy and his Great-Grandpa

I could listen to Grandpa’s stories and memories for hours on end, and it’s hard to imagine they’re finally over. Like all my other grandparents—I was so fortunate to have such wonderful parents of my parents—I will miss him very, very much.

Goodbye, Jeff

It was in January four years ago that I woke up to a telephone call that a friend had died; this time, it was through e-mail but no less shocking.

Jeff AlexanderI’ve known Jeff Alexander since 1998, when we both started volunteering for the Small Press Expo (SPX), a local convention for alternative and independent comic books. We quickly bonded over our love of not only comics, but all sorts of things; Doctor Who, Japanese culture, gaming, mysteries, movies, card games, and everything else in-between.

Jeff was part of a group of friends that for about three years, every Friday night would meet for drinks at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, then walk across the street to the AMC theatre and catch a movie. And even when I inadvertently ended that ritual (due to marathon training at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings), for years we also would meet up for half-price hamburgers at Whitlow’s on Wilson on Monday nights, catching up on everyone else’s lives and talking about anything and everything.

He was an amazingly talented artist, able to shift styles and techniques at the drop of a hat. Every year he drew a comic strip for the SPX program in the style of George Herriman, and the number of times where I was asked how we’d found pieces of original Krazy Kat art to use for the program was too high to count. For SPX 2010 he drew one in his own style, and I am so happy that everyone got to see just how good his own method of drawing looked, too.

He loved paint ball and gaming, and had just asked if my partner and I were interested in playing mahjong with him and his fiancee Erika. I never knew when I was going to get a random question (from ideas on what to do for a friend’s 50th birthday, still half a decade away, to questions on where to get rid of old manga volumes) but I always welcomed it. Jeff loved giving presents but hated receiving them. I still have a Christmas present for him, wrapped and labeled, sitting in my hall closet that he’ll never receive now.

Jeff was sarcastic but good-natured, dry but humorous, smart and quick to help out. I shared a hotel room with him and another friend when we went to San Diego Comic-Con in 2002, 2003, and 2005, and he was a great traveling companion. It was on that 2005 trip that he talked me into taking over the Ignatz Awards in 2007 from him (so he could become first Assistant Executive Director, then Executive Director of SPX) and I remember a year later thinking, “Wait, how did he get me to agree to this?”

Like so many friends, I look back now and think to myself, “I never did enough with him.” But Jeff was always the kind of person who wouldn’t complain if you hadn’t seen him in months, but rather would pick back up right where you’d left off. I miss the years where we’d run into each other at Big Planet Comics in Vienna on Wednesday evenings after work, and end up chatting for hours until the store closed.

A few months ago I gave him back a handful of DVDs that he’d loaned me years ago, but I’d never gotten around to watching. “You can keep them longer if you want,” he said, but I told him I felt guilty for having hung onto them for so long. Now I look at the spot on my coffee table where they’d sat for years, and selfishly wish I’d hung onto them, a little reminder and souvenir of all those good times together.

Jeff was worried about his hair and bought a fedora, and when I told him he was trying to look more like Peter Davison from Doctor Who he took that as a victory. He just finished up a degree in business and was looking to expand his career possibilities. Jeff loved his fiancee Erika and her two daughters Connie and Wilma more than anyone could possibly imagine.

Jeff Alexander was a wonderful friend, and someone who will never be replaced, only missed.

Life’s (Not-Welcome) Little Surprises

My Monday morning had started out well enough. I’d gotten up early so I could go to the gym and knock out an easy 4-miler, then use the weight machines. I’d made it out my apartment’s front door and down the five steps to the exit to my building—and that’s when I saw glass all over the ground.


Some jerk had broken two of the panes of glass in our building’s front door. I couldn’t help but notice that they were the two closest to the building’s doorknob; the insinuation is certainly that someone did this in order to get inside. Now, that might not be it at all. It could just be some kid being a jerk, or a complete and utter accident. But none the less, it’s hard to not draw that sort of conclusion.

I’ve been fortunate enough to never end up getting robbed. I was attacked (blatantly) by pickpockets in Italy twice back in 1999, but I’ve never come home to find that someone’s been in my home and taking all of my prized possessions. I hope to keep things that way, to be honest. My first response was to just stare at the destruction, shocked that someone would do that. Then I got a little pissed off and angry at whatever jerk did this.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand, then I ran for my camera. I am, if nothing else, slightly predictable. (When I got back from the gym I then took a second set of pictures that turned out much better. Probably because I was thinking a little clearer.)

By the time I got home in the evening, the rental office had already stripped all the glass out of the door (they were sweeping up the stuff on the floor before I even returned from the gym) and temporarily nailed a big sheet plexiglass over the window in the door. All that mess and destruction and 18 hours later, it’s already gone. And don’t get me wrong, I’m still irritated at whomever did that, but I wasn’t hurt and to the best of my knowledge neither was anyone else in the building. So all’s well that ends well, right? A minorly distressing event, but I’m past it. Onwards, right?

In a tangential piece of news, I also received news yesterday that neither Julie nor I got into the New York City Marathon. It’s funny, I’d assumed that either both of us would get in, or one of us would and the other wouldn’t and we’d have to figure out a new strategy. It honestly hadn’t struck me that neither one of us would make it in. That was pretty unexpected. And having to scratch our plans for the marathon sucks, perhaps because I already had to scratch one other race earlier this year that I’d really been looking forward to.

Still, at least we didn’t end up with the “one person made it in and the other did not” dilemma. We’d promised that we would both run the same marathon this year but I suspect that had that situation actually happened, the person who didn’t make it in would have pushed the other to do so. So both of us not getting it is better than just one. We’re eyeing another couple of options now and will probably decide in the next week or two what we’re going to tackle.

Life is full of little surprises.

Trying to Say Goodbye

Last night I’d written about half of an entry before deciding that the rest could wait until morning. It was about how for most of Monday I’d felt really energized about, bizarrely, some bad news. How somehow I’d found myself finding the good side of it, and being really excited and curious for what this would bring for me. I’d been flipping channels when I finally got home and landed on an episode of Six Feet Under, just in time for a line from Claire that summed up so much of what I’d felt that I’d rewound it (god bless the DVR) and wrote it down word for word.

This morning I stopped feeling so charitable about the world and its wonders, when I got word that my friend John McCalla had been found dead in his apartment.

I met John through AIDS Marathon. Both of us needed a roommate for the Florence leg of the trip, and the program reps matched us up. “You’ll really like him,” Beth had confided in me. “He’s a sweetie.” Before we went to Italy we’d met up at a marathon happy hour, and we ended up spending almost two hours talking to each other and ignoring everyone else that we’d wanted to see. By the end of the night I was almost giddy about spending more time with him; we’d both just clicked with each other in that way that happens too infrequently.

He’d just received a huge promotion at work and was crazy busy, but we traded e-mails and played phone tag a lot. In Florence, we spent a lot of our time together; sprawled out on our beds and talking, listening to his choices in music, wandering around Florence, or trying to drink each other under the table. He had a new boyfriend, and I’ll admit that I was a little sad to hear that because I’d developed a big crush on him, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel really happy for him. He and I were both sort of fumbling through life and trying to find relationships, and his happiness with having met Ed was infectious.

After the marathon we kept trading messages and swearing to get together soon, but something always seemed to get in the way. I’d teased him that I’d stolen my recent facial hair from him and because he was such a Six Feet Under fan that I was calling it the “Nate Fisher” even as I really was privately calling it the “John McCalla.” I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of days and when my friend Dave had asked last night about John, I’d said that he was probably on deadline again, but that we’d probably talk once that was over.

Now all I can think about is laughing together in a hotel bar, or trying each other’s food at Gorga (which had taken us and Amana forever to find but was absolutely worth it), or drunkenly collapsing into bed the night after the marathon with him passing out in mid-sentence. He’d been trying to quit smoking after his relapse in Florence, and swore that January 2nd would be his new start date. We’d promised to go running together, and soon. He was already talking about participating in another travel marathon, perhaps Honolulu. I wanted to hear how he was doing, to trade MP3s, to continue laughing over our horrible official marathon photos. He was smart, and witty, and fun to be around. He’d strike up conversations with cab drivers about what music they were listening to, and loved to travel. His smile always felt real and he always listened to whomever was talking.

We only met two and a half months ago and I miss him so much.

John McCalla

John McCalla on a scooter; Florence, Italy