In Tribute to Mr. Carl Ray Kassel: B. April 2, 1934. D. April 17, 2018. / by D.M. Jerman

If my mental magician of a husband did not remember the date: October 3rd 2013, I would have to go back, find the photo, and check it for a time stamp.

A Thursday night. As I am wearing an easy grey cut-out dress, I think its a mild one, if the weather is something I can actually recall.

A week or so before, a dear friend invites me to a show. “It’s a weekend NPR vehicle called Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” I’ve heard of it, and there’s a studio audience live taping of it in a theatre in the basement of a bank, and it sounds to me, because I’m a bit of a culture snob, like something the plebes are into, but she’s real excited and, as I figure out later, we have front row seats! So I go.

I go because my dear friend is dating one of the writer/performers on the show. She first met him at a theatre where we both worked as counter girls slinging cokes & beers at pre-show and intermissions.

In our seats, we snap a selfie. She is kind of star struck, but mostly just happy to be on planet Earth, and I am pleased in the presence of her enthusiasm. 

But I go also because I want to go out and do something. I really like doing new things. But more importantly, I’m lugubrious and lonely and I feel hollow all the time. My heart seems to have perpetually taken on the shape of a wrenched gut, and I live with a hoarder.

Now, if you had told me, at that same time the following year I’d be married to someone I would be in the same room with that night, I probably would have laughed in your face to keep from crying, and told you to quit fucking w/ me.

That it would end up being the man wearing black jeans and a nice vest with silk backing. The one who called my friend’s last name along with a group of other last names. The one who led us downstairs, pausing on the landing to turn with a flourish and a smile. A big, genuine grin that said “I hope you’re happy to be here. Because I am. You’re in for a treat.”

The show starts and it is effortless fun. The first words I heard Announcer Carl Kassel, Scorekeeper Emeritus, say on stage were the punchline to a joke about a cat: "You go girl!" Just like that. Laughter exploded out of me. After that joke, I immediately understood the appeal of the show. And I was glad to be there.

Show’s over. My friend and I go across the street to a bar where we are meeting the writer/performer. A short time after that he arrives, and Carl is in tow. Carl is amiable, but tired. He looks tired, anyway. A few weeks from now, he will retire. He doesn’t want to, but his memory is fading. I don’t think I exchanged many words with him that evening. I didn’t say much at all myself, really. The interaction was all about my friend and her writer. However, I sat beside Carl. Or at least I think I did. My memories have faded, too.

 

I’m going to quote one of my favorite song lyrix. From “This Country” by Fever Ray. The whole song is great, but the outro goes: “This Country makes it hard to fuck.”

Because the “business” of the internet is turning the wild, wide open world of humanity and truth, into a washed-out, walled-up wasteland of trash talk and gatekept code, the social contract is in deep decline. Collectively we seem to be having an increasingly harder time interpreting and translating into meaning, our own culture and our standing and place within it.

So no wonder it is getting harder and harder to cultivate the kind of righteous graciousness, presence, and ease of care that Carl seemed to exude in spades. We all know persons like this, and want to better ourselves by either finding ways to simply bask in their presence, or learning their secret, so we can be it ourselves. Books about this are being written and read all the time. Carl’s book included.

But all on your own you’ve probably figured that, becoming this, means a lot of time alone.

Slowdown Time-  to reconnect with the self and get away from the world of knowing and certainty with its dull, unblinking eye.

It means a lot of thinking. The meditative kind. Just letting the thoughts come and go. Feeling the world spin.

It means a lot of fucking. Fucking around. Fucking off. Finding your personal country. Being free.

 

Carl Kasell was 84 years old in 2018. Someone else died at 84 in 1918. And it was a feat then. That kind of longevity was incredible. You deserved multiple decorations if you made it that far. Now its nearly expected. Maybe someday we’ll get to roll the dice for ourselves. We will get to decide when we’re born, and how long we live. Our time will truly be ours, because it will be chosen time.

I don’t know what kind of a people this makes us, except that it probably makes less of us. A whole lot of us will choose to not choose.

But now… how do people make it to 84? Why? How do they make it beyond that? Some don’t. Most don’t. I sure hope my husband does, though.

Not too long ago the last known human to have been born in the 19th century passed away…

 

I obsess about this: I’m not great with time. I have problems with time the way other people have problems with the weather. And death. Probably the only death I’ll be totally fine with will be my own. You feel this way too, right? No one teaches you how to grieve, anyway. And nothing else quite shows you what your made of like loss.

Really, death kinda just makes me think of aging. Aging comes first after all. 

I’ve got lots of longevity in my family, so if you are going to try to tell me I'm going to make it to 84, I won't laugh in your face. But I will cry. I'd rather make it to half that and call it. From this far off, to your classic Gen-Y misanthropic nihilist, 84 sounds like life without parole. Plus I want to die young and hot and hope my spirit is around long enough to watch someone else hot fuck my corpse one last time.

It's a dream, people.

 

Anyway-

When I chat with the Carl in my head, he says “Yes, It was hard. Especially on Mary Anne. But I got to see so many people I loved. So many who were so dear came near and made this world I was growing ever more estranged from in my mind, somehow still real.”

He says: Stephanie you are a beautiful girl and Don loves you very very much, and you love him too, and nothing ever fixes anything for long except Love. You call it love, and it makes nothing at all into something special.

And I say: that's great Carl but my names not Stephanie. It’s Dana.

And he says: Oh. Oh that’s right, Dana, yes, very sorry. Always nice to see you Dana. You have a very nice place here.

Then I say: Thank you, Mr. Kasell. It is the inside of my head, so I try to keep it tidy.