My Dad, Robin Williams, Osama Bin Laden and Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia, My Father

I felt bad for Lewy body dementia this week.

On Tuesday, TMZ reported that Robin Williams was “struggling” with the disease, and that it had “triggered” the actor’s suicide in August.

If this was the first you’d read or heard about Lewy body, you would probably think: Wow, what a terrible thing.

You would not be wrong.

My father was diagnosed with Lewy body. As the disease was described to us, it was like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s rolled into one because that’s essentially what Lewy body is: Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s rolled into one.

So, no, not a lot of fun.

And yet…

The hallucinatory nature of the disease, the part that TMZ seized on in its Williams report, made for fascinating discussions with my father. See, once meds were adjusted, my father was able to describe in great detail what he had seen on his Lewy body dementia trips. For example: When my father was out of his head in Nursing Home No. 1, he later related from the comfort of Nursing Home No. 2, he became aware of a nuclear bomb that was being stored in the next room over by Osama bin Laden. It was a brilliant ruse, he thought. After all, who would expect to find a high-grade explosive and the World’s Most Wanted Man in a skilled nursing facility in the San Gabriel Valley? Nobody, that’s who! (Good thing bin Laden wasn’t listening in, and taking notes.)

Odder than the bin Laden story was my father’s summer-long search for the baby. You may ask, what baby? I asked myself this, too, as, at the time, my father had four grown children (average age 40.3), no grandchildren and zero acquaintances among the infant and toddler set. But, oh, did that baby worry him. The darned tot was always getting kidnapped or otherwise vanishing. (Somehow, this act of going missing was always the baby’s fault, and not my father’s, even though reasonable people like myself would argue it was his responsibility to keep tabs on the imaginary baby.) In any case, the baby. It troubled him. It troubled him so deeply, apparently, that he never could answer the vital, “What was up with that?” question.

But—and this is key—he talked objectively about the baby. He talked objectively about bin Laden. He’d been to the other side of the lucidity, and returned to report on it. In the end, Lewy body dementia didn’t rob him of his mind. (His ability to swallow and play basketball, sure, but…) In the end, Lewy body dementia didn’t even kill him. (Spoiler alert: A heart attack did!)

My point here is not to sell Lewy body dementia as a good thing, but to remind that like many a bad thing, it may not be as bad as a TMZ headline makes it out to be.

The Lewy Body Dementia Association makes a similar point, noting that while an autopsy found Williams’ brain showed signs of the disease, the actor was not necessarily exhibiting dementia before his death.

Wonder if TMZ’s meds can be adjusted.


Why I Am Not the Village People

Me, Music, My Father, Village People

For the first leg of my journey, that for the sake of clarity (and SEO purposes) will be plainly called “My Summer of Learning to Play Every Song on the Village People’s Go West Because I Promised My Father (35 Years Ago) I Would,” I learned how to play the first song on the Village People’s Go West.

“In the Navy” was simple enough to semi-master, especially on the guitar (meaning, especially the way I play the guitar). What was hard was playing the song in front of a live audience. It was so hard, in fact, that I didn’t do it. My micro-, two-song set at an open mic last week did not include “In the Navy.”

I could say that I didn’t think I could pull off the song lyrically. I could say that my attempt to hide the verses (with their lines about “learn[ing] science and technology”) within a “Beyond the Sea” mashup didn’t work. But what it comes down to is I couldn’t commit to the song as it was meant to be sung: heartily, and with great enthusiasm.

And so the first leg of my journey produced its first lesson: I am not the Village People.

My Summer Project: Unbreaking the Broken Village People Promise

Me, Music, My Father, Village People

VillagegowestThirty-five years ago this summer, my father bought me the Village People‘s Go West. It was the first album that could be called my album; it was the first album that I wanted to be called my album. I was 11, and I was desperate to start my record collection with this disc. I was so desperate that there, in the aisles of  Wherehouse Records in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village, I promised that, in exchange for a copy of Go West, I would learn to play every song on Go West. On the accordion.

That did it; my father was sold. I got the album. I did not, however, learn to play any song from Go West on the accordion or on any other instrument, although I eventually did publicly perform “Y.M.C.A.” on acoustic guitar (something which is neither here nor there as it relates to my Village People promise since  “Y.M.C.A.” was from the group’s 1978 album, Cruisin‘, and not from 1979’s Go West.)

In any case, a promise is a promise, and 35 years behind schedule or no, I have decided my summer project this summer will be to learn to play every song from Go West. On the accordion. Or sometimes on the ukelele.

And while my father never got to hear my non-ironic cover of “Manhattan Woman”—he died 10 years ago from causes unrelated to my unfulfilled Village People promise—you can if you stay tuned here for my occasional updates and videos.

Go west, won’t you?

My Father and Star Trek‘s Scotty: Together Again—This Time in Orbit

Me, My Father, My Mother, Star Trek

So, my father was blast into space Tuesday. This is funny to me for a number of reasons that I will now discuss:

  • Two, my father was suspicious of the space program, and now he’s on board a rocket with a Mercury astronaut and James Doohan, the U.S.S. Enterprise’s esteemed chief engineer. (To be fair, my father was suspicious of everything and everyone, including former CNN anchor Bobbie Batista, whose gaze he claimed was designed to distract viewers from the “real news”—the “real news” meaning items about the space program, natch, of which he is now a full-fledged member, natch.)
  • Three, I had no idea my father was blast into space until hours after he had been blast into space. This, too, is funny to me, and that’s because:
  • Four, there is something wrong with me.
  • Five, prior to Tuesday, my father had been blast into space with Mr. Cooper and Mr. Doohan a million times, not including some bonus airplane flights here and there, since my family signed him up, or rather, signed his remains up several years ago for a space flight courtesy the aerospace company Celestis: I had simply stopped paying attention to what he, or, rather what his remains were doing. (See above for further explanation.)
  • Six, prior to Tuesday, I did not know my father (and Mr. Cooper and Mr. Doohan) hadn’t really been blast into space on all those other occasions; my father had merely been part of failed attempts to be blast into space. I did not know this because I evidently wasn’t paying attention even when I thought I was paying attention (which was sometime back in 2008.)
  • Seven, in emails, my mother referred to Celestis as “the space people,” á la, “The space people just sent me an email again…,” and I found that phrase, “the space people,” so entertaining that I never bothered with the rest of the emails, plural.

So, yes, my father was blast into space Tuesday, and this is still funny to me because I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be funny to him. Especially the part about “the space people.”