Man On Fire Lyrics

Man On Fire © 2003

man on fire © chris gerolmo          october 6, 2003

soaked in sweat em
it’s not desire
it’s not just pain
i’m a man on fire
i’m a crackling wire
i’m a man on fire 
i see saints em
in windowpanes
i hear choirs
in hurricanes
i’m a man on fire
i’m a crackling wire
i’m a man on fire
it’s always dreams that enslave you
and yet it’s dreams that’ll save you
i soar above em
the sugarcane
a man on fire
in a world in flames
i’m a man on fire
i’m a crackling wire
i’m a man on fire
man on fire
i’m on fire
i’m on fire

monsters everywhere © chris gerolmo

monsters are everywhere here in the dark
they live in the house they live in the park
you have any candy they’ll take it from you
you get a new toy they’ll take that too
monsters everywhere
monsters everywhere
monsters are there even when you grow up
what honest men build monsters blow up
daddy says monsters will send me to war
they don’t have the courage to tell me what for
monsters everywhere
monsters everywhere
when monsters are dreaming they’re dreaming of me
they’re dreaming of dragging me into the sea
they’re dreaming of oil and of ruling the world
and of stealing the toys from the boys and the girls
monsters everywhere
monsters everywhere
the things that I’ve said about monsters are true
they’re coming for me and they’re coming for you
there’s no way of keeping these monsters as bay
so just watch what you do and watch what you say
monsters everywhere
monsters everywhere

i-80 © chris gerolmo              December 25, 2005

i take potshots at trucks from a hill outside town
i climb to the top clear a spot and lay down
i fire at the big rigs that barrel along
it doesn’t feel right but it doesn’t feel wrong
i cook in the prison at mahwah by day
i boil red meat until it all turns gray
i look in the eyes of the cons on line
nothing to choose between theirs and mine
my baby took off maybe a year ago now
they say i should find her but i wouldn’t know how
between you and me i think she was right
sometimes you just gotta fade into the night
so i drive out again to the top of the hill
in spite of the highway the night’s so still
i don’t know what my life is, a killer once said
i just know there’s this pounding in the back of my head
i don’t know what my life is, a killer once said
i just know there’s this pounding in the back of my head

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I’m Your Daddy Lyrics

 I’m Your Daddy © 2005

number one man © chris gerolmo       october 6, 2003

i wanna be your best guitar
i wanna be your favorite car
i wanna be your tightest dress
i wanna be your yes yes yes
i wanna rise as high as i can
i wanna be your number one man
your number one man
i wanna be your home-town team
i wanna be your fondest dream
i wanna be your victory song
i wanna be your thinnest thong
i wanna rise as high as i can
i wanna be your number one man
your number one man
i have to i’ll take number two
i’ll do what-all you make me do
i wanna be your wildest ride
i wanna keep you satisfied
i wanna be your late-night host
i wanna touch your innermost…aagh!
i wanna rise as high as I can
i wanna be your number one man
your number one man
your number one man  

THE GARDEN OF LOVE © Chris Gerolmo           March 3, 2001

I got a lover 
I love no other
She says she’s just using me
She says I’m lovely
But she doesn’t love me
My feeling is let’s wait and see
I got a woman
Just wants me to come in and
Service her bodily needs
I tell her I’m lucky
Just to have her to…kiss me
But I’m secretly planting the seeds
I believe one day she’ll wake up
‘Neath trees that tower above
Every flowering plant in creation
Here in the garden of love
In the garden of love
She doesn’t yet know
How quietly love grows
In spite of your every defense
I’m here with my love hose
Coaxing up love’s rose
Through the tiny crack in her cement
I believe one day she’ll wake up
‘Neath trees that tower above
Every flowering plant in creation
Here in the garden of love
In the garden of love
In the garden of love
In the garden of love
In the garden of love

SOMETHING SMELLS GOOD © Chris Gerolmo            June 13, 2002

Capo at 3rd Fret

Effective key Gm

Something smells good but it ain’t in the kitchen Em
Something smells good but it’s not in the pot
Something smells good it’s got my nose itchin’
Something smells good I think I like it a lot
Something smells good like a woman in bloom D
Show me the source of this wild perfume A
Something smells good & you don’t have to hide it Em
Something smells good girl you should be proud
A bee smell a rose he wanna climb up inside it
One whiff of you, you got me crying out loud
Something smells good like a woman in bloom D
Show me the source of this wild perfume A
Something smells good like a woman in bloom D
Show me the source of this wild perfume A
Baby I’m just one step removed from the zoo
I’ll trade in my cage and my keeper for you
Something smells good & now it’s under the covers Em
Something smells good & now it’s here in my hand
Something smells good & now I’m lucky we’re lovers
I can smell you from here like a sailor smells land
Something smells good like a woman in bloom D
Show me the source of this wild perfume A
Something smells good and it’s driving me wild D
Half-woman, half-wolf and all monkey-child! A
Something smells good it’s right under my nose D
On a mountain of night soil, one ragged rose! A

I’M YOUR DADDY © Chris Gerolmo          July 30, 2003

G Blues
 I’m your daddy and I’m tired too
I fight with monsters all day just like you
Sometimes the monsters win. Sometimes the good guys lose
I’m your daddy and I’m crying too
I don’t get it any more than you
But come the morning, son, we’ll take ‘em on anew
I’m your daddy and I’m sleeping too
I sleep the sleep of fathers, lovers and fools
Hopes aglitter in the fields of my dreams like jewel 
I’m your daddy and I’m dreaming too
Behind the old I sometimes think I see the new
And I see joy for all the little boys like you

IT’S A LONG WAY DOWN © Chris Gerolmo            September 14, 2001
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
From the highest floors G D/F# Em7
As your colleagues tumble G D/F# Em7
With their desks and drawers G D/F# Em7
And the ceilings crumble G D/F# Em7
And the I-beams bend G D/F# Em7
And the mighty are humbled G D/F# Em7
And the known world ends G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7\\
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
When you’ve said goodbye G D/F# Em7
And you storm the cabin G D/F# Em7
And you know you’ll die G D/F# Em7
And they cut your face G D/F# Em7
And there’s blood like rain G D/F# Em7
And a rocky field G D/F# Em7
Awaits the screaming plane G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down C G/B Am7
In this world of pain C G/B Am7
You think you’ve hit the ground C G/B Am7
You better think again C G/B Am7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
And we’re only here G D/F# Em7
There’s more to bear G D/F# Em7
And worse to fear G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
That’s nothing new G D/F# Em7
If I have to fall G D/F# Em7
I wanna fall with you G D/F# Em7
But it’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7
It’s a long way down G D/F# Em7

THIS OLD HOUSE © Chris Gerolmo                        April 3, 2003

Tune down 1 whole step

Key of Bb

My faucets leak C
My drains are clogged G
My shower’s weak C
My window’s fogged G
Would you move in this house with me? F C
Would you move in this house with me? F C
My garden’s dry C
My basement’s damp G
My taxes high C
My closets cramped G
Would you move in this house with me? F C
Would you move in this house with me? F C
This old house needs everything Am F
If you moved in the walls would sing Am G
The walls would sing C
The floors would dance G
The roof take wing C
The stairwell prance G
If you moved in this house with me F C
If you moved in this house with me F C
You’re everything this old house needs F C G

Everybody Knows © chris gerolmo         october 21, 2004
everybody knows that i’m a loser
everybody knows that i’m a child
everybody knows that she’s an angel
sent to earth to drive me wild
everybody knows i’m from the gutter
everybody knows she’s from the sky
everybody knows i just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
everybody knows he just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
(eat your heart out boys)
when we walk in the door
i always get the eye
folks think natural selection
must’a finally gone awry
i’m a no-count junkie corner-boy
who by all rights should’a died
i’m a mumbling stumbling homeless man
with a princess by his side
everybody knows i just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
everybody knows he just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
(watch me dance)
everybody wants to know my secret
how’d that hunchback get the girl?
when’d this monkey learn to walk upright?
how’s a crab produce a pearl?
(i’m not talking )
everybody knows that i’m a loser
everybody knows i’m just a child
everybody knows that she’s my angel
sent to earth to drive me wild
when she walks in they rise up on their toes
when she turns and kisses me they roll their eyes
everybody knows i just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
everybody knows he just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
everybody knows he just got lucky
nobody knows exactly why
(if I did I still wouldn’t tell you )

ACROSS THIS BLOODY RIVER © Chris Gerolmo            April 27, 2001  

They been draggin’ the swamps in this part of the state of Mississippi since one dark Tuesday late last May
They drug up some dead trees and some rusty gates and at least one worn-out ol’ whitewall tire just about every day
They drug up a Buick was still full’a moonshine an’ a whole damn outhouse must’a been lost in some ol’ hurricane
And they drug up 14 dead young black boys, looked like they must’a died in pain
They sent us wives to tell their mothers
Just how and where their babies died
But when they swore they’d find the killers
I do believe they lied
To these poor folks, we quoted scripture
We prayed about that lonesome ride
Across this wide and bloody river
To the other side
When we’d done talked to all those mothers, they set the body bags aside
They didn’t get no national press at all, so I guess they figured they could let it slide
My husband didn’t investigate nothing. We never said two words about it more
And when those TV cameras left town, life went back to pretty much what it was before
But honey, do you dare to face her?
Can you look her in the eyes?
When it’s time to take your place there
On the other side?
It takes work to not be bitter
Every marriage has its lies
But this one drug my heart out
This one took my pride
When I’ve given all I have to give
And it’s time to take that ride
I wanna be free to cross that river
And not be draggin’ these ol’ lies against the tide
But I’m afraid I’ll never get there
Afraid this swamp is still too wide
Afraid we’ll never cross this river
Afraid that part of each of has died
Come on. Let’s cross this bloody river
To the other side
Help me cross this bloody river
To the other side

THIS IS HOW WE DIE © Chris Gerolmo             May 4, 2005

A bullet flies E
Your chest goes cold A
The pain begins E
It’s even worse than you been told B A
The battle fades E
The bloodstain grows A
Last flower you’ll ever see E
Is this lonely crimson rose B A

You come to in a garden B
And you’re surprised to find your mother there A
Well this is how we die E
Take a bullet in the chest A
Whether we’re the worst of men E
Or whether we’re the best B E
Your desperate heart E
Keeps trying to pound A
The shrieking in your head E
Is more than any mortal sound B A
And then it fades E
You see the light A
But it’s just your failing eyes E
As you pass into the night B A
You come to in a garden B
And you’re surprised to find your mother there A
Well this is how we die E
Take a bullet in the chest A
Whether we’re the worst of men E
Or whether we’re the best B A
This is how we die E
This is how it ends A
For all our enemies E
And for all our dying friends B A
This is how we die

SURROUNDED BY ANGELS © Chris Gerolmo                           April 30, 2005

Tune Down 1 Whole Step
Key of Bb
I’m surrounded by angels C F
They breathe on my face C G
They watch while I’m sleeping C F
Stand guard in my place C G
I’m surrounded by angels C F
They put dreams in my eyes C G
I wake up repeating their C F
Generous lies C G
They make my wife take my hand F G
When it’s so dark I can’t see C (B) Am
They whisper this tune I forgot F G
And it comes back to me C
I’m surrounded by angels C F
Who call out my name C G
They watch while my kids C F
Cross the street in the rain C G
They stand by while my wife’s C F
At the doctor’s again C G
Man they’ll be hovering here C F
When it all comes to an end C G
They make my wife take my hand F G
When it’s so dark I can’t see C (B) Am
They whisper this tune in my ear F G
And it comes back to me C
I’m surrounded by angels C F
They breathe on my face C G
They murmur this prayer of C F
Acceptance and grace C G
I’m surrounded by angels C F
They put dreams in my eyes C G
I’m surrounded by angels C F
And I don’t know why C G

IT’S EVERYWHERE © Chris Gerolmo            February 11, 2002

One day the sky will say your name A F#m
One day the sea will ask you in C#m D
One day the trees will want your hair A F#m
One day the breeze will take your skin C#m D
One day the clouds will claim your eyes A
One day the rain will need your tears F#m
One day the streams will wash away your lies C#m
And the wind will blow away your fears D
And in every moon we’ll see your face E D
And at every dawn we’ll know you found your place E D
And yes it’s everywhere A F#m
I don’t believe love ever dies C#m D
It’s everywhere A F#m
In my own child I see your eyes C#m D
I’ll see you everywhere A F#m C#m D
One day the wind will come for me A F#m
One day the sky will take my hand C#m D
One day the fields will wear my hair A F#m
And I’ll dissolve into the sand C#m D
One day the clouds will claim my eyes A
One day the rain will need my tears F#m
One day the streams will wash away my lies C#m
And the wind will blow away my fears D
And in every moon you’ll see my face E D
And at every dawn you’ll know I found my place E D
And yes, it’s everywhere A F#m
I don’t believe love ever dies C#m D
It’s everywhere A F#m
We needn’t waste time on goodbyes C#m D
I’ll see you everywhere A F#m
In my own child I see your eyes C#m D
I’ll see you everywhere A F#m C#m D
I’ll see you everywhere A F#m C#m D

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The End Of The World For Beginners; first 5 entries

The End of the World for Beginners


Chris Gerolmo


I’m not an expert on anything, okay? Let’s get that out of the way up front. I’m not an expert on Global Warming, water shortages, radiation poisoning, famine or nuclear terrorism. I’m not an expert on epidemiology, genetic engineering or waste management. I’m not an expert on silviculture, nor did I even know it meant the science of managing trees until just a minute ago, and I’m neither an expert on the Arabs, nor the Jews. In fact, I find New Yorkers hard to understand, and I grew up on 49th and 3rd.

Why would I dare write a book that touches on all these subjects? Because it needed writing, I guess. Bob Dylan says he only started writing songs when he realized he wanted to sing a certain kind of a song and that it didn’t yet exist. Well, I’m not Bob Dylan, but I am a dad, and I realized earlier this year that I wanted to know how we were doing with the long-term problems we’ll be leaving to our kids, and that I didn’t want to read 15 different books to find out. My kids are the reason I’m interested but they also keep me pretty busy, and what I wanted to read was some condensed little report on how the future was looking. I found out that if I wanted to read one, I’d have to write it first.

So I thought I’d go ahead and do so. I did some research on our current state of readiness to deal with the problems I named above and with some other equally serious problems as well, and I assembled it into this tiny little book, designed to be read by those of us who don’t have a lot of time to devote to such global questions as whether or not the world is about to come to an end because we’re too busy doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

Will I oversimplify some of these complex subjects? Or even misstate a problem or two? Yes, of course. Inevitably so. Or wait, do you mean more so than they’re regularly oversimplified or misstated by politicians, corporate PR people and the TV news? Are you kidding? I’m just a private citizen. I don’t have the resources to make mistakes that big.

Chris Gerolmo

Brentwood, CA


A is for Armageddon.

Armageddon is a word that’s changed a lot over the years. It started out as the name of a hill about 80 miles from Jerusalem- not even a mountain, just a hill- but soon it came to mean the place where the last battle between Good and Evil would be fought, then to mean the battle itself, in which God would finally face off against the Beast, ushering in the Day of Reckoning and the end of the world. More recently, it’s come to mean any catastrophic conflict or event likely to destroy us all. Well, this little book is only about that latter meaning. It’s not about the Day of Judgment or the Day of Standing. I’m not interested in Moses or Muhammad, Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard. I never read Nostradamus. I didn’t even see THE DAVINCI CODE. I’m only interested in reality.

This book is about the many real threats to the planet and the race that exist right now; what they are, how we plan to defend ourselves against them, and in cases where it’s already begun, how the battle is going. This little book is about the real end of the world.

It’s little so you can digest it quickly, between hands of Hold ‘Em, say, or on the john. For those of you who can’t spare even the few minutes that might take, I can pretty much boil down its conclusions to a sentence or two for you. If there’s one place you always wanted to see before you died? Make reservations.

B is for the Bang and the Whimper.

In THE HOLLOW MEN, T.S. Elliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.” As a poetic description of the end-of-the-empire ennui of the educated Englishman- and by extension of the Anglophile; Elliot was born in Missouri- it’s eloquent and sad. But as a prediction, I’m afraid it’s no more accurate than the mumblings of my local street-people here in Santa Monica.

In fact, this is the way the world ends: in approximately 7.5 billion years, the earth will come so close to the sun in its dwindling orbit that it’ll be burned to a crisp and absorbed into the sun’s mass. That will be the end of the actual planet. But the era of plants and animals will have come to an end long before. In 500 million years or so, it’ll be so hot on earth that no living creature of any kind will survive. That’ll be the end of the human race.

Or will it? I guess that’s the real question behind this inquiry. Will the human race survive until its previously-scheduled appointment with extinction in 500 million years? Or will it pass into nothingness- of its own doing- much sooner? In our children’s lifetimes, say? Or in our own?

C is for the Tragedy of the Commons.

“The Tragedy of the Commons” is the name of an essay written in 1968 by a man named Garret Hardin. It describes the dilemma of a group of herders who share rights to a common field; it’s in each herder’s individual interest to put as many cows as possible onto the field, but if all the herders make this individually rational decision, the commons will be destroyed, and all the herders will suffer. It’s essential to an understanding of this little book- and to an understanding of the apparently suicidal behavior of men- that one come to terms with this dilemma. As Jack Kerouac said in ON THE ROAD, “This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.”

If you’re one of the herders- or one of the loggers, or one of the fishing fleet owners, or even a manufacturer of plastic bottles- and you’re doing well, chances are you’re forging ahead with plans for expansion. Which is perfectly rational. If you’re one of the people committed to preventing the destruction of the commons- and by extension of the planet and the race- chances are you think these people are dangerously shortsighted and thus a threat to the entire group. Which is also perfectly rational. How to resolve the dilemma?

Our best hope, of course, is the ubiquity of knowledge in the modern world, of communication, of consciousness. Knowledge changes everything. Once the herders know they’re destroying the very resources that keep us all alive- once their college-age kids start working on them at home- they’ll hammer out some kind of an arrangement with each other and the rest of us that acknowledges our common fate. They have to. They may be shortsighted but they’re not crazy.


D is for Deforestation.

Scientists used to call the forest “the lungs of the earth” because it takes air we can’t breathe and turns it into air we can. More recent research suggests that the Brazilian rainforest, for instance, is far more important to man as a buffer against Global Warming and as a source of 25% of the medicines currently in use in the world than for its oxygen-making capacities. Either way, when 1700 of the world’s most prominent scientists, including virtually all the living Nobel Laureates in science, signed a Warning to Humanity in 1992, they included the destruction of the world’s forests on their list of 6 critical threats to the earth’s ecosystem that “may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.” Hmm. That wasn’t our first warning, either. In fact, for what it’s worth, it was abundantly clear that deforestation was a danger to the species by 1980. So let’s see if that knowledge worked the way we hoped it would when we talked about Hardin’s essay.

Well, in the 5 centuries before 1980, about 4% of the Brazilian rainforest was destroyed. In the 30 years since, about 40%. New research by the Smithsonian, using satellite imaging and computer modeling, suggests that at current rates, by 2028, 95% of it will be gone. And instead of curtailing their work elsewhere when they learned how dangerous it was, logging companies around the world ramped up production. They’re now cutting down between 100 and 200 trees a second, or 1,000 trees in the time it takes to read that last sentence out loud. At current rates, by the year 2020, China’s forests will be gone- largely because they need so many of those disposable chopsticks- and by the year 2060, there will be no forests left on earth. So if the 1700 scientists were right, we may already have stumbled onto a possible target date for the beginning of the end of man- 2060- and we’re only at the letter D. But let’s go on, anyway. Maybe we’ll find cause for hope in some other letter.

E is for Ecocide.

Ecocide is a relatively new word. It means the destruction of the physical environment, especially when caused by man. It’s a word that aims to connect the idea of harming the environment to murder. Now, that’s a hopeful sign, don’t you think? That such a word exists? Someone seems to have an idea of what the stakes are, at least. I certainly do. My wife died last year at the age of 43 after a long battle with cancer, during which I learned far more than I ever wanted to about the disease, but I’ll share just a few facts with you. One is that in 2005 cancer passed heart disease as the number one killer of Americans under age 85. Two is that according to the International Hippocratic Foundation, a worldwide cancer epidemic is underway, resulting in more than 8 million new cases a year. Three is that cancer is widely considered to be an environmental disease, meaning that most cancer is caused by things in the environment that shouldn’t be there called carcinogens. In their Consensus Statement on cancer and the environment, the IHF in the year 2000 concluded both that “the majority of these cancers could be avoided and prevented by reducing exposure to environmental carcinogens” and that “regulatory methods should be based on the principle that protection of health takes precedence over economic considerations.” You’d think that last bit would go without saying, wouldn’t you?

But it doesn’t. In fact, that’s the problem in a nutshell. Economic considerations take precedence over protection of health. For instance, the 7-year-long Italian study that found that aspartame in low daily doses shows a statistically significant increase in breast cancer, leukemia and lymphoma in rats was dismissed by the FDA. Why? As the NY Times dryly noted in an article on the study, “New regulatory action on aspartame would…jeopardize the billions of dollars worth of products sold with it.” Translation? If you’re waiting for Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi to change sweeteners, don’t hold your breath. Of course, aspartame isn’t causing the end of the world. I mention it only because it shows us that the way things work out here on the Commons is a little more rough and tumble than you might think. The herders are out there herding, and the soda guy is selling soda. If you try to tell him that the experts say the soda he’s selling is causing cancer, he‘ll just hire some experts of his own to heap ridicule on you and on your study, too, and go on about his business. And then have his people discreetly look into investment opportunities in cancer research.


If after reading this you would like to get back to Chris Gerolmo’s website, visit

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Death For Beginners; first 5 entries


Death for Beginners


Chris Gerolmo


My wife Joan died about two and a half years ago. She’d a terrible time for several years before that, and she did some things in her anger and her pain that drove me crazy– almost- but I loved her. I loved her the way I tell my kids I love them every day, as much as two dump-trucks full of gold.

Shortly after she died, I started writing these little books “for Beginners,” a series of sort of children’s books for grown-ups, primers about what the world looks like when stripped of both denial and illusion, when viewed naked and well-lit, as corpses are viewed. I wrote one called Atheism for Beginners, and one about the sad state my country is in called Kleptocracy for Beginners. Then I took on the subject of death, which in some ways I suppose is the underlying subject of all of them.

I wanted to write a book about death as it really is, and how different it is from the stories we tell ourselves about it. I’m not interested in myths, folk tales or religious stories, except insofar as they express our wishes. I’m only interested in reality, in the facts, in the real world in all its grim detail. So this book has its harsh moments, as does any human life. If you don’t want to read anything unpleasant, you might as well stop here. But if you have an inquiring mind and you don’t judge what you read based on whether or not it’s pleasing but instead on whether or not it’s honest or true to life, read on. Keats once wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” I don’t know if that was so when he was alive, but it certainly isn’t now. In modern America, youth is beauty, beauty youth, and that’s a fact. But in this little book we’re going with Keats’s definition, right or wrong. If I’m out of step with the times, too bad. The times can get in step with me if they want to, although I’d never recommend it.

If someone asked me to say what human life is at its essence- and believe me, no one has- I’d say that it comes in two parts; on the one hand, reality, the known and the knowable, nebulae and quarks, skin slippage and hide beetles, that with which our first job in life is always to come to terms, and on the other, the stories we make up about it, which for every good reason in the world tend towards wish-fulfillment and fantasies of victory and survival. Well, this is an attempt to look at the former without the distortions of the latter.

By now- and mind you, I haven’t written a full page yet- Joan were she still alive and healthy would be at my shoulder asking me, “What about love, though, darling? What about us? What about our story?” Okay, sweetheart. Okay. I’ll tell the story of what happened to us, too- or parts of it- and of what happened to me when she died, of learning to put my anger behind me, of finding hope in the worst of human experiences. I’ll share some moments from my tumultuous relationship with my beautiful but dying wife. But even those, without a liberal dusting of illusion and denial, can be pretty tough to take.

Okay, darling?

Sheesh. Together we’re like Dennis Rodman. He once said life in the NBA was 50% money and 50% sex. When a reporter asked about basketball, he said, “Oh yeah, and 50% basketball.” In that same spirit, I would say our lives are 50% reality and 50% stories we’ve been telling ourselves about it for so long now that we can no longer tell them from reality. Then, when poked in the ribs by my beautiful wife, I’d add, “Oh yeah, and 50% love.”

Chris Gerolmo

Brentwood CA

Winter of ‘09

Part One 




A is for Angels.

According to a CBS news poll conducted in 2005, 78% of all American adults believe in some kind of an Afterlife- big A, meaning somewhere other than here in reality. Of course, that same poll also revealed that 56% of American women believe in ghosts, and that more than 1 out of 4 American adults under the age of 45 actually claim to have seen one. That’s pretty scary, isn’t it? At the same time, it makes a certain kind of sense that fantasy is so widely preferred to reality where death is concerned, as the immediate afterlife- small ‘a’, meaning here in the real world- has so very little to recommend it. Here, the afterlife is characterized by things like Palor, Livor, Rigor and Algor mortis, respectively the paleness, color, stiffness and coolness of death (that last an oddly beautiful phrase to my ear, for what it describes). Then for those of us who choose to be buried, there’s embalming and interment. For those of us who choose cremation, there are a couple of hours in the oven, followed by many years in an overpriced urn on the mantel, or in the case of our local surfers here in LA, maybe a reverential dispersal in the waves off Zuma Beach. For those of us unlucky enough to be left out in the woods, there are the many indignities of putrefaction, and sometimes even the dispersal of our bones by dogs. But alas, no angels. I’m sorry. For better and for worse, all the angels are here, amongst the living. Until she died, my wife was widely considered to be one of them.

I remember, in the last week of her life, sitting at her bedside, singing her one of the many love songs I’d written her over the years, then looking at her- at her sallow complexion, at her deep-set eyes, at the hollows at her temples, at her wrists that were only bones and skin- and starting to cry. She knew what I was afraid of, as she always did- that I wouldn’t be able to raise the kids on my own, that I could never live up to the example she had set as a parent, that I couldn’t make it without her- and she whispered, “You can do this, Chris.” Damn, I thought. Damn. That’s my wife, alright. She’s dying, and she’s comforting me.

B is for Burial.

It’s currently estimated that about 50 billion people have lived and died throughout the course of man’s history on the planet. Taking into account the fact that we’ve been getting bigger and stronger throughout that time– and only recently fatter- let’s say their average weight at death was 80 pounds. That’s 4 trillion pounds of human flesh and bone, much of it interred in the soil to be eaten by bugs or to become nutrients for plants, trees, and crops, and thus returned to the food chain that way, and some just left to dry up and blow away, becoming part of the atmosphere, and being inhaled by such creatures as wild boars hunting for truffles or young lovers on the banks of rivers getting themselves pregnant and causing their parents great pain. We’re each made up of about 7 billion billion billion atoms, so the likelihood that some of them had once been part of another human being is quite good. Given the amount of organic material we’re talking about, the likelihood that you ate a bit of someone else in your last meal is pretty good, too. In that sense at least, we really are all part of one another, and death itself makes every meal a kind of communion.

If you’re a recently bereaved spouse, I don’t expect that to be of any more comfort to you than it was to me. If you’re a child though, it might pique your interest. Until a year or two ago, whenever I told one of my kids an odd fact like that- my twin girls are now 6 and my son 8- if they weren’t completely sure I was telling the truth, they’d peer at me and ask, “Is that in real life?” That became one of my favorite questions, and it’s the standard by which everything in this little book will be measured; “Is that in real life?” I think coming to terms with real life is such a big part of growing up that they might as well be one and the same thing, and growing up is always our #1 job, no matter how old we are.

Of course, it’s fair to say that at some meals, we commune more than at others. On my first date with Joan, we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills called Joss, and I remember feeling terribly lucky that this beautiful, bright, warm, funny woman seemed to feel so much at home in my company, and I in hers. We stayed, chatting and laughing, until the place closed. On our second date, we went to a friend’s 40th birthday, then back to my house, where I told her she was the first girl I’d gone out with since I’d gotten sober about a year before, and that, unlike in my previous life, when I’d always jumped into things head-first, as they say, I wanted to go slowly. Not that I had matured or anything. It’s just that the idea that I’d have to take my clothes off in front of someone I liked for the first time without any alcohol or drugs to lubricate my self-consciousness was quite daunting to me. So I suggested we try a 90 day sex-free schedule, to see if we really felt that strongly about each other, an idea I’d just heard about from my 40 year old friend. Joan thought that sounded terribly wise, or pretended to, but she didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want to let her. So she stayed the night, although we each kept to our own sides of the bed. We lasted ‘til morning, when we made love for the first time. Oh well. So it goes with schedules, I guess, when love walks in the room. It was less than a year later that I woke her at 3 AM and sat on the bench at the foot of the bed to play her this love song I’d just written for her on the guitar.

burning down this building © chris gerolmo june 20, 2001

i was burning down this building

when you walked in through that door

i hid my gas can behind my back

i don’t burn nothing anymore

i was pissing on the future

when you sneaked in from the past

you’re not the first girl i ever let in here

but you may well be the last

now all my friend’s are hoping

that i don’t burn you too

but i think i finally found the girl

with the juice to keep me cool

i was burning down this building

hell i was burning up the world

i was dying in my own holy war

now i’m just living for a girl

now i go to work each morning

and i race home every night

but i don’t run from sirens no more

and i don’t flinch at flashing lights

instead i find myself hoping

and baby this is true

that for just one more lucky morning

i’ll get to wake up next to you

She loved it. She cried. She made me sing it again. In fact, Joan was the only reason I ever got serious about writing songs. I’d written a few when I met her- I’m a screenwriter by profession- but when she heard them she made me join a songwriting seminar and put together a band and get out there and play around town, and now I’m an Emmy-nominated singer-songwriter, as well. She was relentlessly encouraging, to me and to everyone she knew. It’s one of the many things I miss about her. To tell you the truth, I haven’t written a single song in the year and a half since she died1.

Anyway, some six months after I wrote the song, we were in London, at the opening of a James Bond movie. The party was in a public park the production had taken over, and there were hundreds of well-dressed people there, as well as a terrific jazz band. One of the producers was an old friend of mine, and she was trying to get people out on the dance floor they’d installed in the middle of the park, no doubt at great expense. I asked Joan to dance, so we walked out onto the empty dance floor to what we used to call in the 8th grade a “slow song”, and no one else joined us at all. At first, Joan was intensely self-conscious, feeling that all eyes were on her (they were). But soon enough she relaxed, and gave herself over to the music, and the feeling of being held, and of being loved, and so did I, and we whispered silly things to each other, and danced, and were transported. It must have been pretty clear that we were a couple of grownups in love, because when the song ended and we applauded the band, they stopped and applauded us in return.

C is for Cremation.

Joan died the day after Christmas 2007, after a long struggle with cancer. She had chosen to be cremated, so her body was sent by the undertaker to a local crematorium, where she was burned at between 1800 and 2100 degrees for 2 hours in what’s called a retort– a computer-controlled fire chamber lined with refractory bricks that resist heat. While bodies have been burned throughout history for various reasons, most notably on Hindu funeral pyres in India and on the occasional Catholic bonfire in Europe or America (although in the latter case the burnees were generally not yet dead) cremation has only become popular in the west as an alternative to burial in the last 100 years. Pope Paul VI didn’t lift the ban on cremation for Catholics- dead Catholics, that is- until 1963. Cremation is still forbidden to Jews, on the grounds that the souls of the recently dead are not yet aware that they’re dead, and experience great pain at seeing their bodies be burned.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t know until yesterday that the blue ceramic urn we bought from the funeral home to hold Joan’s ashes held not her ashes, but rather about 4 pounds of her dried bones that had been pulverized by a device called an Electric Cremated Remains Processor into a kind of fine sand. Apparently, there are no ashes left after cremation. The fire’s too hot. There’s only bone. Why people in the death business don’t tell this to the bereaved I don’t know, but it doesn’t surprise me. When death is concerned, most people seem willing to smile and nod and let us think whatever we want to think.

Of course, Joan and I did the same thing when we got married. We realized with just a week or two to go that the state of California hadn’t finalized Joan’s divorce from her first husband yet- she’d filed the papers a year earlier and it should only have taken 6 months- so we had to decide whether to call the ceremony off or let it be just that; a ceremony. Which is what we did, in the end. We let everyone assume it was legal, but it wasn’t. It was just a show for the families. Joan was terribly afraid about hers, too- I can still see it in her eyes in all the wedding pictures- both about how they’d get along, especially her long-divorced but still-bitter mother with her father, and whether or not they’d approve- her mother was a Daughter of the American Revolution and I’m just an Adult Child of Alcoholics. I told her what my therapist told me; that when you’re up there saying your vows, creating the new family you’ve actually chosen to create, you can finally look out at the crazy people you’d accidentally been born with and think, “Bye bye!”

But it didn’t help. She still looked like a deer caught in the headlights to me, if not to anyone else. I don’t think it was until I kissed her awake at the Four Seasons the next morning, and whispered, “Good morning, Mrs. Gerolmo,” that she finally relaxed and let herself enjoy the whole thing. That’s when she cried the traditional tears of joy. She told me for years thereafter that that was the first moment when she really felt married.

Her son Eddy moved in with us very shortly thereafter. He was 6 at the time, and a terrific kid, with a wry sense of humor. (Once, when his young cousin Liam, who’s a bit of a terror, was stomping around barefoot in a huge box of Legos, a grownup asked what Liam was doing, and Eddy said, “Making Lego wine?”) We got him into the local public school, and Joan started volunteering at the library, and making friends amongst the neighbors (I didn’t know any of them) and meeting other moms at the park, and generally introducing me to the community I’d already been a part of for some ten years without ever really knowing it.

D is for Denial.

I said that when it comes to death, most people seem willing to let us think whatever we want to think. Not so the in-laws. Almost immediately after my wife’s death, they began in one way and another denying to the children the fact that she was dead. They told the kids- my son was 6 and my twin daughters 4- that their mom would always be with them, that she was watching them from heaven, and that she still loved them very much. I have no doubt that she would have been with them, or watching them, or loving them, if she could. She was a wonderful mother. But she was dead, and to imply otherwise was a disservice to the kids, not to mention confusing. I remember a friend of mine talking about his dad, who died when he was 7. He was told so many times and so matter of factly that his dad had only gone to heaven that for years he thought heaven was some other little town in Idaho and it was just a matter of time before he came back.

In these kinds of situations, of course, grown-ups think they’re protecting children from the pain of reality, when in fact they’re only indulging their own wishes to deny the abrupt permanence of death, and the terrible facts of loss and sorrow. Me, I try to avoid denial when I can. As a recovering alcoholic- I’ll be sober 11 years this Sunday- I have a more active understanding of its dangers than the average citizen. I root it out in my own life as a matter of survival. Of course, it’s fair to say that most recovering alcoholics believe in a God of some kind. Apparently, the connection between denial and faith that seems so obvious and scary to me- if denial is the ability to look directly at a thing we don’t wish to see and not see it, then faith is the ability to see things that aren’t there simply because we wish they were- doesn’t scare them, at all. In any case, I held my tongue with the in-laws, out of politeness- or such is my recollection; I may actually be in denial about that- then later, when the kids asked where Mommy was, I explained to them what had really happened. Or tried to. I told them she died. Like the animals on Animal Planet. Like the rats and birds the cats bring home. They knew what that meant. But they still asked, “Where is she? Where did she go?” So I showed them her ashes- or her dried ground bones, anyway- and told them she’d been cremated, which didn’t hurt because she was already dead, and we sat with her bones in their blue urn by the fireplace, and clung together, and stared at them in silence. We felt her absence quite acutely, in that moment, and were terribly, terribly sad. 2

By way of finishing the wedding story, though, we went to the Palm a few weeks later, Joan and I and Eddy, inviting as witnesses the friend who’d gotten a license on line to perform the original ceremony and another couple, and signed the document that meant we were legally married. I prepared a document for Eddy to sign, too. It read, “Sept. 1, 2001. I hereby accept the unavoidable fact that Chris Gerolmo, aka Crispy, will now and forever, or until I’m 18 and I can run away to the jungle to become an ornithologist, be my step-farter. Uh, step-farther. Sorry. Step-father. As if I ever had any choice after Mommy first spotted him. Sincerely, Eddy”. But the city of Beverly Hills managed to lose this paperwork, too. So it wasn’t until our third try, when we went to the Office of the County Clerk together and stood on line holding hands like all the other couples, and did it all on the spot, that Joan and I were officially man and wife.

E is for Eternal Life.

By any standard, we were old for newlyweds- Joan 37 and I 48- but we were also youthful, if not positively childish, and at the time I guess we expected to live forever, in the same silly way everybody in love expects to live forever, or at least for what they call the foreseeable future, as if any of it really were. But if you’d asked us if we believed in Eternal Life, we would each have answered with a resounding No. I’m afraid Eternal Life is an idea whose future is not nearly as bright as its past. In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church used it to rule Europe, side by side with its kings. The kings had the power to collect taxes and raise armies, but the Church controlled the story of the world- the story that justified the kings’ power, that gave unto Caesar what is Caesar’s- and used it (along with torture and dismemberment; remember the Inquisition?) to keep the peasants in line. The story it told is that in return for a life of poverty and hard labor here on earth, the faithful could expect an Eternal Life of leisure in heaven. Well, things have changed. The Renaissance broke the Church’s exclusive hold on the public’s imagination, and now, in 21st century America, the Church is no more than a rich but irrelevant haven for pederasts, and most young people expect an eternal life of leisure here on earth in return for just getting into college.

I was looking through some of the things I saved from our wedding today, wondering if there was any reference to the Eternal in what we wrote for ourselves to say- there wasn’t- and I came across something I’d completely forgotten about. As part of the ceremony, we quoted Arthur Miller on the subject of the play: “My conception of the audience is of a public each member of which is carrying about with him what he thinks is an anxiety, or a hope, or a preoccupation which is his alone and which isolates him from mankind; and in this respect at least the function of a play is to reveal him to himself so that he may touch others by virtue of the revelation of his mutuality with them.” Joan and I then said these words: Chris: So every man has a secret that he believes separates him from the community of men. Joan: Maybe it’s also the job of a wedding to show him that his secret is just like everyone else’s. C: My secret was that I knew I’d always be alone. I knew I’d always be unhappy. I had given up on love. J: And I was sure I’d never find it. So I hid from life. C: And then I met Joan. J: And I met Chris. C: And I came to realize that everything I’d believed about myself and my fate was wrong. J: And I found out that I hadn’t known the first thing about love. C: And now I have a new secret. J: Me, too.

I love that. It breaks my heart, but I love it. It reminds me of how happy and resolute we were, and that even though I feel the same way once again now that she’s gone- that I’ve somehow been abandoned to a life of loneliness and sorrow- I may well be as wrong now as I was then. In any case, the wedding took place right here on the patio. We asked Eddy to be the ring-bearer but he’d done that job at his uncle’s wedding the year before and didn’t want to do it again. So we gave him a free hand. He decided to lead the procession in from the driveway, blowing bubbles as he marched. He was the Bubble Boy, and a huge hit amongst the guests. As far as I’m concerned, every wedding should have one.

My friend Dan gave the best man’s speech, turning a tiny moment into a funny 15 minute story about meeting Joan for the first time in Manhattan just after I had gotten a very short haircut. When I left them together on the street for a moment to duck in somewhere and get something, he looked at her and said that with my new hairdo I looked even more like a serial killer than I had before. Joan beamed and said, “I know. Isn’t he cute?” Dan just stared, and nodded, and thought, “He’s finally found the right girl.”

if after reading this, you would like the read the rest of this tome, you can buy it as an ebook by clicking here.

with your purchase, you will receive a free download of the song that appears above, burning down this building.

after you’ve read the book and listened to the song, please come back here to tell us what you think.

1 I wrote this some time before I finally wrote the foreword, which I hope explains this particular temporal displacement. There are others in the book that are just mistakes, what Joan Didion called “cognitive deficits” related to grief, in The Year of Magical Thinking.

2 We’re not so sad to see them, now. In fact, it’s nice to have them around. Whenever we have “Family Sleep in the Living Room Night”, for instance- a tradition started by Joan- the kids fight for the right to sleep next to her, meaning to be on the mattress closest to the fireplace-surround on which rests the blue ceramic urn. It’s a wonderful way to service the kids’ wishes to have their mom be present even after her death and still be “in real life”.

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