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Archive for July, 2009

I was about to pop out for a movie when our digital cable box showed the letters ERS. My wife and I turned the TV on to see an Amber Alert (for non-US residents, this is a ‘flash’ message dispatched across state highways and cable systems alerting the public of child abductions). Someone in Novato had abducted a child. No more info than that. I thought about it for a few seconds, felt sorry for the child in the situation (whatever the situation was) and went to the movie.

It was late when I came in. Before going to bed I switched my computer on and checked out a local newspaper site, ostensibly to see what the critic had said about the movie I’d just seen. Before I got there, a headline caught my eye. PORN KING’S SON HELD ON MURDER CHARGE. And I read the story with a growing sense of total, and utter, disbelief…

…when the pre-schooler was a toddler, she went to a playgroup called MyGym. A fine facility with great staff, MyGym was one of her favorite places. Dani Keller worked at MyGym, and Dani was the pre-schooler’s favorite instructor. She loved Dani and Dani loved her. They clicked. Indeed, they both had the same spritzy, fizzy, bubbly-yet-smart energy in their eyes. Thus when we finally got around to the idea of using a babysitter once in a while, Dani was our girl.

She’d make her way over from the sunset district and we’d leave the two of them alone, knowing full-well the biggest problem would come when Dani had to leave and the pre-schooler would be upset. She was a bit of a punk rocker, so I foisted Motorhead t-shirts on her and often discussed music. We each gave her rides home a few times despite her insistence that public transport would be fine, and inevitably the conversation would drift to the ‘boy’ in her life and the people she’d met in that social/personal life context. She was not a shy lass  yet she was also not a salacious person. No, Dani was really just a sweet, bubbly girl who seemed to enjoy life and some it’s copious trimmings. If anything, my wife and I would chuckle at a ‘naivety’ we both sensed from her whenever guys came up, but it was always as an observation and not a fault. She was brilliant with our pre-schooler and we trusted her 1000%. Good enough by a mile, right?

I remember clearly the night she told us she had fallen deep for James Mitchell, the son of Mitchell Brothers theater co- founder Jim Mitchell.  The Mitchell Brothers are widely recognized to have helped mainstream porn take off in the public sector, and all was going swimmingly until Jim Mitchell shot his brother Artie to death. It was, to say the least, a controversial, tumultuous family and crime. So when Dani spoke of it all, when she touched on a history I already knew, I mentioned that there was perhaps a bit too much drama stewing there for little old grumpy suburban me. She cheerfully said she was comfortable with that, she reiterated how much she liked him and that was that with regards to discussing the relationship.

I remember when she told us she was pregnant. She was delighted but a little worried in the way that a first-time-to-be Mum is. She said she might speak with my wife for some advice as the pregnancy marched on, and as I write this I’m not sure whether she did speak with her a couple of times about a couple of small questions, but as happens when you’re pregnant, work became less and baby became more.

We lost contact for a while, as you would. She wasn’t working and was pregnant, we were busy, she moved, we moved…life stuff. And then, a week ago, I got a friend request via Facebook from a Danielle Keller. Funnily enough, I’d been sorting some photos on my computer and had come across a photo of her and the pre-schooler, which had pressed the ‘I wonder how Dani’s doing’ button. So I was happy to hear from her. I saw a photo of her baby, Samantha, and was happily alarmed to find she was closing in a year old. In turn, Dani remarked on how the pre-schooler had grown. It was the sort of ‘long lost electronic catch-up’ that Facebook is good for, and I was going to mention it all to my wife before out life got louder and last week became consumed with the incidentals of pre-schoolers, teenagers and work. I think it was last Thursday she’d commented on the pre-schooler’s photo. I had planned to respond in detail today, which is typically a good day for me to catch up on correspondence and the like people-free…

…as I finished the story, pieces fell together. ‘Porn King’s son’…Samantha…murder…Mum…and I hoped my mental math was wrong. I checked my Facebook page again. Samantha was the name of Dani’s daughter, and there was a comment from someone saying they were glad she’d been found safe. The victim of the murder, the mother, had not been named officially, but I knew who it was.

I never knew Dani Keller as a Mum, but I knew her as a babysitter to my pre-schooler, and using that as a yardstick, I feel very confident in saying she was surely nothing short of spectacular. I’m sure she read a lot to Samantha and I’m sure she took her out a lot. I’m sure she laughed a lot with her and I’m sure she smiled a lot with her. I’m sure her eyes sparkled with her a lot and I’m sure that sparkle has been passed on.

I never knew James Mitchell. I sadly knew more about his father than I know about most of my friend’s fathers. But I knew nothing about him. And in truth, how could anybody know him? How could anybody know a father who’s own father killed his brother, and who is now himself a father who murdered his daughter’s mother? How could anyone know the person who would do that? It is unthinkable except sadly it isn’t, because it happened, and it’s happened to the wrong person, the wrong fucking person, as these things so tragically tend to. It’s so ugly, so darkly, disturbingly ugly, that judgement of his actions in the circumstances seems trite; they don’t just speak for themselves, they scream, they bleed their lungs screaming for themselves exactly what they are. One more child deserted by their father. One more poor child who’s father didn’t know how to be a father, didn’t know how to be a man, didn’t know how to be all the things you should be to both your partners and your kids, your friends and your family, your workmates and your society.

I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good friend of Dani Keller’s. That honor would’ve belonged to the pre-schooler. But we got on and we were friends in the casual sense, the sense that had Dani Keller suggested meeting up the next time she was in San Francisco with her daughter, I’d have excitedly told my wife and Bea that we would be seeing Dani and her baby in the park at such and such a time.

I am sad on many levels. Sad for the loss Dani’s mother and daughter have suffered and sad for the loss her friends are enduring. But as much as anything, I am sad that something like this can happen to someone who really was such a sparklehorse, who carried such a jingly-jangly happy-go-lucky energy and edge.

Wherever you are Dani Keller, I hope you’re doing OK?

With love from the Chirazi’s…

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It had been a typical summer’s day. A ballet dress had  been worn, ballet shoes traded back and forth with plastic Disney Princess slippers, magic wands had been waved tenfold and dreams of castles, being kissed by Princes and magic kingdoms had been acted out every hour. And so it was that through a curious set of errands, the pre-schooler and I found ourselves in a North Beach park at 7.30 in the evening, sharing the swings and slides with another little girl and her parents. North Beach is an affluent neighborhood, and I could tell by the tailoring of his chinos, the quality of his suede driving shoes and the friendly-yet-assured cut of his jib that the other Dad was not short of a buck. I also ascertained him to be approximately three years into fatherhood, given the age of his daughter and the fact that no older siblings were mentioned. Indeed, he seemed alarmed for a few seconds after I told him about the teenager. I’d like to think this was because I simply don’t look old enough to have fathered a 17 year old…sigh…

…Anyway. As we stood side-by-side, pushing the kids in their swings, the pre-schooler started singing that she was ‘Princess Aurora’ over and over, before telling the girl that she could be Princess Jasmine.

“Has the Princess phase hit your house yet?” I chuckled.

“No,” he replied firmly with a smile, “we don’t let that stuff in our house so it hasn’t come up yet…although the birthday parties are getting more and more…”

I smiled at him. And then I felt the overwhelming urge to say to him, “listen guy, here’s my number, let’s me and you get together over some whiskies and I can actually fucking well explain to you EXACTLY what’s around the corner, because Buddy-boy, you can run but you cannot fucking hide from the filthy treacherous empire of commerce that is D-I-S-N-E-Y. They’ll get you where you least expect it, a napkin here, a birthday there, a fucking sticker on a fucking cereal box in the fucking supermarket, and then if you have the misfortune to be in a shopping mall and pass a store whose doorway is a big fuck-off pair of mouse ears, then Buddy -boy, shove your fingers in your ears and go LALALALALALA  because you are about to be nudged and kneaded in the hope of purchasing a few tons of bright plastic and chiffon. And that before you know it, she will be wandering the halls of your home, clicking and clacking like a flamenco dancer, wearing an acre of blue or pink chiffon and wanting to “play Princesses” or “be kissed by the Prince” every 5 seconds or getting whiney because she can’t wear the whole get-up to bed…

I wanted to tell him that he will, one-day, sit and daydream about walking the streets with a large and very aggressive chainsaw, destroying any hint of Disney Princesses he sees, screaming like a warrior who has slain his enemy as bits of plastic and fake blonde hair fly from the teeth of his reverberating blade…I wanted to tell him that he will, as he reads Cinderella for the hundredth time, secretly edit himself from changing the story to accommodate a different ending, where Cinderella actually turns around and says that she thinks the idea of wearing glass slippers is retarded and very very dangerous, smashes them with a large, ball-pin hammer, and shouts that she would much rather wear a decent pair of sneakers and meet a guy who looks real as opposed to this John Fucking Tesch in a monkey suit looking motherfucker who keeps turning up outside her door!!!

I wanted to tell him that he will have to make sure his daughter straddles the line between enjoying princess stories and thinking that unless she looks like some dodgy Disneyfied tart she is “not pretty.” I tackled this a while ago with a large degree of success, pointing out that anyone who’s nice can be a princess, that they don’t all have to look like some emaciated mutant hybrid of Paris Hilton and Madonna who’s voice never changes.  And I wanted to tell him that however successful said-explanations might be, he will still have to wrestle the tiarras and shitty plastic shoes and crap plastic jewellery from her person more often than not.

I also wanted to tell him that not all girls hit the princess phase, but unless you live in the middle of  an Amish community, in fact, unless you are an Amish…or a hippy…or a cult member who only allows your children to mix with others exactly like your own so as they can all jolly off together when they’re 19 to meet their ‘creator’ (in which case you’d be better off soaking them in Disney you twisted bastard) then your little girl will discover princesses. And she will enjoy them. And you will pray it’s a phase, and you will play the dutiful father and deal with the phase because that’s what we do…and it could be worse, it could be fucking Barbie; indeed, maybe it IS fucking Barbie, in which case commiserations to YOU Sir!

And I wanted to tell him, here’s the deal. Whatever the hairy-toed new-age sages of sensitivity tell you, boys gravitate towards a ‘weapon’ phase and girls gravitate towards a ‘girly’ phase. The teenager, who has no desire to own a gun let alone shoot one, made machine guns out of sticks when I tried to stop him from ‘gun-play’ back in the days I was a hairy-toed sensitive guy. And understanding it doesn’t mean you necessarily indulge it to their hearts content, it simply means you have to know it’s coming, you have to allow a little bit of it and you have to explain how it works in a gentle fashion which doesn’t completely blow their fun before they’re 5 (they’ve got years of that bullshit coming from schools and rules and fools around them as they squeeze into adulthood). Because like TV, if you shut it down ‘no-no-full-stop’ style now, when they get half a chance they’ll be all over that sucker and won’t let it go. Ever. No, its about moderation, however hard it is to tolerate some of this (frankly) obnoxious shite. Besides, nothing sucks harder than being the kid at the birthday party who doesn’t know who Princess Aurora is, or who never played ‘dress-up’ before.

Yeah, I wanted to tell him all of that as we stood side-by-side, pushing our girls in their swings. But he seemed like a good guy and besides, I didn’t have the fortitude to get into it. He’ll find out soon enough. And he’ll deal with. And he’ll survive (I hope)…as long as he (in turn) knows it’s OK to occasionally dream of chainsaws…

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