LETTER: A death in the family

[Readers: The following letter was sent to Substance on New Year's Day 2010. I feel it is appropriate to publish it here as a Letter. Paul Moore has been writing about public schools in Miami (where he teaches high school) and Florida for several years. We are sharing his New Year's Day thoughts without further comment. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance].

Dear Father of the Resistance:

Happy New Year George! Please pass along a salute to the whole Substance family. You brothers and sisters in Chitown seem to be now in the proverbial "belly of the beast" (the beast that birthed the Obama/Duncan threat to public education) and waging the existential struggle for the soul of public education.

I don't know if something I wrote in the wake of the second anniversary of the death of my son Andrew is appropriate for Substance but I've decided to let you decide. Feel free to use it.

Yours in struggle,

Paul [Moore]

December 28, 2009

Today marks two years time since my first-born son Andrew died. I wrote something of a eulogy for him this past summer. Since then several things worth mentioning have occurred I think.

First, there was the release of the film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. A viewing reminded me of my fatherly longings to have protected Andrew from the ravages of our dying capitalist economy and the toxic materialist culture it has created as it's burial shroud.

Second, there was the message from the only "girlfriend" I believe Andrew ever had although Jamie was just one of the young people he built his world around. One of a group of people, I think it's fair to say, Andrew loved to death.

Third, there were the final text messages of Andrew's life, sent to two of his friends in South Florida in the last hours he lived. They provide insight into Andrew's death. Jamie's memories of him and his text messages are now attached to this eulogy for Andrew Moore.

Andrew's Ashes

This past summer I asked my father to guide me to the Fussell Family Cemetery in Rose Hill, North Carolina. It is the place where his mother Grace and his father Cyrus are buried and where plots are reserved for he and my mother when they are laid to rest. My son Patrick agreed to come along.

Patrick and I carried with us the remains of my son and his brother Andrew. It has been a little over 19-months now since emergency medical technicians discovered his lifeless body in his mother's Los Angeles home. Andrew had joked in a message to Patrick two weeks previous that he should, "Seize the way you share your time, with who, and for how long because I have come back from the dead (a few times now) to tell you it is the only thing that matters in life."

There was no coming back this time. They found him sitting peacefully, the dregs of the heroin and traces of his blood in the syringe nearby.

I think I could present enough empirical evidence in a court of law to prove that I knew Andrew better than any other person on Earth and that I should be the custodian of his memory. He once wrote his uncle Paul in London that he wished he was his father instead of me. But I didn't take that to heart and I'm pretty sure his uncle, an accomplished musician, didn't take the bait. Andrew was clever but utterly transparent in his manipulations. He badly wanted a trip to the UK for the chance to get close to two Brits who had risen to the high command of what Andrew was sure was a newly forming pop culture army. London meant possible access to Babyshambles' front man Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse who had just told the world "no, no, no" to drug rehab.

It stung to be referred to as "the geezer" and to be asked repeatedly how it felt "to have one foot in the grave", but I was Andrew's father and willing to fight for the title. Now the time has come to say something over his dead body.

This rendering of Andrew Moore is a labor of love. Something I must do for myself. But Andrew despised sentiment and convention. So I must remain as close to the unvarnished truth as possible to do him and his life justice. Maybe I'm the right one for the job though. Again Andrew in his last letter to his brother wrote, You're so gloom and doom bro. It's cool. And you don't even try to be. I think you can thank Dad's genes for our cynical slant, but it works for us in the 2000's during this 1980's rehash. But don't worry the 90's nostalgia bout is coming around again, when sensible people will take control. Andrew left a note to the author Douglas Coupland in one of his journals. It read, To Coupland, I wish I had been a teenager during the 90's. I would have ended up a very balanced adult because I would have had so much pop culture to empathize with.

Andrew's Family

But let me go back to the beginning. I still remember that mid-afternoon moment on February 25, 1987 when a doctor dragged Andrew's 10-pound 8-ounce body out of an incision in his mother and into this world. Although I have no particular religious bent, a powerful wave of emotion broke over me and shut out all ideas but one. God please, let him have a happy life. Visitors to the hospital nursery to see the new arrival got a chuckle at the sight. Columns and rows of little bumps under blankets and one humongous bump in the mix. That was Andrew. I wanted to associate Andrew's weight at birth with my sexual potency but that was probably wishful thinking.

Andrew's mother Carolyn is part of a magnificent Jamaican family. Andrew's middle name, Frederick, was an homage to her father. Fred is a lot like my father, a man who worked his whole life in the textile industry and won the respect of his fellow workers with his great discipline and skill. His four children cherish him for the father he has been to them. Carolyn lost her mother Pauline before she lost her first born son. As to his grandmother, had Andrew not gotten the y-chromosome his name would have been Pauline.

My sister Kathleen gave my father his first grandchild about a year before Andrew came along. Our father's life commands a deep reverence in the five of us fortunate to be his children. So it was unthinkable that Kathleen's boy would begin his life with any name but Donald. Donald McKay Moore was born four months to the day after Black Friday in the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He spent his childhood suffering the deprivations of the Great Depression in rural North Carolina. His father was a telegraph operator. In the labor ferment of the day his union called a strike. Just hours before strike deadline it was called off. Cyrus Moore was one of a handful that did not get the word, walked off the job, and was fired. He never worked steadily again up to his death in 1942 when my father was a 12-year-old boy.

Andrew was named after his great grandfather, Andrew B. Phelan, a tough-as-nails Irishman who made the voyage to the United States as an eight-year-old boy. Legend had it that he nearly died of sea-sickness on the Trans-Atlantic crossing, that he had given up a college basketball scholarship to go to work to support his widowed mother, that he broke his back in a fall from a telephone pole and was climbing the same pole some days later, and that he fought anti-Irish nativism to rise into the executive ranks of the New England Bell Telephone Company. And as one of his five daughters, my mother Joan, tells it, the shaking of his newspaper or a look was enough to quiet the room. He lived long enough for me to know him and sense his greatness. As the story of his life was told to me, his first-born grandchild, he was transformed from my "papa" into a giant. He was gone but not forgotten by the time his name was passed on to my first child.

Andrew In Retrovenge

Andrew was never obnoxious but he was a restless soul from the beginning. Unlike his more serene brother Patrick a couple of years later, he would not sleep on my chest as an infant. To take him to a department store and turn him loose in the toy section was to watch him wrestle with a frustrated ecstasy. He knew he would get to choose some thing or another but he wanted everything!

He went through a series of childhood pledges to life-long allegiances quickly enough abandoned--the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spiderman, Alien and Predator, Spawn. As an older boy Andrew would pass through fascinations with the books of Dean Koontz, the comics of Todd McFarlane, the creators of the South Park cartoon Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the actor Edward Norton, and Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club as a book and a movie.

Buoyed by John, his best friend from 4th grade on, but no doubt lead by Andrew, the two began using drugs in middle school. This was no passing fancy. This was the commitment Andrew would keep for a lifetime.

Nearing the end of eleventh grade Andrew stopped going to school with my blessing. He wrote indirectly of that decision a couple of weeks before his death. It's a true artist and conscientious being's responsibility to change the world for the better, and even if that means by extreme measures that the status quo (with its disproportionate possession of health and happiness) would condemn. This sort of criticism is expected. I didn't feel like the "information" heavily regimented high school facilities offered was of use, not to mention an intolerable war making education at the hands of a country that has killed so many seemed ridiculous. Societal credit is not something to loose the integrity of your convictions over. I have only sought to validate my expressions as an artist, rather than follow decaying American lifestyle clichés. I'm taking revenge on behalf of the impoverished, enslaved, war torn, unnecessarily murdered majority of humanity against me, being from a demographic that is typically privileged and has life quite easy, and what environment is sustainable by the continued existence of the disproportionate possession of health and happiness. And I don't think any group of teenagers should be written off as uncaring idiots. Those kids face huge odds, and I hope they will ascend in society and take the place that would have been taken by someone as undeserving as me. Self sacrifice is supposed to be beautiful. College is elitist in a fiscal way, and I don't need the cold comforts of societal approval. That can't be what is important in life. Anyway, I've been traveling around the country as much as I can which seems like a much more valuable education, while there is a good reason for life to be had.

If you wanted to share Andrew's life, like I did, it had to be on his terms. You had to watch movies and read books with him. You had to listen to the Lemonheads and Evan Dando's music, you had to listen to and contribute to research into the lives of Kurt Cobain, Juliana Hatfield, and near the end Aaliyah. You had to keep up on the latest news of Amy Winehouse and Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp and Gwen Stefani. He once tried to explain Gwen's Harajuku Girls to me. You had to know the stories of his comrades John, Olivia, George, Colleen, Javier, Jamie and Lauren among others. And you had to listen to his plan for world domination. Seriously, there was such a blueprint and while there were some holes in it, his plan was no more outlandish than the Project for a New American Century. It ended with all the people on the planet living, genuinely living for one moment, before we perished together.

I tried to meet Andrew in his reality and it enriched my life. When he told me he was impressed with Russell Banks' book, Rule of the Bone, I read it. When he became interested in Douglas Coupland, I read Shampoo Planet and went out and bought Girlfriend In A Coma. In turn, Andrew would give a polite nod to my favorite books and promise to read The Tao of Muhammad Ali by Davis Miller or Francis Wheen's Karl Marx: A Life.

Trying to understand Andrew's death has caused me to consider a moment in my past. I was in Room 401 in Tolbert Hall, an 18-year-old University of Florida freshman, when I finished a reading of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Not that I can recall so much of the books content but it sparked a brief infatuation with the idea of being an artist. It passed quickly enough for me. But I think Andrew, like Joyce's alter-ego Stephen Dedelus, truly felt the calling of the arts as a young man. He envisaged his future artist-self a hawk like man flying above the waves. From Portrait Andrew's might have been described when Joyce wrote, Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

And Andrew, like the Daedelus of Greek myth would build a labyrinth from which there was no escape.

Andrew's Labyrinth

Cold Mountain was one of the movies that Andrew and I saw together. As we drove away from the theater that night I answered the perfunctory question I was always responsible for. "How many stars do you give it?" Then I sat back and listened to Andrew position the film in his world view. I was unsurprised to learn that my son was taken with the climactic scene. It reflected one of his most dearly held ideas.

Cold Mountain turns on a final confrontation between Inman, the older principled Civil War veteran and newlywed, and Bodie, the amoral and nihilistic young vigilante. Their face off unfolds in this dialogue.

Inman: Come out of there.

Bosie: No, sir. Here's fine.

Inman: I'll just have to shoot the horse from under you.

Bosie: Shoot her. She's not mine. You riding Mr. Teague's mare?

Inman: I am.

Bosie: He dead?

Inman: I hope so. Look, how old are you? Give me your gun and ride home, I'm done fighting. I'm sick of it.

Bosie: I give you my gun and you'll shoot me dead.

Inman: I will not shoot you, but nor am I walking down that mountain looking over my shoulder for you.

Bosie: That's what you call a conundrum. I tell you what I've got on my side.

Inman: What have you got on your side?

Bosie: The confidence of youth.

Possibly inspired by Inman, I dared to face-off with my own young Bosie from the drivers seat of the car that night. I asked Andrew to consider how different he might be if he had been born into a Native American family several hundred years ago. The idea was as incomprehensible to Andrew as Inman's reasoning to Bosie. In the labyrinth of Andrew's construct the world was created when he became conscious of it on the cusp of the 1990's and it would end when he was no longer able to influence cool kids and the dream of the return of the 90's or retrovenge was hopeless.

Here are some excerpts from Andrew's relation to the 90's in his own words.

In his final letter to his brother he gave a nod to Patrick's regard for Lil Wayne but, 90's rap was when shit was for real. NWA, Nas, Tupac...

In the same letter he invited Patrick to join his band. I mean like a gangstar assed band, that will start what they call a revolution. Snoop Dogg at one point said, "we need to get bands like Nirvana on Death Row," back in the day. It's an offer, and I already know what I'm doing so you can just trust me and I'll guide you. Anyway bro, it's an offer.

After an abortive attempt to place Andrew in drug rehab he sent me this message from the streets. Hey Dad, was wondering if you knew any bars or knew of a place I could be in front of a television from 8pm to 9pm tonight May 30th. The new teen drama Hidden Palms airs, from creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson's Creek)on channel 39 and it just received a rave review from the New York Times which you should check out. Its crucial to my artistic body. Gosh, it sure is scary to be on the outskirts of capitalism. I'm not allowed to even be near people as a poor person. Its really that way in Miami. Not a place to be homeless. Rated the #1 worst place to be homeless actually. No transport, art, culture, etc, so... its a dead end. I am looking for a job but will not land one without a phone number or some decent clothing to be presentable in. Oh saw Pirates 3, which is a vast improvement over the 2nd, during the last 5 minutes of the movie (which is a peek at the pirates movie this country was waiting to see) Johnny Depp says something that epitomizes his existential and "career" approach, "take what you can, give nothing back" and then a toast. The movie ends on that note. I also saw this movie Bug which I doubt you would have the patience for but was neat. Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I've taken to Miami Lakes. Hope for better days. love, andrew

I saw Andrew in the flesh for the last time at the Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale International Airport when I put him on a plane bound for Portland. Once there he answered several craigslist ads for a place to stay and described himself thus. Hello. My name is Andrew Moore, from Miami Lakes a small suburb in Miami, Fl new to Portland, here to excel where there is fertile ground for the growth of new ideas. In the best interests of American innovations in culture and art. My lifestyle regiment is quiet and private but open to new interactees, just not invasive. I work in all mediums of art, and believe that pop culture matters, and am especially into 80's and 90's entries (Scream, REM, Kevin Williamson, St. Elmos Fire, Less Than Zero, My Own Private Idaho, 90210, Dawson's Creek, Evan Dando, the lemonheads.,etc.). I'm looking into an education here but am only willing to make the right choice about this. I'm 20 and urgently living my life span out, as in looking for worthy experiences. I'm looking for a room obviously and 300 a month sounds quite affordable. If I sound at all compatible please respond. My number is 305 904 XXXX, or send me your number and I will contact you if long distance is a deterrent.

In conversations with Andrew near the end I got the sense he was growing tired and fearful. He was an asthmatic who had chosen a physically taxing life, the drugs and the streets. He was growing into an adult body. Time was growing short. Prospects for his band Common Sense to form and become famous seemed distant. After all his best friend and the band's lead guitarist John was still in prison and his other dear friends and key elements of Common Sense were struggling with family, addiction, alienation and insecurity. The dream was fading.

I once asked Andrew how long one of his heroes, writer William S. Burroughs, had lived. When he answered 83 years my heart sank and it soared at the same time. The sinking was about Andrew's incomplete knowledge of the Beat writer's background and life and the delusions fostered by his own addiction. A thousand William S. Burroughs, not born into wealthy families, have died in painful disillusionment and anonymity. The soaring was about the hope to have my son, an unrepentant heroin user like Burroughs, for my whole life.

The End Of Our Road

There was a very last book I tried to get Andrew to share with me. Cormac McCarthy's The Road told the story of a father and son. In an allegorical sense it seemed like Andrew and I too had wandered over a scorched America, a physical, cultural and political landscape put to the torch by capitalist greed and corruption of the human spirit. I had read the book and was profoundly affected because the father had been able to protect his son from harm and upon the father's death he was able to reassure his frightened son. I wanted so badly to find some way to tell Andrew, Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again.

It turned out Andrew would do the reassuring. When my son physically left me for the last time he could not carry everything so he left a satchel behind. Inside was the bulk of the writing and drawing he had done in his life, a dozen or so thick journals and smaller notebooks that will keep him near for the rest of my life. It sat in the trunk of my car until word of his death arrived and then I went to retrieve it. Something he had labeled May 2007 and titled You could tell across the universe was the first thing I came across. Andrew had written:

That it wasn't seen made it no less existent. Run afoul

of special ways. "It was the thought you count"

Visitors don't knock, but play and shout.

"At the foot of my bed. Pull death up around my shoulders.

You'll find this when I'm dead.

Nod their heads to a self sacrifice. Believe it is

the noble thing to do. The greatest gift was

to be right. There was no greater reward. To

lay in the aftermath of time just fine. Arms

crossed as a mockery. You had fun when you

should. Congratulations to better times

and fallen heroes. Always considered the deeds

done. Winking at the sand like time. The spinning

clock. At least they came together just once.

Wouldn't settle for once less. Wondering God.

Thinking God. Leaving good luck charms to be

worn out but got you by to last night.

Please don't mourn a death until everyone is

alive. Don't ever call us slackers again. I feel

your pain.

Andrew, your brother Patrick has your initials AFM tattooed in block letters on his arm.

Andrew, your mother keeps memories like this in her heart. She wrote, I think back when we visited Mount Baldy. My jeep was slipping and sliding up the mountain. Remember in LA or Covina where we lived there was no snow, the temperature was cool at night and sunny in the days with fantastic wild flowers pouring out of the concrete. But just thirty minutes away you can be on a mountain in the snow. And thirty minutes in the other direction you can be in the sand dunes. Its an amazing and uplifting sight, from Andrew's window he had a full view of the snow covered mountain, so I decided to give him a close up. So I slipped and slid up the mountain never before driving in ice, he told me more than once that I did not have to do this, but I was determined, to get him to the little snow filled village. We got there, he got out and surveyed his surroundings just taking it all in and gave me an amazing smile as though I accomplished something great that day, then he walked into the snow, we stayed there only us for about an hour. On the way down we parked by a cliff, from there you could look down into a deep fur tree filled valley, absolutely breathtaking, I opened the jeep door and turned up his rock CD playing in the car so he could hear it, he stood at the cliffs edge, walked along it, then stooped down to pick up three rocks, one for each of his good friends, then he tossed them into the deep valley below. Then we left. He said to me, "I feel so good here, that if we lived here I would never use drugs again.

Andrew would tell lies for the sake of the people who loved him to the very end.

A Postscript: Two Years Gone

After reading Andrew's Ashes, his friend Jamie wrote, Thank you for sharing and remembering those moments of Andrew's life. I still dream of him often. In the last dream: Andrew, me, Olivia, George, and John were jumping trains like true gutter punks on our way to the west coast. It was one of the best dreams I've ever had. I woke up with the nostalgic sensation that I was on top of the world and could accomplish any dream my heart desired. That kind feeling was what made me fall in love with Andrew in the beginning, his naive idealism. We truly believed we were going to be the next Kurt and Courtney.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with George and Olivia again before they went back West. We often would reminisce of the old days and of our legendary Andrew stories. They always saw me as "motherly" figure throughout our adventures. And it was true, I tried my best to take care of them. I was Wendy and they were the lost boys. Olivia showed me the video of him playing guitar. And I gave her a picture of him from when we first ventured to San Francisco together. I think it was a cathartic experience for both of us. Last I heard the twins were in NJ.

Andrew altered my very existence and opened so many doors of exploration for me. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for his presence in my life. For that I am eternally grateful.

In the final hours of his life Andrew communicated with two of his friends in South Florida in text messages.

Friend at 305: Hey what's up why did you call me so early

Andrew: Because i am about to do something kinda dangerous and i wanted to talk to someone comforting

Friend at 305: I was sleeping...What the hell are you doing now?

Andrew: Just forget it

Andrew (six hours later): Escaped death again

Friend at 954: Goodluck! Sorry i was sleeping

Andrew: Just scored 8

Friend at 954: Cool dude have fun and b safe

Friend at 954: But i know you will cuz ur smart

Andrew: Ya huh. Love yuh

Andrew: I've made a wonderful new decision

Andrew: It's about u

Friend at 954: Yea wut might that be

Andrew: Are you seeing anyone right now?

Friend at 954: No

The final text message on Andrew's phone was from Dad: Call me 911. There was no response.

Andrew's father,

Paul A. Moore


January 2, 2010 at 7:22 AM

By: kugler

Amazing Grace

Lemonheads [sound recording]

Amazing Grace

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