My father died tonight, so maybe I’ve had one or two.
Not tonight tonight, of course. My love for the Dead is not to be argued by weirdos, surfers, serfs: but I’m not one of those deranged train-spotters. Things would shut down. Deaths in the family are for the detail oriented.
Anniversary of his death: it seems like it happens every year nowadays. He was an angry man, and I wasn’t very outdoorsy, so I was around a lot. Bad combination.
He had no middle name and his childhood might have been horrific. I’m guessing it was. That rage. He hinted at what had happened in a letter and I lost it like I lost everything he gave me. We never talked about it.
We never talked.
He had to be reminded to unbutton his collar and loosen his tie at the dinner table, before he would lean back with a True Green 100. He didn’t smoke much of each: ten drags,maybe, and he would hold them with his front teeth when he lit them. Children were allowed to buy packs of cigarettes back then: I would run down to the guy in the lobby of his building, and I could keep the change and buy a magazine about show biz. About rock music.
I buy my own cigarettes now.
My father started working at 12-years-old selling ladies purses (pronounced POCK-a-books). Skipped a grade, which might not have been a tactical decision.
He wanted out, away. He wanted to be from there, not currently there. His parents died when I was young,: they’re vague and giant blurs. They smelled old and like New York. The was an Aunt, and her name was Lilly, and his sister. There was bad blood between them or my mother or something, who gives a shit: all these scowling Jews are dead. One of my cousins is an FBI agent, the other some sort of Super-Nurse. She has an utterly absurd married name straight out of the Sopranos.. Otherwise, my family all belonged to my mother.
I have never met a childhood friend of my father.
Long Island University, stockbroker, co-founded a firm that did money…things…of some sort (never quite figured it out: there were suits involved), was a success. Same Beemer that Garcia drove. Nice ride. College for the kids, law school for one; rehab for the other. Vacations with the wife. Came home from one vacation with a cough.
The cough didn’t go away.
He would steal his father’s Checker Cab and drive the overnight shift, illegally, to make some bread for the weekend. Cars back then had those big butterfly switches and he didn’t even have the keys half the time. He got arrested with my Uncle Harvey one time pulling that stunt, but they got let go with a stern warning to stay away from communists and negro agitators. He was at Woodstock, briefly, and then he went back to my grandmother’s cabin. In the fifties and sixties, before the entire world was air-conditioned, Jews would rent cabins in upstate New York, mostly in the Catskill Mountains. The dads would drive up on the weekend. This happened until the early 80’s, and then the parents started staying in the cool suburban homes and shipping the children off to summer camp. He would sit in the sun and read the worst shit, those books with the real expensive print-job and a themed title and a super-smart nemesis for the hero that comes back every four or five books.
He introduced me to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, and tried to hook me into Zane Grey a million times. Might have been bribes, but I didn’t understand westerns until Blood Meridian and it was too late by then. He brought us to the library constantly. The bookstore was the reward for all successes. Maybe I should shut the fuck up about his book choices,
We both needed explosions in our movies.
I only saw him naked once, by accident. We were not a naked family. He was skinny with a little pot belly. No waist or legs. Not me. I have the strong haunches of mother’s side: we are like powerful kangaroos. Not balding, as that implies progression: he had gotten to a certain small amount of coverage and stayed there for a while. What he kept was white. My brother started going grey early in college, I did in my late 20’s. He’s more salt; I’m more pepper.
We both kept our hair, most of it.
He had been sick. Still mobile, but in the house. He could eat ravioli from this one place. Three, four sometimes, but not usually. I’d finish them. Corn, he could do: he could taste it. Barely left the husk on the plate. Who remembers what used to live there? Who used to sit there?
Who remembers the good days?
Sometimes, in bursts, I sit in mid-level professional offices with a check in my pocket. Sometimes I sit there once and never come back, and other times, I sit there many times according to schedule before disappearing, but at the last session, I always tak about him. I always start to. Mean to. Sometimes I walk out of the room mid-conversation, but I usually look the other human being in the room right in the eye and lie about progress and plans and the future: I used to do that to my father a lot. Intentional deception, rage, and polite tension were most of our relationship,
There was so much regret at the end, and he died peacefully, in his sleep, which is more than can be said for the passengers in the car.
I kid. (He would have loved that one, honest.)
Three years ago: I ran red lights to get to the house. He had gone while dreaming of something acceptable: his face was calm and relaxed hours later. Dying in your sleep is better than than dying while awake, but just barely,