March 13, 2007
My old man in a nut shell: he’s too proud to wear a hearing-aid, yet he has no qualms whatsoever about donning a Donald Duck visor with two squares of cardboard fastened behind his ears, and strolling down Viking Way on his afternoon errands.
His errands consist of things like buying a piece of sheet-metal that he can bend into a box for the prototype of the sonic ant-deterrent he recently invented.
He calls the cardboard squares behind his ears his parabolic reflectors. They actually work. Try it sometime.
My old man’s a tucker. He tucks everything in– his fucking jacket. He’s also got what I consider to be an unhealthy relationship with Velcro. He wears it everywhere. He fastens his shoes with it, his jeans. He fastens the curtains in the old Nash station wagon he drives with it—and that’s so he can use the porto-potty he installed in the back, which he practically has to fold himself in half in order to utilize, because there’s only about three feet of vertical space back there.
And believe me, he utilizes it.
Sometimes while he’s driving, he has to pull over to the shoulder and fasten the curtains and drop a trout, even as traffic whizzes by. You see, he’s got a self-diagnosed diverticulum. It’s like his esophagus runs straight through to his rectum, I swear. He’s got his crap chute timed like a station master. He’s already eyeing the bathroom halfway through the salad course.
He refers to the whole process, invariably in a matter-of-fact tone, as passing his bowels. He refers to it often. After all, it’s just a metabolic function, right?
My old man pretty much ran out on me when I was eight or nine years old. I still don’t consider him a deadbeat, though. He always paid his child support and the rest of it. My sister’s death really took a toll on my parent’s marriage, so I’m willing to cut my old man some slack for flying the coupe.
Like most kids, I looked up to my dad. But I knew from square one he was certifiable. Other fathers didn’t teach their children Morse code, or get them squirrel monkeys for pets. Other fathers didn’t invent humane pest control devices, or make ice cream out of soy beans.
Over the years, my old man has worked as an aerospace engineer, a Methodist minister, a professional bodybuilder, a videographer, and finally, a naturopath. And like Frank Norris, he never “truckled.”
That’s enough for me.
And I’m not even certain what truckled means, but I’m pretty damn sure my old man never did it, or he probably wouldn’t be wearing parabolic reflectors right now.
I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my father, in spite of the fact that we’ve spent so little time together. Until recently, he’d been living (quite happily) in the back of a cube truck in the high dessert of south-central Oregon, where he spent his days inventing shit in the sweltering heat– eating carrots, reading the scripture. Fastening shit with Velcro.
But two months ago—upon the behest of my older sister, who was beginning to worry about him alone out in that godforsaken desert in a Donald Duck visor— my father relocated to the island my sister and I live on.
He now lives 4.8 miles away.
So, for the first time since I was eight or nine years old, I’m seeing my father daily. We walk in the woods every afternoon with our dogs– me in my sweat pants, with my hangover, and he in his Velcro-fastened shoes and parabolic reflectors. I have to talk REALLY FUCKING LOUD, because I’m usually in front of him, and parabolic reflectors—in spite of their many attributes – are decidedly uni-directional in their function.
During our walks, my dad frequently says things like:
“Old Laddie is getting ready to pass his bowels.”
“Good Laddie. Good dog. Boy, you really had to pass your bowels, didn’t you, old boss? He hasn’t passed his bowels since yesterday morning. He really needed to pass them.”
But you know, the old dude is pretty interesting—my dad, I mean. He speaks a little Latin, a little Greek. He knows his theology and engineering and nutrition inside and out. And he knows volumes about the human excretory system. We have some good talks.
Last night, was my old man’s 75th birthday.
My sister and her family are up at Whistler for the week, and my brothers live out of state, and my wife was working– so it was just me and my old man for his birthday dinner.
He’s a pretty finicky eater– not because he’s got a sophisticated palette or anything, just because he’s a health nut.
So I made a salad with organic spring greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and blueberries, with a light drizzle of vinaigrette. I grilled some Japanese eggplant. I made some farfalle with wild mushrooms, kalamata olives, and sun dried tomatoes. I bought a carrot cake.
And I bought two bottles of the only alcoholic beverage I’ve ever known my father to imbibe– Manischewitz Blackberry Wine.
My old man is a cheap date, I guess. I generally can’t drink Manischewitz, or I start feeling like I’m slipping into a diabetic coma—and I’m not even diabetic (though I’ve been told my piss tastes sweet – ah, but that’s another post, perhaps).
Well, last night, in spite of my aversion, I drank Manischewitz Blackberry Wine, and it agreed with me for the
My old man loved the dinner.
He passed his bowels between the farfalle and the carrot cake.
Old Laddie passed his bowels, too– in case anyone’s wondering.
After his second glass of Manischewitz, my old man got a little woozy and sentimental, and began talking about his mother, whom the rest of us knew simply as Sweetie. She was a gem.
I lived with Sweetie in a senior citizen mobile home park in Sunnyvale, California the last two years of her life.
I was going to college.
She was agoraphobic—hadn’t left the house in over fifteen years. She smoked two packs of Pall Mall Golds and drank a half case of Hamm’s a day.
She spent the better part of her days lounging in a bile-colored lazy boy, popping Tums antacids like tic-tacs. She ate nothing but Swanson’s frozen turkey dinners. Two per day– noon and six.
In fact, when I found her dead– with Tums antacids bubbling out of her mouth– there was a Swanson’s frozen dinner on her bedside table. And I swear to God, the thing was untouched except for the cherry cobbler.
She ate the fucking cherry cobbler and checked out! How cool is that?
We buried her with a Hamm’s and pack of Pall Mall Golds. You may think that’s disrespectful– but then, you don’t know shit.
My father started getting teary as he talked about Sweetie, last night.
Sweetie was the only parent he ever really had.
His father died when he was four.
He grew up in a one bedroom flat in Oakland during the depression, with Sweetie and Grandma Rae.
He said they had a single naked light bulb in the middle of the room, and Grandma Rae tied a button on the end of the chain. And my old man said that pulling that chain and watching that light bulb go on and off as a kid was the thing that made him become an engineer.
He said that things were so lean growing up in Oakland, there was only enough money to feed two people most of the time.
And so my father breast-fed until he was four-and-a-half years old.
He said he can remember stomping around the flat banging pots and pans and complaining he was hungry, until his mother took him in her lap.
He had a mouthful of teeth.
Last night, my father started weeping as he talked about his mother.
He just couldn’t seem to get past all the nutrition he’d deprived her of by all that nursing. She lost all her teeth by the age of forty, he explained, due to calcium deprivation.
His doing, of course. She finally weaned him by drawing spooky faces on her breasts.
Poor guy. Poor everybody. There was my father– on his 75th birthday– gooned on Manischewitz, weeping
like a baby about his mother’s milk.