Sunday, July 19, 2009


I was at the Y and the guy at the counter had to laugh. It seems I'd walked in last week and when I was gone he'd asked some loiterer how old he thought I was. "Um, 28?" So the guy had to tell me that. And, indeed, it forced a smile upon my grim lips. And a guy wanted to bend my ear about his hurt foot and he said he had to hop and I called him Hopalong and he said he barely remembered that old TV show and I said me too, William Boyd, and he thought I was too young to remember it but I said I'd be 50 next month and he was amazed and said he'd thought I was 35. And there's an old, old lady, only 78 though, who uses the pool, and I'd helped wheel her in and she mentioned about how hot her place is, and I asked if she had a fan and she only had a little one. So I went to the place and bought a big box fan, and gave it to her. She's a sweet old lady but plays that role and she talks about how she's on the decline, and she is. She is not long for this world.

And this morning I got a message that my father couldn't get out of bed and was going to have to go to an old folks home, and he needed me to come over and fill his hummingbird feeders. I was filled with anger and hostility. I had some things to do, but this evening I went by and he was walking around of course, but he showed me how to fill the feeders. He says he feeds hundreds of hummingbirds, and what started as an interest 20 years ago has become a responsibility. Yeah, like sex.

He is in constant and severe pain most of the time. He had spinal surgery in the early 70s, three fused discs in his lower back, and that's a disaster of course. He's hunched over like, well, like an old, old man. He can't sit up without pain, but is in the process of writing his stories, like how the Montana sheriff would collect all the unwanted farm kittens and puppies, and it turns out he used them to throw at the bullseye painted on the side of his barn. Stories like that, from his childhood. I told him he should write a blog. He always has a reason why my ideas won't work -- people will steal his stories, which matters, even though he isn't planning on publishing until after he's dead.

I know better than to tell him to use Omega 3. I approached it from behind, saying his former wife, my mother, was told she'd need a knee replacement, but the Omega 3 fixed it. "I take a lot of supplements." I figure only envy will work, and the idea has to come from him. He has an almost infinite capacity to sustain pain. Of which he has nothing but. "I will not die of old age," he said, in oblique reference to the pain.

He doesn't have my number. Is self-protection cruel? His great emotional need is precisely matched by my need to never again feel like his victim, his object. He asked after my son and that's a topic upon which I am effusive. "Does he have prospects? " "He's doing fantastic. He's a world-class athlete." "Is there a future in that?" I explained how. But it's good to see that he's taken a practical turn. It skipped a generation or two, his and mine, but my son is solid. He suggested he'd like a visit from his grandson. Nobody visits him, you see. "I'm here all the time," he said.

I stay cold. I just don't want to be caught up in the madness. Little children shouldn't be made to feel sorry for their fathers. It warps them, I think. I know it, from personal experience. It's a sickness in me, the hostility at a distance and the pity up close. I can think of only two words, right now. Futility and nausea. I won't say how they tie together, but they are tied together.

I should visit him every week. The idea makes me so sad. He thought he'd never grow old. A large, powerful, domineering, womanizing man, insolent in his virility. Now he is feeble. We can be kind or thoughtful or casually generous with strangers. We can take reasonable precautions against the rough handling of time. But how can we escape our character?

So that was my weakened.


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