One evening this past November, a few days before the election, my hatred of telephones was reinforced by a call informing me my father was in the hospital. This task fell to one of my cousins, who I dimly recall as a gold-snuffling consumerist mood-ring dutifully self-extruded into a pair of whore jeans.

“Your father” She said, taking a deep breath, “Is having EMERGENCY SURGERY. You need to get here RIGHT AWAY and STOP breaking OUR HEARTS.”
As is usual in these cases I left the room without picking up the phone, letting the answering machine do all the painful work of dictation, and returned outdoors to the grill, where I was basting some slabs of tofu with a lemon tahini tamari marinade.

I don’t know why I have a grill.

I do however, know why I’ve made every non-lethal effort to sever communications with my blood relatives, and near the top of the list is the constant melodrama endemic to a joyless Calvinist mall queen lifestyle. The other reason is they breed like roaches (the last gathering I attended I couldn’t help but visualize chitinous egg cases dangling from the women’s arses), and if I had to attend every funeral/sickness/pig sticking necessary to stay in their mercurial graces I’d have to rent or purchase a black brougham with the chrome f-hole trim just to fit in.

I figure I’ve breathed enough rotten funeral air to have five or six brain cancers and stood in so many hospital waiting areas watching Edge of Night fanfic/ improv that I’ve decided at the first sign of any catastrophic illness I’m just going to get high and try and drown myself in the pond.

I’ve written here before about my family’s coffin humping, corpse buggering dementia, and the way every death is treated as an opportunity to stage a show, but I don’t know if I ever mentioned my father’s Greatest Generation fueled orgy for his dead brother. I might have, but there’s fodder enough there for me to post “you’ll never believe this shit” stuff for decades, so here goes.

After being complimented on his directorial debut for my mother’s funeral by the academy at Mt. Sylvan Ruritan Club Arts and Letters, Da decided he was a fucking auteur and began to assemble a death festival for my uncle, who died in WWII. My uncle’s body, like the bodies of many other airmen and sailors, wasn’t recovered. There had been a small ceremony near the close of the war and a marker placed in the municipal cemetery, with my grandmother and an Army Air Force bugler in attendance- unadorned, appropriate.

I like to imagine it as one of the paintings of the vast silence of the America beloved of Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Grant Wood compressed into the space of a tiny Blake etching for an instant, and ceremonially set alight on a hillside a few minutes’ drive from the farm.

Not good enough for a Reagan booby, though. With the constraining forces of my mother and grandmother out of the way, my father turned to this project with that peculiarly zealous Republican drive to flush taxpayer money away on loud vehicles and shit that blows up good. In addition, there was the insipid pebble filled mouth of Tom Brokaw gargling in his ear, urging the attachment of dollars to all that death, because when you possess only the palest, most forlorn shadow of a soul, one of the ways you commemorate the awful slaughter of young bewildered creatures is to shit a sour flux of thankyew notes and rancid homilies upon them. The other way is to ride a wave of malformed sentiment to mountains of cash. Brokaw syncretized the aims of the propagandist and profiteer in ways that will be a textbook for other shameless fucks once it’s time to pull out the hankies for Vietnam.

The runup to this military themed weepfest was as full of unintentional hilarity as the ultimate presentation. My father would call me with his plans for the event, increasingly delusional and grandiose. Mike Krzyzewski was invited to speak as well as John Shalikashvili. He phoned one of his friends at the local paper and told them there would be a flyover of military aircraft- The Blue Angels, no less.

One day he phoned me to ask “Who sings that Proud to be an American” song. Lee Greenberg?”
“It’s Greenwood dad. He’s pure whitebread. Not Jewish by any stretch. Why you asking?”
“I’m going to get him to sing for this thing.”
I knew better than to try and talk any sense into him, and hoped his condition would deteriorate to the involuntary committal state before this golem of a funiferaw lurched up on its hind legs and began an insatiable hunt for the last pathetic scraps of human dignity in its radius.

Perhaps I could avoid the thing with a well timed case of alcoholic poisoning. How painful can it be to shoot oneself carefully in the meaty part of a leg? I wondered aloud.
“Your father?” my wife asked from her office.
“if you need me to do anything complicated, let me know soon. In a month or so I’m going to be drinking myself into a coma.”
“Will do.”

I kept wishing this thing away, hoping my sisters would distract my father with something shiny- an expenses paid monastic retreat, a ride down the bunny slope of the Eiger, anything.
One Saturday evening, after a particularly grueling six day week at work, he calls and says, “It’s tomorrow at noon. We’re going to get your uncle some closure.”

My uncle’s fragmentary remains are lying in a field near Naples. His high school friends and their children drive BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes. They voted for a guy who went to Bitburg cemetery and gave a eulogy for a bunch of SS pissants before he himself clambered down into hell with them and began rocking the casting couch with the son of the morning.

You, dad, voted for the same schmuck.

I need to say these things to him, but I can’t say them to him because he is a Republican asshole. It must occur to them at some point there are periods of prolonged silence that follow every bigoted whinge, every belch and fart of petulant outrage, but no, there isn’t even that much reflection. It’s down, down, all the way down to the rats goosing the food lever for cocaine instead of a peanut butter cookie. They don’t even fucking hear you.

We dragged ourselves to the thing, because in those days I was still nervous about stepping on their toes. It never occurred to me they hadn’t the slightest reservations about commenting on my clothing, my diet, anything. This is what it took to snap me out of it, and finally concede their utter ridiculousness.

Krzyzhewski and Shalikashvili were no-shows, as were the Blue Angels. Many hicks had been lured to the cemetery by the prospect of aircraft performing stunts over a hilly, wooded area, where even if they’d shown up, they would have been discernible only in short bursts. Hearing them come in at treetop and disappearing would have replicated a portion of the experience of a hamlet about to be socked with napalm. In that respect alone I was sorry it didn’t happen.

A red-faced man in a Dewars scotch costume assembled by nine year olds from a discontinued items bin at Michaels hauled out a bagpipe and played a few bars of Amazing Grace. During this setup, a few guys in Air Force uniforms showed up. They appeared irritable, probably because the Iraqis had violated the no-fly rule that day and they needed to be in their offices to shit down someone’s neck.
One stood up and noted that it was indeed hilly in Hillsboro, that Shalikashvili was sorry he wasn’t able to attend but he was having his arse waxed tied up with national security concerns, and that my uncle was a great guy who had crashed an awful lot of aircraft prior to his lone combat mission; so many, in fact, he would likely be let go in today’s Air Force (unless he was the son of a colonel or higher). They were clearly bugged they’d been tapped for this thing. A bugler then played taps, followed by a red–faced white-haired guy Vic Damoaning “Proud to be an American” accompanied by a karaoke machine.

By this point I was unsteady on my feet from shame and embarrassment. I could have shown up naked with my hairs spiked with peanut butter and there would have been zero change in the quality of the experience. My father’s hick neighbors, chewing wads of tobacco, looked over at me as if to ask “When’s them goddamn planes gone buzz us?”

My wife said ”This is more pathetic than I imagined. I mean, I knew it would suck, but goddamn!”
“Hnnnnnnh. God help me. God help us.” I groaned, staring at my shoes.

Some Army dudes did a five gun salute, and I found myself wishing they’d fired randomly into the crowd.
A preacher did a sermon and led a prayer, and indicated it was over.

I forced myself to walk over to my father and say “Good work.”
“Your Aunt Jane is fixing dinner. I want y’all to come.”
“Tammie’s got to do some work today. I’d better get back to the house myself. Running two routes all next week.”
“You didn’t like the bagpipes.” He said, deflated. “He was drunk”.
“No. he was fine. He did a good job. Everything was great. I’d better get back, though.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I was thinking about the funeral when I was trying to decide whether to look up my father’s obit, a couple of months ago. The only thing I decided was to have a drink on it and see what shook out.

A few glasses of wine in, and I started hearing Elton John nasally intone the first words of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in my right ear. By the time I got to bed, he’d sung the ballad of Danny Bailey twice, and I awoke to “Harmony”. This continued for the rest of the day, the next day, and a portion of the next. I had begun to contemplate self-administered electric shock by the time it subsided.

I never checked the obits, but I have avoided alcohol entirely since that Elton John marathon.
It wasn’t so much Elton’s album. It’s by no means a bad thing, as far as pop goes. It’s the memories it evoked. The time and place that album was still popular, at least in my youth subset.

My father teaches at the same school I attend. We are sitting in the car on a February morning.
We are waiting for the car to warm up, a gasping old slab of a ford, a bronze sarcophagus, its body design dictated by the shear press and the mud-slurping expectations the age of split-level houses, or if the consumers’ heads were starting to pop out of the mud and they’d begun the crawl to drier land, big brick ranch houses and larger careening wheeled sarcophagi.

My girlfriend lived in a big brick ranch house, which meant it was always easy to find a quiet place to snog. She had a small collection of records, Elton John being the featured artist. She was a flautist and practiced obsessively when we weren’t snogging and listening to Elton John. She was a blonde butterball and I remember looking at her ample butt while she sawed through stacks of transcriptions from fin-de-siecle Italian vocal music. It worked, somehow.

For my birthday she’d given me an economy bottle of Jovan Musk, which I knew to use sparingly, but enough to let her know that I was using it.
“You smell like a goddamn French Whore” my father says.
“Wendy gave it to me. She’ll be pissed if I don’t wear some.”
“Let me tell you something. A woman’s just a piece of gut-end. You got more sense than to act like that.”

“Fuck you, stupid jock asshole.” I think.

I think about my English teacher who was the only reason I’d been willing to drag myself out of bed and get ready for school after I’d had numerous concussions during wrestling practice the previous year. I think about my grade school teacher who’d carried me out west on a huge road trip. They were better people than any men I was aware of- certainly less intestinal than the biscuit-sucking loser who was driving me to school.
I decide I will do everything I can to try and avoid being as fucked up as he is, and seek the advice of women whenever I have an important question. I am already doing this anyway.

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