“Listen, Elie, I can’t tell you how gratifying it’s been to have these conversations with you, talks we should have had when I was alive, but it’s time to say goodbye,” said the skeleton of my father from his grave outside of Peekskill, the cursed little town where his misery began.
“You know, your hard work in turning these 860 pages into a book begins now, and I see you’ve been dancing around it, that look on your face, writing about this fucking reality TV huckster, and that politically adept blowjob master judge who put you through hell years ago, and everything else. I don’t have any advice for you about how to tell my story, but I have to think that talking to me, at this point, is no help.” A black vulture soared by overhead, as if on cue.
“You know, now that I’m thinking about it, you should probably go back and cut just about every word you put into my mouth. That’s probably half of the 800 plus pages right there. Leave the characteristic things I used to say, like calling a cheap car a ‘shit box.’ Schwartzappel drove a shit box, you rode in it once, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“As I’m trying to give you advice I realize I really have none to give, I never tried to write a book. Think of it like a funeral oration, maybe. You recall how you admired the way I conjured Eli and Arlene at their funerals? For a moment each one was alive in that hall, standing there like themselves right next to their dead bodies in the coffin. Look, Elie, if I could have winked at you from my coffin when they took me out of the hearse and popped the lid to make sure you were burying the right guy, I would have. You recall the shards of pottery on my eyes and mouth? The five or six day white beard I was sprouting? … I know I’m not helping.”
People don’t attempt this, what I am trying to do.
“Don’t question that, Elie, it’s in your nature, and it’s within your power. Most people don’t spend as many hundreds and thousands of hours polishing a talent as you have with your writing. Lives of quiet desperation, Elie, look around at the people you know, running, running, running. I used to say of Caroline that she always ran a full flight pattern, she was always frantically taking off, touching down, taking off. When you live that kind of frenetic life your demons take care of themselves, except perhaps when you lash out, or crash your car, or whatever. You have slowed your life down to carefully examine things. You may not be getting paid, but it’s not like you aren’t working hard every day.”
Fucking hard work, Brownie.
“Yeah, listen, I get it. You have a weirdly gigantic sort of ambition, I have to say. Here is a father who was in many ways a monster to you and your sister, and you are paying him the respect of putting the jagged puzzle of his three-dimensional human contradiction of a life together. You recognize the truth of what I admitted as I was dying– that by two years old my life was over. It was true to me, because I could never recover from the brutality I experienced in the beginning of my life.”
“Trite as it is, I offer the fucking Hitler example. The young mass-murdering demagogue was repeatedly brutalized by his autocratic, child-beating father. It doesn’t let him off the hook for becoming a psychopathic mass murderer, but it explains why someone with his genetic set-up, beaten regularly, became a mass-murdering psychopath while a guy like Dick Cheney just became fantastically rich and sinisterly powerful, the thousands of faceless brown people he had a hand in killing were not the point of the exercise, as it was with Hitler.”
“You know, you try to understand your feeling of helplessness, while doing everything in your power to push the feeling out of your head. If I could seem tough, and get people to respect me, I thought I was powerful. It was the theory of a two year-old, kind of like this reality TV huckster posing as the president now. If you blow shit up, and glare defiantly at the cameras afterwards, you are presidential. Real strength, Elie, is being vulnerable, being unafraid to connect to people, relate to them as equals. But my nerves were too flayed, too often, too young. You go to your mother for comfort, as you see those tiny kittens in Sekhnet’s backyard do, that’s nature. Your mother is holding an improvised whip and lashes you in the face with a look of implacable hatred on her face. Try that one on…”
The black vulture made another lazy circle in the blue sky above the graves. I wondered briefly what he was looking for. I think he was a black vulture.
“Well, all this is neither here nor there. You probably ought to finish that letter to A.G. Schneiderman, get your arguments out there to have government oversight of the unregulated health industry in New York State. You then should finish that book proposal your old friend’s friend the literary agent might be interested in. I notice you sent nothing out for publication or rejection, as you vowed to, by the twelfth anniversary of my death, two days ago, but that too is neither here nor there,” the skeleton waved his hand absently and looked up.
“Is that a black vulture or a turkey vulture? Neither here nor there, Elie. You need to take care of your health, too. Don’t fuck around with that kidney disease you have. Get your skin cancers taken care of. Eat healthy food, sleep enough and continue riding your bike. You heard that great Moth story by John Turturro the other day, we think we are in control of our lives, but we are largely not. In the end I have no good advice for you, Elie. How fucking sad is that?”
No sadder than a lot of things, dad, and less sad than some things.