What was your purpose in writing almost nine hundred pages about your father over the last year or so, this so-called Book of Irv? He was an abusive man, wasn’t he?
Heh, yes, he was an abusive man. He was also a very sensitive person who was on the right side of virtually every moral and political question.
So you’re saying he was the consummate hypocrite?
Sure, if you like. I see him more as a very damaged person who never recovered from the unspeakable outrages that were perpetrated against him from before he could form memories of it. He tried to be a better person, he aspired to be, but he had no faith that he could do anything about the amount of rage he always had boiling inside him. He was often trapped between rage and despair.
You say he tried and aspired to be a better person. What form did this effort and aspiration take?
Wow, sharp question. What form, you say? That’s good. You got me. The form it took was asking me to forgive him as he was dying, on the last night of his life.
I don’t mean to be a hard-ass, but how is that trying and aspiring to be a better person?
OK, you got me. It’s trying in the sense that it’s annoying as hell, I suppose. You know, he was incredibly well-defended. I wish I had recorded that last battle we had, about two years before he died. My final attempt to get through to the hard-headed, childish, lawyerly bastard. In that last fight, I won every round. I kept my cool, he lost his. I had a rational answer to every one of his insane points. He was swinging desperately, wildly. That would be a hell of a transcript, a hell of a verbatim, slice-of-life chapter for the book. God, I wish I had it!
Tell me again why you are trying to write a memoir of this asshole?
He died with a mountain of regrets sitting on his heart. Seeing that sincere regret, and his poignant, long overdue attempt to finally make his peace, softened my heart. He was an abusive fuck, no question about it, but he was also the consummate humanist. He believed in, and at one time actively fought for, justice. He behaved atrociously to my sister and me, and to our mother sometimes, but he was, at bottom, a fundamentally decent man with a very keen, dark sense of humor.
Still an asshole in my book.
Fair enough, you write your book, I’ll write mine. I’m trying to construct the whole man from the wreckage he left behind. I’m not disputing that my father was an asshole. I don’t say this just to be snide. He was angry and did nothing to deal with his anger, except vent at those it was safe to vent at. He did tremendous harm to me, and I would say even more harm to my sister. She would say the reverse, that it was worse for me, because I fought him every time he took a shit on me, which was a daily thing.
You don’t have to be so disgusting.
Apparently I do, shit-ass. I don’t need your fucking attitude either, ass-wipe.
OK, OK, you made your damned pernt, terlet-mouth.
See, the thing about my father is that we could have been, should have been, good friends. He had many great qualities, notably his intelligence, quickness, humor, deeply held merciful beliefs, his musical taste, love of animals, appreciation for a brilliantly written paragraph. We had laughs over the years, though, amazingly to me, my sister does not remember the laughs. The fucker was really, really funny sometimes. He was a tragic fucking person, I mean that in every possible way. The potential he had, set against the terrible limitations he felt bound by– Jesus, I don’t know, I find that a very compelling bone to gnaw on.
OK, fine. But why would anybody else give a shit about these pages?
Well that’s the $64,000 advance question, iddn’t it? That’s the one I have to answer to get even the $5,000 advance. We are not present as much as we ought to be. We have devices with gorgeous screens buzzing in our pockets. I’m talking to you and I have a message coming in. I look at my phone under the table, I see someone has gotten back to me. I’m talking to you, but it’s not engaging enough to make me resist looking down at that irresistible screen to see that someone has texted me “LOL”. I smile, because I’ve made somebody write the initials for “Laughing out loud.” Meantime, I missed the last thing you said, or I got only part of it. I’m only half here, and I’m one of the more conscious about being present people you will talk to today.
What does not being present have to do with my question about the book?
Oh! You’re good! Being present means taking in what is going on around you and being ready to respond in a human way. This is something my father often had, even if he didn’t always respond in a humane way. He was supremely attuned to what was going on around him. He did this largely like a crab on the ocean floor, positioning himself constantly to deploy his terrible claws. It was, sadly, largely in the service of defending himself, his being very present.
What does his being perversely present have to do with my question about the larger appeal of the book?
You’re getting a little exasperating, you know that? You must hear that a lot, I suppose, what an exasperating motherfucker you are.
Yes, I do get that quite a bit.
Look, I don’t have a plain answer to your question. You’d have to talk to my marketing department for that kind of focus. I am assuming, or maybe just hoping (to quote the late great Howard Zinn) that there is a certain universal resonance to the story of my long wrestling match with my difficult father, a man who had all the tools to be a great friend and all the demons to be a formidable enemy. I think many people will be able to relate to this story. I hope they will. Much of it will be in the telling, how much they’ll be able to relate to it.
OK, so you are the son of an abusive man who survived a childhood of unspeakable abuse. You have tried consciously to rid yourself of the predictable impulse to abuse. You talk about ahimsa, or you used to. Is that what the book is about, the journey from being a victim, the son of a victim, to being someone who refuses to victimize others, refuses to be a victim himself?
Well, that’s a lot of big ideas there, pardner. I think it’s simpler and not quite as grand as that. I don’t want to be in situations where I am at the mercy of angry assholes. I am lucky, for the meantime, to have the funds not to have to work for assholes. It’s a trade-off, I’ve taken a vow of subsistence, more or less, but I think it’s a very good deal. Remove the stress of having to eat shit to make a living and your life immediately improves. Remove people from your life who cannot help but be abusive– a net gain every time. My goal is to remain mild and present, and to the extent I can do both those things, I feel like I am being a good friend and a calming presence in a world that is literally boiling with rage.
I like that “a good friend and a calming presence”. That’s very good for a fellow who is talking to himself on a blahg instead of interacting with others.
No need to be snide, Clyde. I am consciously trying to remain mild. It is a challenge sometimes, in a very angry world, but I am more often than not ready for it. What lesson do I take from my father’s life? Use your powers for good, not evil. My main power right now, or at least the one everyone can most readily understand, is my ability to set things out clearly. I explain things clearly. I take the time to do this. Time is one element that many people feel they don’t have. I have time. The clock is always ticking, yes, but I am taking my time seriously.
You really don’t know what this Book of Irv is about, do you?
OK, my relentless imaginary friend, let’s see if I can make it plain. There is an infernal loneliness to life, felt by many people, as we try not to think about the inevitable end of consciousness. I feel this loneliness acutely sometimes. You talk to someone and the distractions they are immersed in are flashing across their face. Everyone is distracted. My father was distracted, even as he kept his eyes and ears keenly alert for attack. What we all want, as far as I can tell, is to be heard, understood, valued. When you speak to someone who is listening carefully, and responding to what you are actually expressing, you are connected, in that moment, to something beyond yourself. At the heart of the Book of Irv is making that connection. I’m talking to the skeleton of my father. The skeleton is my father, but transformed by all the insights he had while he was dying. I am talking to my father as he wished he could have been. This is not a small thing to me. Creating this conversation, in the context of everything I can express about my father’s life, is a connection to what some might call a higher power.
Interesting, you are communing with God, somehow?
Let’s leave God out of this. I’ve long believed that God went mad with grief, centuries ago. If God exists, He is mad with grief, barking mad. If He was ever not mad to begin with. Sure, He was a great artist, an amazing artist. His creation– wow! But with such sensitivity comes madness much of the time. And who could blame God for going mad at what humans have done to all His miracles? I couldn’t. No, I am not communing with God. I am communing with the best of my father, in a way he would have appreciated. I’m not sugar coating the destructive motherfucker, but neither am I reducing him to this monstrousness, ignoring the many great things about him that are equally true.
Well, that’s been most interesting, eh, I have a work call coming in, will you excuse me?