stories about my dead father
BY Alek Lev
I say that my father died because it’s easy to say. It’s easy to say that he died on October 17, 1992, because when I say that he died, it’s something that happened over 20 years ago. He died.
It’s in the past.
I also say that my father passed away when I was 17. That’s easy to say as well, because it’s... well I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what Passed Away is. It sounds almost lovely. And it wasn’t lovely. It was cancer, and it was vile and bloody and worse every day until there was no worse it could be. He passed away.
My father is dead. That’s not something I say. I don’t say it because it’s not easy to say, and I don’t say it because it’s not nice to say. But really why I don’t say it, why I don’t say that My Father is Dead is because of that two-letter word, three-quarters of the way through, hiding out innocently, wedged between dad and death. I don’t say that my father is dead because of that one word: Is. He IS dead. Present tense. Now. And it’s an immutable present tense, one that remains present regardless of how far out the timeline is stretched. My father is dead. There will be no resurrection.
The present tense of death is unremarkable when it feels historical. Abraham Lincoln is dead. That’s fine. Disco is dead. Also fine. But my father? The accountant? The guy who did the bad Don Corleone impression? What the fuck? Wait, was I one of those teenagers with a dead dad? You know Alek, right? Short, funny, his dad died? Oh, yeah, him. It’s an identity I’ve never accepted because it’s a choice I never made. But that’s just the thing, now isn’t it, Earthlings? We don’t get a choice in the matter. We don’t choose non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, we don’t choose senior year of high school, and we don’t choose the night I visited my future alma mater. What we can choose, instead, is to spend the next quarter century saying that He Died, and He Passed Away, hoping that such Orwellian circumlocution leaves the teeniest, tiniest bit of room for, you know, things to change. Back then, he Died, but now... Now? Can I peek? Is... is there something awesome for me to see? No? Still not ... alive?
No resurrection. Lincoln, disco, the dinosaurs, and Alan Friedman. And here I am, less than 1000 days myself from the age when we lost him (“lost him”) and I’m sitting down to tell the stories. Because, and I really think that I may not have understood this until recently, there aren’t going to be any new stories. Just the old ones. And those are dying, too, as my middle-aged synapses strain to retain the numbers of the 1986 Mets infield, the stories of my dead father are similarly breaking free.
But it’s not writing. I’m not just writing. I’m confronting, in a battle stance. I have to stare down time and memory and loss and blood and dirt and tell them all to really and truly go fuck themselves, and that I’m armed and shielded and trained and ready... as I’ll ever be... ready to capture them; to capture it all, here, finally. Final. It’s all so very final. Death is final and I’m not sure if I ever really knew that, even if I could hum a few bars. So here we go. The battle. It’s not going to be pretty. It’s not going to be nice. It’s not going to be in the past, buried.
That’s the word. Buried. “He died” buries it. “He passed away” buries it. But we already had the burial. And I didn’t so much like it the last time. And so this - 100 Stories About My Dead Father - is, in every way but the one that matters, what it must be:
Live in the past
We have a rule around my house. We forbid talk of Time Flying. Or They Grow Up So Fast. It Was Only Yesterday. None of that. Time always wins, there no point in complimenting it on its agility, too. I don’t know if my father’s death, now just over a quarter century ago, feels like yesterday or like ten thousand years ago; I won’t engage Time in this battle. What I do know is that as impossible as such a statement must be, as resistant to such an arrangement on the page these words would seem: I am starting to forget him. Or more accurately, continuing to. This forgetting has been happening since October 17th, 1992, when he became memory, when I was too busy with pain to remember not to forget how he held an umbrella, how he scrambled an egg, how he covered his mouth when he coughed. The unremarkable is particularly vulnerable to time, and it’s the unremarkable that I so desperately crave. But time always wins. Fuck time. And cancer, too. Fuck cancer.
Also lost are answers to questions it never occurred to me to ask. There are many, many questions I would love to ask my father, Alan Friedman. But assuming that magical adventures reuniting sons and lost fathers only allow for one or two questions, tops, I’ll skip right to the big one: What did he want? What were the big dreams? Were there big dreams? Was he content to be an accountant, or was he more like me? You know, living in a constant delusional fantasy.
My guess is that he was a part of the Solid Generation. Work 9 to 5, do your work well, then come home. Be Solid. And he did that. But this was a long-haired, pot-partaking, no-nukes, The-Moral-Majority-Is-Neither hippie, and I wish I knew where he traveled to on his flights of fancy.
With all of these questions and all of this forgetting, it’s time to write about it.
It’s also time to Do All The Things with My Kids I Wish My Father Did with Me. You see, friends, my father died when he was 46. My father’s father died when he was 38. My mother’s father died when he was an ancient 62. The good news is that they all died of something different. The only thing that seems to run in the family is death, and so I just have to hope that it isn’t catching. In the meantime, I’m eating my vegetables, making some really good New Years resolutions about working out, and I’m telling my kids the stuff my dad never told me.
In the car today, I told my son Zack that I really don’t know what my dad dreamed about for himself. I asked if Zack knew what I wished for, what I wanted to do with my life. “Yeah,” he said. “Write movies and act and direct and stuff.” So... that wasn’t too hard.
But it’s only the beginning. It’s only the beginning of collecting my memories before these memories are just a memory, and it’s only the beginning of making sure my sons know more about me than I know about Him. And I certainly do have memories. He hurts his hand climbing a fence to catch a ball. He takes me to see Godfather 3 and has a seizure at the end. (He had a kind of epilepsy brought on by a childhood injury.) I was terrified. And not just by Sofia Coppola’s performance! He kisses me on the lips as he puts me onto the school bus. He teaches me Roman numerals.
Good, bad, terrifying or beautiful, these aren’t Moments when they are happening. They’re just life. And who the hell can pay attention to life? There were no Mindfulness t-shirts in the 1980s, so I didn’t even know I was supposed to pay attention to anything besides the Yankees, Cheers, and girls. But recently, I think I’ve found the answer:
Live in the past.
At random then: Every Thursday, we would to go a pizza place (90 cents for a slice, 45 cents for a soda), stopping first at the corner magazine place to get an Archie comic. As Norman Rockwellian as we ever got. That was the first place I ever told him I liked a girl. (Hello, Cine.) That was also the place that he told me - in what context eludes me - that he would live to be 100.
And so, that wrecks me. But then also, I’m there with my invincible dad, $1.35 into culinary perfection, surprised that Archie would invite both Betty AND Veronica to the very same school dance, looking forward to a night of Cheers, and blissfully not knowing... anything else. Now I know it all. Now I know that he was off by 54 years. Now I’ll live in the past, and reclaim all that I can.
Hey, Time — you listening? I’m taking you on. In this corner, the reigning champion of the universe, Time. And in this corner, a middle-aged Jew with a laptop. Let’s do this thing.
I want to write how it ended. His life.
But I can't, not yet. You deserve more preparation than that. Consider this a preview for a coming attraction. The rather dark kind that you wonder why is playing before Trolls.
And I can't, not yet, because I can haven't found the hand holds in the side of this unwieldy box. I know they must be there; someone delivered this damn thing a few decades ago. But it's been sitting, untouched in the basement, along with unexamined regrets and a C3PO collectors case. And I can’t quite get a grip.
And I can't, not yet, because of something I only just realized as I began thinking about this today: If I do it, then I've done it. And I might not be ready to give that away.
For so many years, the details of that final year, the final month, and that final day have been Mine, and I've know I would one day write about them. But that, the Knowing, it has also been Mine. And once I actually write about it, then I've given that away. And giving things away is difficult. That's why I still have Lionel Ritchie’s Greatest Hits. On cassette.
So I can't give it away, not yet. I don't want it, never wanted it, but it's mine. Quoth Cobain: "I miss the comfort in being sad."
But this thing, this memory and the potential energy stored within its future writing... I've finally taken it out of storage and left it on the counter. It's waiting for me. Now it's looking at me. That's weird, stop looking at me. I'll say this: Not writing about it is the closest I've ever come to writing about it.
There’s yet another, yet similarly disconcerting reason why these words are little more that digital throat clearing. I hoped to present a full scene from the Life of Alan. But when I begin the scene:
INT. LIVING ROOM. He enters from the hallway, carrying… uh… carrying…
…I’m having trouble. I’m having trouble remember any one full scene. I’ve got moments. I’ve got flashes. I can throw together a montage, maybe jam “Always Something There to Remind Me” behind it, and we can all have a good cry. I can do that. I will do that. But I’m thrown by the fact that I can’t find a full scene in my playlist. I want to find something there to remind me of the boring stuff. How he walked and talked and sat and sang. I crave the boring.
So, instead of moments, big or small, I present this photo. It reveals both his photographer’s eye, his love for New York, and the sense of humor that so many remember. And if anyone is seeking cover image for their book on New York in the 70s, please contact my agent.
Also, I’d like to get an agent.
My father, Alan, had a father, Murray, but not for long. Murray died in 1948, when he was only 38, and when Alan was only 2. Alan also had a mother, Ruth, and she hung around for quite a while, passing away at the age of 92 in 2007. And in between all that, Ruth had a second husband, and Alan had a second father, Abe. He was, to me, Grandpa Abe, and his ancient-ness defined grandfather-ness for me until that image was shattered the day that my son's grandfather beat me in straight sets.
Abe was old. He was, it seemed, always old. It's as if they ran out of money after shooting the first scene of Benjamin Button. He moved slowly, he spoke slowly, and he hocked up the most devastating loogies into the kitchen garbage can. (Danny, Kathy, can I get an a-men?) He had strokes. Many strokes. (Says Dennis Miller, "The guy had more strokes than Van Gogh painting a harem of zebras on a Persian knotted-pile area throw.") Each stroke affected him differently, and so the varying degrees of slurred speech and limited movement were, to a small child, both terrifying and confusing. Still, I loved the two-hour drive up to Ellenville to see Ruth and Abe, and few sounds have stuck with me like the crunching gravel beneath the car as we pulled into their driveway.
On April 29, 1983, I was up watching TV in Ruth and Abe's second-floor bedroom. (Separate beds, if you are interested. Could be related to the fact that they got married, divorced, and then married again. Another story for another social media platform.) And then, coming from down below their window, I heard that gravel crunch; someone had just gotten home. I looked down and saw Ruth and Alan coming out of the car. (I say it was Alan. The figure emerging from the driver's seat is actually a blur in my memory, but it seems plausible… Anyone else here a bit jittery on our reliance of witness testimony?) If my memory squints hard enough, it can catch a glimpse of Ruth being a bit off balance. Maybe, maybe.
My brain then cuts to what must have been just a few minutes later. That gravel crunch had held such promise; a night with the family, maybe scrabble, maybe boggle. Instead, it was the musical introduction to The First Rehearsal. Rehearsal as a lower-stakes run-through of the actual performance. In this case, we were rehearsing for a time, 9 years later, that my mother would have to tell me that my father had died. Here, my father would have to tell me that his second father was gone.
And here’s what my dad did: He put his hand just above my right knee. It was a gesture that said, “I have to tell you something.” In the 5 seconds between the hand and The Something, I had no idea what I was in for, but I knew it wasn’t good. It wasn’t. “Your grandpa Abe died tonight.”
I remember the gravel. I remember the hand on my knee. And I remember the words. 35 years ago.
I also remember words that came 26 years ago. I got home from a visit to the university I would eventually call home. I didn't yet know what had happened that afternoon.
I dialed 1-3-9 on the intercom and my aunt picked up. She said hello. I said it’s me.
And I remember she then said: “Are you ready?”
TWO BUS RIDES
After four years of college, you take a certain pride in knowing the best way to get from the dining hall to the library. By the time you graduate, you own the place. But on October 16th, 1992, I knew nothing. It was my first time visiting Wesleyan University, months before I would apply and be accepted early decision, months before they needed to accept me, since I hadn’t filled out a single other application, and years before I would know that I could make it to and from the student center’s restroom during an intermission at the ’92 Theater, thereby avoiding the inevitable line for the theater bathroom. It was just the beginning. And all I knew was that based on what Cassie Feldman told me and based on the Fisk Guide, I wanted to go to Wesleyan and I hoped this visit would cement the decision.
I also knew that my father was dying.
When you plan a college visit, you rarely take the family oncologist’s advise on scheduling. And so, white blood cell count be damned, I took the bus to Middletown. And it’s here that The Memories begin. Prior to this, there are certainly landmarks along the path: They call me into the bedroom, and he says, “I have cancer.” Months later he awakens me from a nap, after remission, complaining of a pain near his eye. It’s back. Months later, the shaved head. Mothers later, the hospital, smelling of impatience and tasting of the Ensure I drank with dad in solidarity. Weeks later, his mother, Ruth, swoons after a visit, “He’s fighting, he’s fighting” she says, meaning that he’s losing, he’s losing. And my last words to him. But let’s save those for last. For next time.
On the bus began a mantra. I want to say that it was “Just be okay, just be okay” but it might not have been that exactly. This is a good time to mention that I’m specifically writing this - all of this - without double checking anyone else’s memory, because part of my interest is in testing my own. At this point what I remember is more important than what happened, and there’s probably some magic to be had at the place where memory and truth conflict. So the mantra went something like that. It wasn’t a prayer in the classic sense. I don’t pray, not to anyone or anything. I’m the atheist in the foxhole. For fear that “mantra” has the sheen of spirituality (and though the word expresses the musicality of the repetition) let me back away and suggest rather that I was just talking to Alan, and whether or not my temporal lobe can retrieve the actual text, of the subtext I am quite sure: “Dad, don’t fucking do this.”
I remember dinner at Mocon, the dining hall. (Once the venue of a Janis Joplin concert, and now, mercifully, leveled.) Pasta. Cookies. As Many Cookies As I Wanted. College was gonna rock. I remember telling Cassie about my dad, but since now, 26 years later, I can barely bring myself to say the words, I assume that at the time, my description was equal parts throat-clearing and circumlocution. What I remember most, though, is stepping onto campus. It was drizzling (that it to say, it was a day of the week in Middletown that ended in “Y”), and I stepped off the bus, walked from Main Street, and found myself on a large field. I have no idea which field that was. But if I were storyboarding the scene for the Jeanine Basinger classes I stupidly never took, I probably couldn’t do much better than “WIDE SHOT: Open field. Raining. He’s lost.” Have no fear, Memory Alek, you’ll own the place soon enough. But now, lost. Oh, so lost.
Then came the next morning, October 17th, 1992, and I had to go home. The visit was over. A success. Yes, I will apply early decision. No, I won’t apply anywhere else. No, that’s not “a plan,” but, nonetheless, that was the plan. And so, another bus ride. Back to New York City, where I could long since claim that certain pride. Where I knew the best way to get from Hunter to Tower Records. Where I could navigate the byzantine Stuyvesant town with my eyes tied behind my back. The City. A place I owned. And yet. And yet.
And yet with every step closer to my apartment building’s front door, with the mantra rising, I remember clearly feeling that there was no ground. Nothing solid, nothing I knew, nothing I owned. A silent film without piano accompaniment. Something is missing while everything is there.
“Are you ready?” came the voice on the intercom. No. But time to go upstairs.
I love storage. Boxes. Instant and satisfying organization. Heartburn dissolves into clarifying breath when a stack of ill-sized receipts, a stringy yo-yo collection, or a drawer of loose plums get boxed, labeled, and shelved. As Peter O'Toole's Lawrence of Arabia says when asked why he loves the desert:
Storage is clean. Storage is a crate, a drawer, a basket. And storage is a coffin.
A coffin cleans it all away. Stores not just the life and the death, but the swirl of pain and chaos that surrounds death. You take the doctor's visits, the rides to the hospital, the acid reflux, the medical updates cattle-branded onto your psyche, the last words, the midnight phone calls, the eulogies, and you box them up into coffin storage. Seal them up. Bury them.
You bury it all, deeply.
This year, a friend of mine, Naomi Rabkin, died. Fuck, I hate writing that. We were roommates after college and shared the same (unrelated, though probably not totally) last name prior to our marriages. We were both Friedmans. An extra bond, though we didn't need one. She had a husband, she had two girls, and then she had cancer. It came, it went, and it returned and stayed, then it got put into storage, along with everything else. Along with Naomi.
However amazing Naomi was I never knew how amazing she was. Not until the funeral, the speeches, the talks, the memories. She was a center and a maker. And darn it, a mover and a shaker. I'm not going to even try here. But she was extraordinary. And then I got to the funeral, and she was in a box.
I know I keep sneaking in those awful words: cancer, box, coffin. But I'm only that brave because of this forcefield of time and space between me and you. I'm not really saying it to you, and I don't ever say it to anyone. I'm saying it to myself. But that's progress, because I never say it to myself, either. And no one was saying anything about it the day of her funeral, either. Beautiful speeches detailed this important life, and there, in the front of the room, was my friend in a box. I don’t like it. And remember, I like boxes.
Here’s the thing: Non-atheists (see how it feel to have your beliefs defined in the negative? We a-theists gotta deal with it all the time) often say that the body that’s in the coffin is not “really them. They are (fill in your belief).” Which, if you believe it, if you really believe it, is quite lovely. But while non-non-atheism has voluminous benefits (sleeping in on Sunday comes to mind), there is a distinct drawback; to me, when Naomi was in that coffin, Naomi was in that coffin. The chemo and the barber took her hair, and the doctors took other parts as the disease spread, but all that was left was there, in there, in front of that room, in front of us all. And I don’t like it.
My sister-in-law, Yael, was the rabbi that day, and she led the burial service. The coffin was lowered into the ground... Pause. See what I did? I said “the coffin was lowered into the ground.” That is the kind of distancing that I’ve been doing with death for years, that language allows me to do, but that I’m trying to confront here. So I’ll try again... Unpause. Naomi, inside a coffin, was lowered into the ground. A large pile of dirt was there - obnoxious, that dirt, just sitting waiting for us - and Yael directed us to do the following: Take the shovel (got a mental picture of a cartoon shovel? Too big, too metal, too funeral-y? That’s it) and turn it upside-down, and shove (that’s the word, right?) it into the pile of "earth," (the better, less jarring word she uses) take some earth, and dump the earth onto the coffin . That’s not easy to do, and that, Yael explained, was the point. It shouldn’t be easy, and more, it shouldn’t be like anything else you do in life. Then, you can turn the shovel back around, take more dirt, and dump it onto the coffin. Which, to be fair, is also not like anything else this city boy does in life. (Also, when you’re done, you don’t hand the shovel to the next person. You put it back in the pile so they need to do the hard work of pulling it out themselves. Tricky Yael.)
Whump. Whump. Whump. Dirt landing. Onto the coffin. It is awful. It fills up, and it fills up slowly. It fills so slowly that after a time, the gravity of the situation dissipates a bit. Some people, previously rapt, previously broken, begin to step away. Why? Because it’s awful. It’s too much. And that, Yael tells us, is also the point. It should be awful. It should be painful. But we should do it. It is, she says, the least we can do.
I didn’t step away. I didn’t look away. For 25 years, I’ve looked away from death. For years after my father died, I couldn’t go to cemeteries. And I didn’t talk about death, not really anyway. I have memories of talking to some people at Wesleyan about him, new friends becoming good friends, who I felt needed to know. And talking to Sara. But it was at a distance, always. Cleaned up. No dirt. No shovels. No boxes. So now, I didn’t step away. Now I watched.
I met Naomi when I moved into a four-bedroom apartment in New York City with her and two other roommates (hi, Jesse), when a friend of hers, Deb, moved out. Now I’m here, at a cemetery in San Diego, whump... whump... and on the other side of the now-quickly-filling hole, is Deb. We’re looking at each other, and over Naomi together. Burying her, together. It’s awful. But it’s the least we can do. And we’re there when a hole that had become a hole-with-a-coffin, and then become a hole-with-a-coffin-filling-with-dirt was now, in the space between Deb, and me, and Sara by my side, becoming a grave site. Her grave site. Clean, like the desert.
And then maybe the worst of all. For all the horror of being there, of doing that, the worst part of all: We left. We got to leave. The storage was complete. The cancer into her, she into the coffin, the coffin into the ground, the dirt onto the coffin. Stored. And then we had lunch. Survivor's Guilt Tacos.
I’m telling you about Naomi because I want to tell you about Naomi, though in fairness, I haven’t told you anything about Naomi. Because what Naomi is, is her girls, and her husband, and the work she did and the people she inspired from coast to coast and beyond. Look her up. Naomi (Friedman) Rabkin. I love her.
But I’m also telling you about Naomi because I can’t tell you about Alan. Because I can’t remember.
I don’t remember any of this about my own father. Here’s what I do remember: I drove to the funeral home with my grandma Hazel, walked inside, and found myself in a room. And in that room was a box. A plain, pine coffin. And that scared me out of the room immediately. I wasn’t sure if that was my father’s coffin. Maybe it was empty. Maybe it was the next guy. I still don’t know.
Coffin? A COFFIN? I mean, I knew he had died, but he’s in a coffin? That seemed pretty final.
I gave a eulogy, and have no memory if a coffin was there. I don’t think so. And at the cemetery, exploding in tears, held up by Mora and my mother and my uncle (maybe, who remembers?), I think I said a few words, maybe two sentences that were put in front of me. There was a hole, I have to assume, and I have a flash in my mind of seeing it beyond the paper (book?) I was reading from. And I think there was a shovel. And I think I did something with it, but maybe not. And then I left. Before it was over? Maybe.
And that’s it.
I was seventeen years old. Not seven. Not four. I could have stayed. I could have watched. It was, as my sister-in-law would explain decades later, the least I could have done. As it turns out, I could do even less than that.
The problem I have now with the problem I had that day is that I didn’t get to see just how awful it was. Seeing the awful, as it turns out, is important. It has a way of taking the cancerous months and summing them up, finishing them off, ending them. One last bit of awful. And something else. That dirt pile beside the grave... you shovel it, you whump it down, and you cry, and you watch your friend or your father and all their pain and blood and disease be covered and covered and covered and the dirt pile gets smaller and smaller until the moment comes when it’s over and finally
this watch is not a metaphor
My father had a watch. Right off the top, that phrase is striking, because if I say that I had a skateboard, it means that I used to have one, but now it’s gone. The subject remains while the object does not. When I say that my father had a watch, it’s the object that remains, and its the subject that is past tense. He doesn’t have it anymore because we don’t have him.
But my father had a watch. It was gold in color, but made, most likely of metal. Or plastic. I don’t know what things are made of, and I’m fine with that. The band had links, but it was somehow - again, don’t ask me — elastic. So, you stretched it open like a rubber band, slipped it on your wrist, and it rubber band-ed tight around you. When he wore it, I don’t think I felt one way or the other about it. But when he died, and I came into possession of just a few of his things, his watch, now my watch, came to mean everything. I could hold it. I could touch it. It would always answer the question I had for it. I could protect it. It would be with me wherever I went. But please understand, this watch is not a metaphor.
Going through a dead person’s things calls into question the notion of possession as little else could. My father had some suits. My father had a nameplate. My father had a pill case. And there they are, right where he left them. Some suits, a nameplate, and a pill case. Whose possessions are these? Clearly, he doesn’t possess them because while the objects remain, the subject is gone. Without Being you can’t Have. So now, what? They’re mine? Well oddly no, not yet. They’re actually only mine if I want them. The suits are only mine if they, y’know, suit me. Until then, they’re just waiting. In limbo. Possession purgatory. But my dad bought them, and had them fitted, and he wore them and hung some on the bar in the closet and others on that hook at the top on the inside of the closet door. They’re his! But there is no Him. So right up until the moment that I choose to put them in either the Keep or Don’t Keep pile, they are, effectively, no one’s. And that’s sad. You know, for the suit.
And for the Time. It’s that time spent buying them and getting them fitted and hanging them on the bar or the hook, that time is... I can’t quite write “wasted” either because it’s not right or I can’t bring myself to. So what is it? That time is... gone. All time is gone but it’s repurposed into people, places, and things. The time I played chess with Alan is repurposed into the time I play it with Zachary and Chaplin. And the time he spent as a good husband is repurposed into what I hope to be. But hope as one may to mitigate the pain of stolen existence and abandoned possessions, you just can’t do much with pants too tight in the crotch. So onto the Don’t Keep pile they go and all that time he spent getting those suits fitted is just plain gone.
If there was one item I could keep that would preserve time, it would be his devoid-of-metaphor watch. Its rubber band-i-ness would ensure a perfect fit on all wrists, for all time. But even if it didn’t fit, come on, of course I was keeping My Father’s Watch. Other choices were not as easy. The name plate. I kept that. Yes, a name plate with no one seated behind it is, well it’s not a bad metaphor or anything, it just sucks. But you can’t put that on the Don’t Keep. Someone took the time to print his name, and that time exists inside this name, and so, even with no one to name, no clients to announce a name to as they take their seat across from their accountant, the name plate endures.
The pill case was no easy choice either. Alan suffered from seizures as a result of a childhood bat to the noggin that I’ll write about later. He took pills every day, took them from this pill case. And the few times he failed to take the pills, or they failed to do their pilling, I saw him have a seizure. And the image terrifies me still. Drooling. Delusional. Slurred speech. A child knows not what to do with such things, especially in the movie theater during the final scene of Godfather III. So that’s what the pill case is. But it’s small. It’s ovular. It’s silver. (Made of silver? Maybe. Dunno.) And it really just looks like A Possession. You might walk through Mount Vernon and there, behind glass is Washington’s pill case. So yes, I kept it, and it remains in a clear plastic storage box, in the garage, with other past treasures.
And would you believe, I kept his ash tray? It was a perfect circle, about three inches in diameter, blue plastic (pretty sure) on the inside and silver metal (??) plating on the outside. And it’s where he’d put his cigarettes that, you know, probably fucking killed him. Seems like that’s the kind of thing you’d want to film yourself smashing with a hammer. There’s nothing one would rather do than take the Time put into that ash tray and erase it from existence. But here’s the thing: Now, at this point in time, it’s the thing that held the things that gave him the thing that killed him. Back then, see, he was my dad. And he smoked and used that ash tray. And long before a boy knows that these Objects are poison, they’re just... daddy’s things. And so I kept this symbol of childhood and of doom, because for all the fear of death we carry around as humans, we carry equal parts fascination. This ash tray might be a metaphor.
My father had a watch. I took Possession of that watch. It wasn’t my only watch, and for years, maybe a decade, it didn’t appear in heavy watch rotation. It was a deep cut, played rarely, only carefully, when its music was just right. I love watches. I love how watches feel, especially heavy ones. And I like that private little moment when you ask your watch a basic question: What time is it? And your little friend tells you, It’s 8:30. Asked and answered. So simple. My father’s watch was an analog watch, and only the 12 and 6 have numbers. The rest are just lines, so telling - being told - the time wasn’t quite as simple, it took an extra second. And you could actually see that second as it passed. And when I asked my watch the question, I was keenly aware of one thing: This watch, that spoke to me now, had only ever spoken to one other person. Alan.
He and I, and no one else, shared this very private, simple experience with this watch. And a point in time came when the watch moved from a deep cut to the top of the charts. Casual enough for play, formal enough for work. And it could feel, at times, that this dialogue with my watch was in fact a three-person scene. From me, to Watch, to him, to Watch, to me.
The time spent getting fitted for suits is gone. But the time telling time, is there. In this watch. I don’t know what it’s made of, but to me it’s pure gold. And it’s with me. I could hold it. I could touch it. I could protect it. Possess it, always.
Until I lost it.
This watch is not a metaphor.