Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Long Gone Dad

After a long weekend away from the computer, I had planned to write today about a number of engaging topics that the whole nation is buzzing about––including the ongoing search for the next HC of the DC (that's head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in Belichick-speak); the latest manifestations of President Bush's deeply disturbing delusional behavior; the latest brutal cold stretch here in NYC; some recent celebrity passings (or in our case former or pseudo-celebrity passings: Yvonne DeCarlo, Ron Carey, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, E. Howard Hunt); saving the black rhino from extinction––you know, the usual brilliant forays into the cultural Zeitgeist you've come to expect here. But all that is going to have to wait for another time & another place, because when I looked at the calendar I realized that January 30 is the day my dad died, eight years ago already (next month, February 20, will make it three years since mom passed on).

I must say that life without your mom & dad, especially around the holidays, is like being in a play with no audience; you have no choice but to grow a little closer to your fellow actors onstage––in this case my older brother & sister and close friends. So I dedicate this post to my dad--the highest honor a blogger can bestow on the deceased...

Actually, I've been a little disingenuous here right from the start. I've been planning a post about what I've come to call the worst day of my life so far––the night my dad died in the NYU Medical Center on 34th & 2nd. To be accurate, my dad technically died on January 30, 1999, but his heart stopped beating late in the evening of the 29th, and he was kept alive on respirator for hours & hours into the early morning of the 30th.

Friday, January 29 was the night of the big Lucinda Williams show at Irving Plaza. We were all looking forward to it, and you have to remember she was touring off her absolute masterpiece, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road––the best album of her career and one of the best of anyone's career––which had just been released a few months before; that is not an exaggeration of any kind, just a critical fact. If I remember, we had a whole gaggle of people attending that night: me & Tony & Kathy & Nadine & Steve & John; we all went out for dinner & drinks beforehand ... and Irving Plaza was as packed as it's ever been.

I was enjoying myself because it had been a long, tough year for our family. My father was just coming off triple bypass heart surgery, and had literally been at NYU Medical since April of the year before. My mom herself was ailing with her own heart troubles, and my dad's condition was putting a strain on all of us. Then a few weeks before, just when things were looking up for dad, he was diagnosed with leukemia and the doctors of course were not at all optimistic about his chances.

The night before I had visited dad at the hospital and he was in very good spirits, although physically he was winding down like a shopworn old clock, even though he was only in his mid-60s at the time. My mom was staying over with him most nights in a section of NYU that was like a hotel room. It was up to me to coordinate the family visits to his room (which wasn't always easy in the days before cell phones became ubiquitous, and I wanted to make sure that he had a visitor coming to see him every single night. My sister lived on Long Island and thus could only come to visit him on weekends and maybe one night during the week; my brother's relationship with dad was somewhat, oh, call it estranged, and thus he was uncomfortable spending swaths of time alone with him. So I ended up spending a lot of nights at the hospital, taking the M15 bus uptown from my office down on Wall Street, then taking two more buses to get home. But I didn't mind the sacrifice in any way, just noting here that it was a draining, numbing time in my life.

So I was looking forward to blowing off some steam and enjoying a great concert with some good friends. Me and Tony, as we always do at concerts, managed to somehow squeeze our way as close to the stage as humanly possible, even if that meant pissing off a bunch of tightly packed people close to the stage. They just don't appreciate a timeless ritual when they see one.

I knew my sister & brother-in-law were going to the hospital that night, and me & my brother would cover the rest of the weekend, but by the time I got home that night, exhausted & sleepless at around 4 or 5 in the morning, my answering machine was blinking neurotically, with around 6 red beeps indicating 6 new messages. That didn't seem normal. When I played them back, it turned out to be 6 messages from my sister––her frantic tone escalating in urgency with each new message I played back––telling me that Dad was in really bad shape,that he might not make it this time...

I'll be totally honest here: At first I thought I could ignore the messages and say I never got them, the machine was broken, human nature being what it is; I thought there was nothing that was gonna keep my head from hitting the pillow and attaining blissful torpidity. After all, I said to myself, was it really an emergency? But I couldn't ignore my sister's words ringing in my head, telling me that our father was dying. So I called my brother and we made plans to meet on 74th & Ditmars Blvd. and take a cab to the hospital. But of course there were no cabs to be had at that ungodly hour––Murphy's Law being as popular as it is for a reason––and so we walked the 20 or so freezing blocks to the train and a miserable hour later we were at the hospital.

The scene upstairs in the intensive care unit would have been heart-rending even if it involved a family of total strangers. But to see the people who were closest to me suffering so openly is an image forever seared into my memory banks. All we could do was comfort each other as we talked among ourselves and with whatever doctors & nurses we could find about dad's chances and whether we should remove the respirator. We all instinctively knew that if things went on much longer, we might lose not only Dad but also Mom, because she was just not gonna be able to take much more agony; she'd been through enough the last few years, and this night was the disastrous culmination we'd all been expecting, if we were honest with ourselves.

So we said our last tearful goodbyes to the man who brought us into this world. A priest showed up to deliver the last rites, and then we led Mom from the room. There were all kinds of arrangements to be made, with no rest for the weary on the horizon for a long, long time.

A few weeks before, Dad was out of the hospital for a rare weekend at home, and I came over to watch some football with him. We always enjoyed watching sports together; like many fathers and sons, we had our differences, but as long as we stayed away from political flash points we were usually okay together. He was a Cleveland Browns fan, having spend his summers in Ohio as a young man, and of course I was/am a Dallas Cowboys fanatic, but we really got into rooting for the New York Jets, led by Bill Parcells at the time, against the Denver Broncos. That was the AFC Championship game where the Jets almost upset Denver, leading 10-0 at halftime, but then John Elway got hot and carried the Broncos into the Super Bowl, which my dad never got to see.

But 1998 was also the year when our beloved New York Yankees won 116 regular season games to set a record and then went on to win their third consecutive World Series. Nobody on the planet had a better time following them than my dad did that year. Every time I came over after work or for Sunday dinner, we would talk baseball and it was always Derek Jeter this and Paul O'Neill that. It made his last year a little more bearable. Whenever people foolishly, naively bring up the meaningless nature of pro sports, I remember how the Yankee games that year went a long way toward diverting his mind from more sobering matters. Baseball wasn't a trivial matter for him. Not that year.


jimithegreek said...

Butha Warden, thats from the heart
can no do better than that

WardensWorld said...

thanks bro.