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Before the Old Man Died

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Before the Old Man Died

I’m driving down to Yale New Haven Hospital, where my father is dying.  He contracted milofibrosis from a contaminated job site, bitter irony…OK, not a bitter irony, but interesting, since my father’s whole life was his work and one of the many wedges that kept us apart.  OK.  Maybe that is not even that interesting.  Fathers and sons have been warring since forever, and there is nothing inherently compelling about our rift.  I wouldn’t be even driving to see him, except that he asked.  It is a meaningless gesture.  I would see just about anybody who was dying if they asked.  Not that I am giving, do-gooder sort, just that even when a man is tied to the post about to be shot, it is customary to give him a last cigarette, a chance to speak his peace.  

Maybe that isn’t even true.  But if something else is, I don't know what.

I light a cigarette and turn on the Replacement’s cover of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” only this is the Replacements, so it’s “Like a Rolling Pin.”  It’s part of their two disc greatest hits set, All for Nothing/Nothing for All, a double double entendre, since the band was shortchanged their entire career, never getting what was owed.  In short, they are the greatest American rock ’n’ roll band ever.

I have the same routine most mornings.  I like routine.  I leave the condo I share with my sister, the house we got when our mother died a few months ago.  Our folks are divorced, haven’t even spoken in years.  I stop at the gas station in the center of town, which is only recently the center of town, as the town expands.  What used to be two donut shops and a bank is now a lot of donut shops and banks, and sprawling gas stations and Stop ’n’ Shops.  I would come home from San Francisco to visit, and there was always some new construction being undertaken, some new hole in the ground and big piece of machinery idling near by, and there are still dairy farms and cattle farms and mom and pop delis but not as much and there are more chains and paved roads, and the same yokel country I once scorned I now miss because everything is changing.  I am changing.  My parents are dying.  And it would be nice if at least this fucking hick town could stay a fucking hick town.

Fill up, grab a Red Bull, because I can’t do hard drugs anymore, and maybe a coffee too, even though I’ve probably had a couple cups already, and then I curve up past the house of my first girlfriend, who I got pregnant at sixteen, and every day I have the same routine, and every day I wonder how different my life would’ve been if I’d told my mom and we’d kept that baby.  But it wouldn’t be different.  If I didn’t put a shotgun in my mouth, which would’ve been the best option, I’d be the same shit father my father was.  What people don’t give me credit for--yeah, I was fuckball junkie, living by my own set of warped rules, taking advantage of everyone who was stupid enough to love me, but I learned a lot.  Some people are just hardheaded and have to learn that way, because they can’t any other, and I couldn’t, so I did.

It’s sticky sweet summer.  I hit the turnpike, speed past Centerfold’s, one of the town’s two strip clubs, and the significantly better of the two.  I spent more than a few nights in Centerfold’s when I'd come back, three a.m., high on speed, as some poor girl tried to rub one out of an amphetamine-raging dick.

If I time it right, the Red Bull, the coffee, the cigarette, I can get a little head rush, the “rush” being what I miss most about shooting up.  

The cigarette tastes like dry chalk in the June heat.


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