Asaph told me that, if we were ever to move to Israel, I would probably have to declare myself as having "no religion", to make certain legal procedures and processes easier. I knew that the official registration of religion was common in Middle Eastern countries, where religion was not really a matter of private belief, but more a semi-fixed identity characteristic, like race or ethnicity. In my Arabic class a few years prior, we had filled in a sample application for a visa to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (المملكة العربية السعودية), and one had to choose a religion -- "no religion" was not an option. (Even poor Richard Dawkins would have had to choose "Christian" to visit the kingdom.) But Israel was more enlightened, in the aufgeklärt sense, so one could declare oneself to be bright and free from any established conversation regarding the unknown.
That's fine with me, I thought. I had had a small dispute with my church regarding a left-wing practice that I found smug and insincere, but that wasn't the reason. I also had come to associate the most joyous time in the church year with sickness and death: the thought of the Feast of the Resurrection made me want to vomit. (Not just the liturgical season, but the meteorological one as well: cherry blossoms and tulips and lilacs and early summer thunderstorms all seemed befouled.) But that wasn't the full story either.
I wasn't exactly having a crisis of faith. The death of my mother hadn't dislodged any of my expectations or beliefs: my relationship with God had always been a Bergmanesque "loving someone in the dark who never answers". I hadn't presumed that a prayer like "please may my mother not die now" would be answered in the affirmative. I was touched when friends and acquaintances offered me their prayers, but I never thought it did anything but make my friends and acquaintances feel like they were doing the only thing they could, and make me feel a bit less alone since others were sharing somewhat in the horrible experience. (Even my colleagues in Hungary -- a secular country that had recently revived religion only for nationalistic decoration -- told me that they were praying for us.) In the hospice, Asaph spoke to the family of the woman in the adjoining room. The dying woman was much older than my mother -- by 15 years or more. Asaph told me that the woman's son -- who must have been in his late 40s at least -- said that they were "all praying for a miracle". "Really?" would have been the charitable thing to think, but I actually thought, "What an idiot."
On the absolute worst day of the whole ordeal -- worse than the day of her death -- my mother was taken to have an unimaginably awful diagnostic procedure. While we were waiting in the pre-operative area, my mother feeling as sick as she ever had, and terrified as well, a middle-aged woman came over, introduced herself as a graduate student, and then said she needed to take another fluid sample from my mother because a test had finally come back with an answer. I immediately disregarded what she said, since one often got contradictory information in even the best hospitals, especially from someone introducing themselves as a "graduate student", and went back to holding my mother's hand and resting my head down on the bed next to her. Finally, the neurological surgeon under whose care we had been -- a Dr. Buster or Smasher or Crusher -- arrived and confirmed that the invasive procedure would not be needed because test results had finally come back with the worst possible results. We were to return to her room and the hematologist (a euphemism) would come by to give us the details of her terminal diagnosis. One of the benefits (or maybe the only benefit) of always anticipating the worst is that one does not collapse in moments like this -- these moments are always expected. My father and I continued to hold my mother's hands while she closed her eyes in exhausted despair.
She then complained of nausea, so I went to find the nursing supervisor to ask for some anti-nausea medication for her. The nursing supervisor was an imposing and strapping young man who looked like the professional wrestler and actor John Cena. He assured me -- in a deep and deeply masculine voice -- that he would come by soon. I imagined that many scared and groggy patients fell in love with this reassuring warrior who seemed like he could protect anyone from anything. After he finished inserting the drug into my mother's veins and left our curtained-off area, my father commented on the size of the nursing supervisor's biceps. "Those were huge," he said, looking at me. "They make yours look tiny." My father wasn't trying to lighten the mood -- we were too stunned for that. He was just making conversation based on available topics that were not related to my mother's situation. (Later I stalkingly researched the nursing supervisor on-line. He was also a paramedic, firefighter, bodybuilder, father, Republican, and born-again Christian.)
When we arrived back in my mother's room, we told her nurse (there was one nurse for every two patients at all times in the neurological critical-care ward) that my mother hadn't had to have the awful invasive procedure because they now knew what was wrong with her, and it was the worst possible possibility.
"What a blessing that she didn't have to go through that procedure," said the nurse, a very smart and attentive country woman from the Ohio hinterlands.
What a blessing! I repeated to myself, in disbelief. I wasn't offended or outraged by this comment, I was just shocked by how hypocritical I realized that I was. Only a few weeks earlier I had argued in some stupid social-networking forum that one could give thanks to God for all good things (praise God, from Whom all blessings flow...) without holding God responsible for bad things. And that was exactly what this nurse was doing: the terminal diagnosis through non-invasive testing was a blessing since it meant that she didn't have to have the horrifying procedure. My own argument was being thrown back at me in an especially cruel manner.
But I would have preferred the horrifying procedure with a subsequent diagnosis of treatable illness. Wouldn't that have been a better blessing?
I thought a lot about the best way to die. Dying in one's sleep at age 100 was probably universally considered an amazing blessing; dying in one's sleep at age 1 was a heartbreaking curse. The in-between options were more complicated. Of course, I was glad that my mother didn't endure months or years of suffering, and that she never deteriorated into an unrecognizable person. I was happy that we had been able to be with her during her last week of life and that she died in a state of comfort unprecedented in human history for a person suffering from a serious illness. But I would have been happier had it all happened 20 years later. Wouldn't I have?
I supposed I was being unreasonable.
I read in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking:
When my mother was near death at age ninety she told me that she was ready to die but could not. "You and Jim need me," she said. My brother and I were by then in our sixties.
The day after my mother was transferred to the hospice, Asaph and I went to get haircuts in the old barbershop where I used to get my hair cut as a child. We told the owner -- some sort of Detroitish Christian Arab, I suspected -- why were in town.
"That place is very special," he said, in a surprisingly rural accent. "That's heaven's waiting room."
I smiled politely but thought of the waiting room at the hospice. Would that be the waiting room for heaven's waiting room? I wondered.
Many of the nurses at the hospice had the post-American Civil War view of an afterlife: some sort of reunion with all those who had already died. "I truly believe you will see her again," said one extremely gentle and earnest nurse. I thought about how my father had had their aging bichon euthanized a few days after my mother's diagnosis and had not informed her. If the reunion-type heaven were true, and if all dogs went to heaven, would my mother be outraged upon arrival at the so-called nacreous gates to see my grandmother holding the dog?
"We are helping people into the next stage," said another nurse, an eccentric, squat and strong woman who told us she was an avid birdwatcher, and who surprised me by mentioning a husband. She and Asaph were with my mother at the hour of her death.
I supposed one would have to believe in some sort of afterlife to be a hospice nurse.
"I'm sure your mother is dancing now!" wrote a social-climbing but pleasant woman who used to dance in my mother's company, in a text message to me after my mother died. What does that mean? I wondered. If you tried to think about an afterlife for more than a few minutes, especially one in which dancing or reunions or dogs was involved, it collapsed into incomprehensibility.
I had been a big apologist for as metaphorical an approach to the basic tenets of Christianity as possible, but belief in some sort of afterlife was nearly obligatory. And even though universalism had a longer legacy than most people realized (ἀποκατάστασις), it was still hard to imagine my atheist mother being brought to that heavenly country.
After my mother had lost consciousness, I went to a service at an Episcopal church near the state university. There were two large African families in formal attire having children baptized; the rest of the congregation was composed of smiling, hippie, liberal whites wearing shorts. I slumped down in the pew with my eyes closed for the entire service, getting up to call my father during the offertory, to see if my mother was still alive. A friend of mine from high school, who had come to take me on a walk while we were in the hospital, had recommended this church, and he greeted me after the service.
I felt bad that I had nothing to say. Silence calls to silence, I thought.
I had been attracted to Christianity because I thought that it made some counter-intuitive logical sense. Our lives are defined by a finite struggle against the infinite. We can never win. We will suffer and die regardless of our actions. The idea that there was another reality -- the kingdom of God -- where we sought peace by acting against our instincts for self-preservation, where we offered up our other cheek, where we blessed our enemies, where we saw all persons as our neighbors and not our competitors, where boundless love was the creating, redeeming, and sustaining force of the universe, struck me -- in my heart? in my soul? in a wishful-thinking mind? -- as deeply true. Christianity offered a somewhat different take on the Buddhist Second Noble Truth that attachment was the source of suffering by elevating suffering for love to nobility.
The Eternal Majesty of God was represented here on Earth by an anti-establishment preacher who got himself executed by the political and religious authorities of the day. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Since Constantine, the revolutionary core message of Christ was tempered by and supplemented with elements of Judaism and Hellenism that were more conducive to supporting a functioning and stable society. But the liberal Christianity for which I had signed up was constantly going back to the apocalyptic and disruptive message of Christ.
And I didn't find this message to be even remotely comforting, or relevant, during my mother's sickness and death.
Let the dead bury their dead.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Universal revolutionary love? Who could possibly even aspire to that? Like the old and crude saying about babies and wind, people preferred their own.
I supposed that my feelings were the source of all of the racism and bigotry and xenophobia in the world.
Christianity made me feel more alone than ever. I had been fine with unanswered prayers, but I suddenly found myself wanting to stay as silent as the grave as well. I was weary of this protracted one-sided conversation.
Frankly, the fact that I was undergoing a universal human experience was one of the only things that gave me any peace, along with a vague Lion-King theology:
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life
Otherwise, I felt nonplussed, in the correct sense.
Although they attended the memorial service, my nephews were not able to comprehend mourning.
They called us back to life almost immediately.
My father and I glumly drove back to his house after spending time with them in their rural homestead.
My dad was sad that I had to go back to New York.
I had promised to write acknowledgement notes for all of the condolence cards we had received. Back in New York, I opened a card from my father's older brother's wife. She had visited my mother every day in the hospital and hospice, even though they had never really gotten along. She had written a short essay.
I found it disturbing and moving.
I was reminded of the brilliance of the phrase daughter-in-law elect.
I went with Asaph to Philadelphia the following weekend.
I sat by myself in our room at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, where he had been put up because there was no room at the conference center, eating food I had bought at a natural and organic food supermarket chain.
The next day I took a walk.
Philadelphia seemed like an odd place.
I arrived at the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I was happy about the quasi-Greek Revival design.
I thought of Faruq.
I was ignorant of the identity of these characters.
I thought that contemporary architecture needed more monsters.
And slithering snakes.
It was a beautiful day.
I was alarmed by how quickly I had started feeling back to normal. I didn't like it. I had been afraid that my life would not be radically transformed, and that the result would just be my normal life as before, but minus my mother. I didn't want that. I wanted something strange and new. Was my disappointment with Christianity because I longed for something revolutionary and apocalyptic but knew it would never come?
Gods never actually show up, they only exist in humans' minds, like money and morality.
Did I have to make something revolutionary and apocalyptic show up?
Roland Barthes wasn't especially helpful by pointing out that statements like "she is dead" were logically incoherent.
There were moments when something would remind me of my mother's last days -- a plastic container of sliced watermelon, a Japanese folding fan, an eye-patch, the words "I love you" -- and I would burst into difficult-to-control sobs. Sometimes I would feel the urge to share something with her and would realize that I couldn't, and that would have the same effect. I cried and cried after watching the ending of The Black Swan when all of the hallucinated black feathers start growing out of quasi-Israeli actress Natalie Portman, even though my mother hadn't really ever cared for ballet.
But these moments of blubbering were weirdly preferable to not feeling anything. It was hard to explain why. They seemed revolutionary and apocalyptic, I supposed. They brought her back, in a way.
Asaph and I were scheduled to go to Fire Island for the Fourth of July weekend. I had mixed feelings. I was avoiding bars, clubs, restaurants, and t-shirts, but I also thought it might be nice to sit by the pool and walk by the ocean. But I wondered if even setting foot in the Pines was a violation of mourning etiquette, the entire hamlet being the equivalent of a lewd bacchanal.
We were assigned the more secluded room in our house. I was thankful.
I just stayed by the pool. I didn't go to any of the so-called teas.
There was a very nice dog in the house that weekend, which made me happy.
We ventured out to the beach one evening.
The more party-oriented cohort of housemates was present that weekend. During dinner, blood started oozing out of the nose of one of the unhungry diners. I wondered what Judith Martin would do. I decided to get up to dim the lights.
The next morning I did go to church. It was quite a lovely sermon, which was a pleasant surprise. I was consoled by a kind friend.
I left feeling confused.
It was uncomfortably humid. We avoided all of the parties and frivolity.
I made the mistake of getting in the pool and splashing water up on the dog. She loved it, and chomped at the water with great gusto. I got tired of using my hands and decided to lie on my back and kick the water up at her. Sadly, my foot went right into her mouth, and she couldn't help but bite me.
She felt bad about her crime, but it was in her nature.
I forgave her. The Christianity inside me hadn't been completely snuffed out yet.
I lay under the clouds.
The next weekend, owing to bad scheduling, I went out to Fire Island again. This time Jobim was to be my roommate.
New to the city, he wanted my opinion about all of the different guys he was meeting. He mentioned someone who had an "ugly, American Jewish look".
"American Jews aren't ugly!" I protested.
"They aren't the ugliest people in the world, but they're the ugliest Jews," he said.
We didn't go out that night. He refused to allow me to photograph him.
The next day by the pool he stopped me again.
"You aren't going to look like this forever," I said. "You should have some record. You will be old and fat before you know it." Jobim had what I thought of as one of the 12 perfect body types, especially for his age.
It was hot.
The sun was blazing.
We went over to my affluent friend's house.
I decided to try going to the low tea.
It was a mistake.
"What are you wearing?" several persons asked.
"How are you?" others asked. I answered, and there was discomfort.
We went back to have dinner at my affluent friend's house. It was delicious, but I was feeling guilty.
I left early the next day. Waiting for the train, I could overhear an exuberant young fellow eagerly describing his weekend of debauchery. He had never been to Fire Island before, and he referred to it to a friend on the phone as "an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean".
I frantically purchased and downloaded the Philip Glass score to the Twyla Tharp ballet In the Upper Room and listened to it at a high volume.
Asaph was visiting a mutual Israeli friend with a really nice dog, so I went to meet them.
This was a really good dog.
I felt like I wanted to spend all day with this dog. Or maybe more time than that.
But he seemed tired.
The next weekend we went up with my friend Christopher and his fashion-journalist boyfriend to their house in the Catskills. We stopped in an incongruously stylish hotel in Pennsylvania for dinner.
The food was quite delicious, and much of it was locally grown. Locally grown would be the theme of the weekend, although I didn't know that yet.
We finally arrived at their house. It was new.
We had to take the dog for a walk. We heard lots of rustling in the woods.
Their house was a cozy mixture of contemporary, modern, and so-called vintage furnishings. I was excited.
Their little dog slept in our bed. We were all awakened in the morning by the sound of coffee beans in a grinder.
I admired Christopher's decorating skills.
I had been a great admirer or the Scarlet Tanager as a child, even though I had only seen one once. I saw a second tanager on a camping trip in Massachusetts with Asaph's younger brother and my iceblond friend.
While drinking coffee, we heard a loud tapping outside.
I told everyone that I thought that this bird was a Hairy Woodpecker, but later when I got home and did some research I realized that it had not been that at all. It was probably a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I never informed anyone of my serious error.
While outside, we were shown that recovered barn wood had been used in the construction of the house.
I went back in and surveyed the decoration.
Asaph stayed behind to study while we drove to a nearby farmers market. There were many different kinds of greens, since those grew easily in the Catskills, an area not especially suited to agriculture.
There was a girl with what appeared to be a nice dog.
Christopher bought some locally grown flowers.
There were lots of roots to choose from.
I tried to get excited.
This is how we will have to eat when our society collapses, I thought.
Some options were more exciting than others.
We drove to an old bridge where one could walk back to Pennsylvania.
So we did.
It was a lovely day, considering.
We headed home. I spent some time in the bathroom. They had bought several towels called peştamal from Istanbul.
The little dog tried to nap but worries filled her head.
We went back out to one of the towns that had been partially colonized by wealthy persons from the New York metropolitan area. It now contained a very expensive clothing store, a furniture store run by a blonde Brazilian woman and her young Spanish boyfriend, and a fancy wine shop. The locals resented the presence of these urban and urbane interlopers.
"I don't understand why they don't want our money," said Christopher. "We tried to buy a mattress at one of the old local stores and they wouldn't even speak to us." I had been reading a book by Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author Steven Pinker so I knew the reason: the migrants and transplants from outside the Catskills were less likely to share genetic material with the locals.
I walked around the town while Christopher and his boyfriend shopped for $300 blue jeans.
I decided to walk to Pennsylvania again.
I wished that there were bigger differences between states other than sales-tax rates and laws regarding firework possession.
We stopped at a deli to buy sandwiches, soup, and ice tea mixed with limeade. I thought I recognized the proprietor. I checked a social-networking site on my internet-enabled smartphone and realized that he and I had played rugby together many years prior, although I had never really played. I had just gone to practices and had anxiety attacks. He had decided to move to the area and open this business, although he was from rural Vermont originally anyway, so he wasn't fundamentally urban.
At home we laid out the lunch.
We decided to float down the river in inner tubes.
I was worried that there would be trash, and there was. Still, some of the people were attractive.
I got a dramatic friction burn on the inside of my arms, from paddling to safety.
I tried to pick up some trash as we left, but soon gave up. We drove over a dilapidated bridge back yet again to Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania side lacked a major road, so it was more pastoral.
We got home as the sun was setting.
There was plenty of evidence that a dog resided in the house.
The next morning I realized that it had been 30 days. I should shave my beard, I thought.
We headed out to another farmers market.
Asaph had asked that we bring him back some ice cream. We joked that they would only have weird, locally grown flavors.
That was indeed the case.
"Is hay even edible?" I asked. The young, obviously transplated man running the stand gave me an annoyed look. I realized that it was unlikely that he would be selling an inedible product.
I saw a unusual bumper sticker on a handpainted mini-van.
We got home from our errand. The dog was acting haughty.
We prepared to set the table.
Cooked local peaches were made to go with the hay ice cream.
As we began the drive home, we saw a bear eating garbage by the side of the road.
There was a troupe of urban youth marching up the other side of the road. We stopped beside them, like kidnappers or child molesters.
"There's a bear across the road up there, so you kids should be careful," said Christopher.
"Let's go get it!" screamed one of the youths. I assumed that these young persons -- possibly in the area from the city for some kind of summer camp -- would soon be mauled to death like the protagonists in Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man.
Back in the city, our gorgeous Israeli trainer continued to treat us without pity. I participated in a group outdoor so-called boot camp, although it was certainly several thousand times easier than an actual bootcamp, except for armies in democracies with mandatory conscription.
Running down a hill, I went tumbling.
I worred about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
I decorated our inter-religious synchretist altar with reminders of my mother.
I went back to Ohio. It was difficult. There was a lot of crying and yelling.
I found some old records.
I tried to relax. I slept in the bed where my mother had spent her last month before going into the hospital.
I reread the Joan Didion book I had bought for my father. My father refused to read it.
I shared the same understanding of it all evening out in the end as Joan Didion's husband.
A few of the flowers that we had planted during a small mania around the time of my mother's death were still alive.
My father was happy that I was happy about the flowers.
Some required extensive dead-heading. My father hadn't been up for that.
We went on many seemingly pointless errands that included crying and screaming.
There was a thunderstorm that night, with lots of lightning.
The next morning I ate a bowl of berries.
The old can for berry picking made me weep a little bit. Did people hand-fashion things like this anymore? I wondered. I assumed now people used disposable products, probably from China.
We had lunch with my younger uncle, his wife, and her aged and senile mother, who had asked me "Why so sad?" at my mother's memorial service. Still, it was hard to dislike her, since she was a happy and funny Scandinavian-American who was always laughing.
We went back to my younger uncle's house to look at his latest ceramics projects.
He had a very attractive garden.
We enjoyed a brief period of healing.
We decided to go to the recreation center where my father was a member to go running, since it was too hot outside. The torrential rains had created ponds where lawns had once been.
The seagulls (in central Ohio!) seemed content.
At home I kept uncovering painful -- yet desireable -- reminders of my mother's last days.
We drove up to the hinterlands to see my brother and his family. I was immediately shown a giant metal tub of buckeyes, the poisonous nut from the state tree.
Zack took me on a tour of the garden.
He had planted flowers.
He presented me with examples of various vegetables.
I was impressed.
I knew his family like spicy food.
The clouds were somewhat ominous.
I wondered where they ever used their canoe. I liked the look of overturned canoes.
They had dumped the remains of a pumpkin in their compost pile the previous year, and now they had a patch.
I nearly missed my 6:00 flight back to New York the next morning. I lost the passport card I used as identification, since my driving license photo was so young and attractive it didn't resemble me at all.
I spent many hours calling various losts-and-founds, with no success.
The next weekend I went back out to Fire Island. Pierluigi traveled out with me, although Jobim would arrive later as my roommate.
Pierluigi was resistant to all of my travel strategies, like sitting near the door on the first train, or getting up at Oakdale to be the first out the door in Sayville.
He was Italian, so little could be done.
I prepared the room for Jobim's arrival.
Jobim finally arrived. After dinner, we chatted a bit.
Despite going to bed before anyone else in the house, when I woke up in the morning, everyone had been awake for hours.
It was cloudy.
Jobim and I took a little walk.
I thought about how I liked the sound of the words malaise and ennui.
We went to my affluent friend's house for lunch. My affluent friend loved Jobim, as most people did. He was troubled by continual offers of sex from singles, couples, and trios. It was a real problem for him.
We stopped by a party being held by an old friend from the Centfocs epoch. He was a great lover of extremely young and moderately feminine boys. He had hired a bartender who met that description and who was only wearing a swim brief and a thick coating of mineral oil. There was a long wait to get drinks, as he was clearly new to the profession.
I went to the low tea, although I had to leave prematurely to talk to my father on the phone. Everything felt wrong.
Jobim and I decided to leave on an early ferry the next day.
I got a text message from Pierluigi while I was sitting on the ferry. "Do you want to get a coffee and take a walk on the beach?" Pierluigi always wanted to "get a coffee". It was sweet.
But it was too late.
The daylight illuminated the hideous and desolate towns of southern Long Island. My book was not engrossing enough to protect me.
I walked up Ninth Avenue in the sweltering heat, feeling assaulted by the urine-soaked sidewalks and immodestly dressed persons.
I made a vow never to leave the house without long, loose pants, a long-sleeved, loose shirt, and a scarf wrapped around my head like a Tuareg warrior.
I went back to Ohio.
I noticed huge numbers of dead trees that had somehow escaped my gaze before.
"Oh, that's from the emerald ash borer," said my dad. "All of the ash trees are dead."
I was shocked.
One of the several depressing tasks for this visit was looking at the cemetery where my mother's cremated remains -- I refused to use the vulgar portmanteau -- would be interred and trying to decide on a gravestone design. I had examined the many gravestone brochures that my father had been sent, and all of the designs -- really, all of them -- were hideous.
It took some effort to find an old section in the cemetery with acceptable memorials.
Simplicity appeared to have gone out of fashion by the 1970s.
Poor Methyl, I thought.
I made a note of each one I liked well enough.
There weren't many.
Why had everything gotten so terrible?
Most of the cemetery was filled with the kinds of stones I didn't like at all.
My father couldn't really see the difference. He was unable to make visual aesthetic judgments. Things were all the same to him.
We went up to my brother's house in the hinterlands. The pumpkin patch that had grown in the compost pile was beginning to bear ripe fruit.
My older nephew Zack showed me a plastic in bag in which he had placed numerous cicada shells.
We ate dinner, which was accompanied by extensive fighting between my nephews. Eventually my younger nephew Nick was sent to his room for violating the rules of combat.
The weaker party is often forced to violate those rules, I thought. Palestinians, for example.
We drove back to my parents' -- my father's -- house with my older nephew, who was going to spend the night.
There was more evidence of devastation wrought by our friends and enemies, the insects.
I had the feeling that we were allowing Zack to stay up too late.
"Can we watch television?" he asked.
I saw that one of my all-time favorite shows, King of the Hill, was on.
"Are you allowed to watch King of the Hill?" I asked. Even though it was designed for adults, there was nothing objectionable about King of the Hill. Its gentle sense of humor was why I liked it. (It wasn't like the several amoral and crass animated imitations that had tried to take advantage of the success of The Simpsons.)
"Of course! I watch it all of the time!"
We lay down on the floor and watched it. The contents of the show were totally fine, but the commercials at that hour of the night were a bit jarring.
"These commercials are not for kids," he said. I worried that he would have nightmares.
The next morning we drove to the regular Sunday breakfast spot, arriving before it had even opened.
My dad, Zack, and I ordered our food and waited for Zack's parents and brother to arrive.
"Can I play [a popular video game for smartphones]?" asked Zack.
"Only until Nick gets here. Before he sees you you have to put it away, or he will fight with you to play it."
His family arrived.
"We watched King of the Hill -- I hope that was allowed," I confessed.
"He is not allowed to watch that!" said Zack's mother. "Zack, you know you can't watch that!"
"Can we take a walk?" he said.
Once we got outside, he asked "Can I play [a popular video game for smartphones]?"
Good grief, I thought.
My dad and I drove home.
I did some cleaning. I discovered a bar of soap from my parents' honeymoon.
I found my baby teeth.
It was somewhat emotionally draining.
I sat and watched television. One of my favorite recent movies was on.
I started writing more acknowledgement letters for the condolence cards. The doorbell rang. That was unusual.
It was a girl from the high school selling relatively worthless coupon cards to finance some sports facilities or something. I gave her $10 since she let me take a photo of her dog.
I wished I had a dog wearing a shirt.
As I watched them leave, a Blue Jay threw a stunned cicada to the ground.
Blue Jays were beautiful and ruthless, like many New Yorkers.
My father and I went to an outdoor symphony concert where my father's younger brother's wife was to play the oboe.
It was held in the location where my brother had gotten married.
It was a former farm owned by the adjoining town. That town had been founded by Methodists, so they allowed no alcohol on town property.
My brother's wedding had been quite sober. My brother's wife was from an unusual demographic, teetotaling Polish Catholics, so her family hadn't minded. My mother and Centfocs had been quite upset, however.
Alcohol was not needed to enjoy my younger aunt playing the oboe.
The weather was a problem, however. At one point it started to rain, and the stringed instrumentalists got up and ran for shelter, abruptly stopping the music.
The concert resumed after the sun reappeared.
The concert ended up being terminated prematurely, but not until my aunt was able to demonstrate her prowess in the "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba", from Handel's oratorio Solomon.
We were all very proud of her.
I handed my young uncle a bag of shawls and scarves without sentimental value that I had taken from my mother's room. I told him to distribute them among the several females in his family.
My family was short on females, in general.
I supposed some things.
I got up at 4:00 so I wouldn't miss my flight.
My father tried to discuss very serious topics in the car on the way to the airport. I couldn't even keep my eyes open.
"What is the meaning of relationships?" he asked. It was 4:40.
I didn't miss my flight. On the plane, I remembered some lines from a poem, which later I researched and learned was by eventual Republican poet Edward Estlin Cummings.
are in a room's dark around)
(are all dancesing singdance all are
with faces made of cloud dancing and
singing with voices made of earth and
(six are in a room's)
and(six are in)
(three singdance six dancesing three
all around around all
clouds singing three and
and three dancing earths
three menandwomen three
and all around all and
all around five all
around five around)
five flowers five
(six are in a room's dark)
all five are one
flowers five flowers and all one is fire
I knew this poem had been used in some sort of dance that was connected to my mother, but I couldn't remember exactly. Had it been one of her pieces? One of her student's pieces? Some other dance concert she had just taken me to?
I couldn't remember, and there was no one to ask anymore. No one else would know.
As we took off, I looked down at the men's magazine I had purchased for the flight. There was an article about the presumably atheist comedian (most comedians and billionaires were atheists) Louis C.K. (né Szekely).
He was around my age, although, being a non-homosexual, he looked much older.
I read the phrase simultaneously saved and destroyed your life. It sounded familiar.