Of all the things that you wrote, Father, other than what you wrote about Mother, one passage has always stood out in my mind. I have it underlined in yellow and maybe for reasons of age, a greater understanding and respect for thought and contemplation, or just the sheer pride that my father wrote such wise words, I go back to it often lately.
In your last novel you had one of your characters say, “Life is mysterious, scary…with no rhyme or reason. There’s not one person on this planet that knows with absolute certainty what it’s all about. Not one, despite all the bullshit. So, why hurt people, even if they are your enemy? Why go out and deliberately try to hurt another human being? Life itself will sooner or later give them all the hurt that they will ever need. Why add to their misery?”
With all due respect, Father, at first when I first read it I said bullshit.. It sounded good, but it was still bullshit. As a man of action, a Major in the mighty tank Corp, a mover and shaker in the business world of Manhattan, I was more than ready to put a hurting on anyone who tried to hurt me or someone close to me, and give them as much misery as they gave me.
But as I’ve aged and bore full witness to the awful pain of the world of the living—from losing my dear friends from the Big Bang, and notwithstanding the awful pain Mother experienced, first from losing you, her brilliant, loving Pushkin; to the gruesome pain, both physical and mental that Sergie inflicted on her; the cold-blooded terror of witnessing the death of the Gangster; to the disappointment of the so-called American dream—I understood why you wrote what you wrote.
You wrote that in your late fifties. I doubt very much if you could have written the same words even ten years earlier. I now know that those are the wise words of an older person who has lived long enough, felt deeply enough, and cared strongly enough that he profoundly understands much of the real pain of life.
After that wild night in Brighton Beach of the shooting of The Gangster, things became very quiet for us. I finished high school and worked my way through Brooklyn College, mainly by joining the ROTC.
Also, Father, you’ll be happy to know, we received a little money from the sales of your books. A steady little drip, drip, drip. Mother's eyes would light up every time she opened her mailbox and there stood an unexpected check from your last publisher.
It's a good thing you understood copyright laws and taught Mother how to protect your works.
"See, Alex," she said once, putting the thin check right in front of my nose, "He kept saying, 'you are so beautiful, sooooo lovely. I love kissing your lips, so I give you something, I give you intellectual property. I leave you intellectual property. Worth more than gold.'
‘I say, hon, give me gold; you keep your intellectual property!’"
Mother laughed merrily in a loud, high-pitched voice and started happily dancing around our apartment, still waving your little gift from the grave around with her small little hands.
Her memories of you are so fond, Father! I didn’t have the heart, or the nerve, to say to her, “I guess Father was right, his intellectual property is worth more than gold.” Your novels, except one, the notorious, The Woman's Man, tanked, so to speak. But your book of essays became somewhat of an American classic and is still being taught at colleges across the country and overseas. You got the last laugh on all those doubters, Father, and left me, Mother, and the world a very real part of you, and much wisdom.
I must say this, however. That book of yours also brought me some grief when I was at Brooklyn College. Although I do not share your last name, the word soon got out that I was your son. Those guys in the Black Studies Department thought that because of who I came from, I should show a little more racial consciousness and solidarity.
I took a class from this one guy who loved your book and taught it in his class on Black Intellectual Thought in the 20th Century. But boy, Father, was he a pain in the ass! He was a bearded asshole with little dreadlocks. And it was black this, black that, and he was always putting down white people. And Father, he seemed like he was always pointing a finger at me as to what was wrong with the black race.
But, what the fuck was I suppose to do, Father? Hate Mother, for Christ sake?
The bastard ended up giving me a C! Can you believe that shit? A fuckin’ C? But, at least he thought you were one of America’s greatest intellectual heroes, even if you did have a half-ass Russian son.
But all that black shit, who needed it?
Instead, I defied the black study crowd and dated white and Asian girls, studied military history and business, danced, happily jerking myself around spastically to white boy bands, and called myself a Russian.
Shame on me, Father!
But poor, dear Mother? I don’t think she ever had another boyfriend after The Gangster. At least I never saw her with anybody. And she never stepped foot back on stage after that crazy night. She immediately closed the play down, closed the theatre, and ended her career as an actress/director.
Now she just fussed and worried herself on my behalf. She was so proud the day I received my degree. Her little blue eyes just beamed with great joy.
At least, Father, she had that one shining, brilliant moment in the American spotlight, if only in little Brighton Beach, at a small 40 seat theatre bringing artistic life once again to Uncle Vanya.
Meanwhile, back to the Big Bang. As to be expected, everyone demanded that something be done to change the course of this country. Money and Big Capital had leaded us down a road to ruin. Of course, this threw our political process into turmoil.
President Bush had less than two years to go in his second term and there were strong voices coming from all over the country demanding drastic changes in the way the country and businesses were run.
And there was this one unsuspected voice that became the strongest of all. His name was Jerry M. Guess, Jr. and he was an AME preacher from Columbia, South Carolina. And this cat was homely, Father. I mean homely, with big thick glasses and buckteeth.
Since the advent of television it has been the conventional wisdom that only good-looking people could run for President.
Certainly President Bush was a very handsome man. His hair was still full, and it had turned a mixed steel gray and black. His mother was a Mexican, and his father was a pudgy-looking old line WASP. Somehow he managed to look both Mexican and Anglo, with his brown eyes and wide, full tooth smile.
In many ways, for the people who thought about such things, they considered him the best television President ever. Even better than his uncle, George the Second, and certainly better than his grandfather, George the First!
It has also been conventional wisdom that no dark skin—especially true if he is a down home, bible thumping black male from the Deep South—could ever be elected President.
But that was before The Big Bang. The Big Bang, along with our worsening weather and the realization that Americans were willing to kill each other in numbers larger than any outside enemy had, made us all a little crazy.
I mean, why not, Father? First, we find out that our business and political leaders were slowly, deliberately poisoning us to death for profit. Then we find out that we are really Martians! Then our own citizens, for God sakes, nuked us! That’s enough to drive anybody crazy!
What have we become, was the unanswered question. I know I asked that question over and over. I was so lonely, so very lonely, I could barely stand it. Now that I was no longer chasing shadows, trying to find bad guys, I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore.
I was back home, out of uniform, and the grim reality of my new life started to unfold slowly before me. This meant that I could no longer pick up the phone, call David, and talk to him hours on end. It meant I couldn’t hold and fuck my cute little Gina. I couldn’t hang with the gang in those great Manhattan bars. I couldn’t go to my neat little office and wait until quitting time to hit the clubs and meet my friends.
Things had changed a great deal since your day, Father.
My generation rediscovered a good time, at least in the Big Apple. That was our thing. I know you railed in your essays about the long hours of work that young people put in at the turn of the century. But, fuck that, Father! They were real assholes! You were right! That was one lesson we learned, all right.
We knew how to party and have a good time. Oh, we worked hard. I’m not saying that we didn’t work hard. We were no slackers, by any means, Father. But work was not the end all for us, which it was for young people in your day. Everyone now looked back on that time as a strangely bizarre time!
Maybe we learned something from the workaholic generation that came before us. Work for Generation Rule was just that—work! It was something to give you some money to do what you really wanted to do, which was to hang out, drink, talk shit, have a good time, get as much sex as you could, and have a ball! Why the French still hated us so much is beyond me. In many ways, we had become a lot like them.
Maybe it was because they found a cure for AIDS, or legalized drugs, or had approved gay marriages, or maybe it was just Generation Rule’s protest against the excesses of the last generation. The circle thing, as David might say.
I wasn’t having a ball now after the Big Bang. I just quietly walked the beach in all kinds of weather, avoiding the eyes and nods of others, keeping a very private space, talking to Mother, talking to David, talking to you, Father; talking to all of those friends I had lost.
I remember one walk in particular. It was cold beyond belief. I was the only one foolish enough to be out on such a day. The wind was howling bitterly and stinging me with intense bursts of sudden pain with its relentless fury.
The gray Atlantic Ocean pounded beside me, loudly, viciously.
I had on a hooded jacket with a long topcoat over that. Even that was not enough to protect me from this brutal weather. I wanted to turn back, but didn’t. I knew that I was punishing myself deliberately. I was filled with survivor guilt.
I had just resigned my commission. What good was being a Major in the so-called mighty Army if I couldn’t even protect my friends, or at least avenge their death, Father?
After my friend and mentor, Colonel Bird blew himself to bits, the remainder of my love for the tank corp. quickly faded, just drained right out of me. I knew I was next in line for promotion and would have been made a Lt. Colonel and taken full command of my outfit…
But after eight years full time, and 12 years in the Reserves, it was over for me. After seeing my lifeless, brave friend lying so peacefully in his casket, his slim face a ghostly pale white, yet strangely serene; the mortician had done an excellent job of patching him up so that we could all pay out last respects. I paused a moment at his casket and stared long and hard at him. I remembered all the pain and unbearable suffering I saw in his face the last time I saw him alive—that’s when I knew, Father. That’s when I knew.
But on this cold bitter, angry day, it was not the military on my mind. The deed was done. I had quit. There was no turning back. I knew that. This day instead, it was the thought of death that was on my mind, Father, as I headed to the Fisherman’s pier at Coney Island.
I could feel the tears freezing as they tried to run down my face, as I bent my head down into the furious wind. I finally made it to the end of the pier and watched as the high waves reached onto it, wetting my feet with their numbing cold.
I wished as mightily as I could that one would come and sweep me away. A huge, gigantic wave. One that would swiftly, decisively, carry me out into the cold deep and draw me under in a deadly embrace, where I would join my dead friends and my dead parents, and be whole again.
I shuttered violently, but not from the cold. I now felt real fears overtaking me, and it scared me like nothing I had ever experienced before. The specter of doom drew me away from the cold, angry water.
I looked death directly in the face that bitter winter day, Father, but I blinked.
I turned and ran off the pier to the empty boardwalk as fast as I could, with desperation and deep feeling of dread in my steps. I finally made it back to my apartment, frozen, sneezing and colder than I have ever been in my life. My feet were so frozen that I could hardly walk, and they pulsated with pain. I stayed in bed for almost a week after that, with the worst cold I ever had in my life!
I now knew that I didn’t want to die, no matter how much guilt, shame, helplessness, loneliness, fear, anger and self-doubt I felt. But like most Americans, I now desperately wanted someone to tell me what went wrong? Where did we start walking the wrong path? What could we now do? What was to become of us? What was next?
TO BE CONTINUED
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