[Note: for privacy issues I’ve slightly rewritten the beginning of this post.]
My dad’s first marriage fell apart with him going crazy on the floor of his shit Bronx apartment. His brain fell apart. He threw things, he screamed. I’ve never once seen my dad raise my voice. But crazy can hit the human body like a tornado. Just like me, my dad’s first marriage didn’t work out (although for very different reasons).
Just like me, my dad’s first business didn’t work out. He went public with the business (a software business). At the IPO time he was worth $5 million on paper. He never sold any stock and eventually the stock fell to zero.
Our neighbor, Sandy Blatt, came over to our house on the day of the IPO. He said to me, “you know why I’m buying this stock? Because of this man.” And he pointed to my dad. The stock never once moved higher. Sandy never spoke to my dad again.
My dad rented out a floor of the Plaza hotel to throw a party. He had a white tuxedo. He had two bands playing. Gary Becker, his #2, came up to me and said, “your dad is a genius.” Much later Gary cheated on his wife, got remarried to another employee of the company, and then when the stock fell to zero never moved out of his sofa again until he died from depression.
I was too shy to talk to anyone at the party. I wanted people to like me, to know that my dad was throwing this party, my dad was a genius! But I sat outside in the lobby of the Plaza.
My dad joined something called the “Governor’s Club”. He paid $1000 a month so he could have lunch with the governor once a month. He wanted me to go once with him. But I had a paper route that bordered Christine Cardinal’s paper route and there was no way I was going to skip those eight seconds where Christine and I would meet in the middle and I would smile at her, trying to elicit a smile back, a small movement of her lips, maybe some tongue (haha), so the governor could wait. And so would Reagan ($2000 for that lunch).
Back to his first marriage and the day it fell apart. He started smashing things, he was crying, he threatened to kill himself. He worked at the post office, he worked as an ice cream man, he was a failed classical composer, he was obsessed with chess. He had nothing going on and now this. Now his life was more than over. It was a big negative. I wasn’t there. But many years later he refused to tell me how bad it was.
So he went crazy crazy. The kind of crazy where police are called.
So the police come. Big guy. Bronx guy. Tough guy. “Seymour?” the policeman said, my dad lying on the floor: small, jewish, thick glasses, kinked-up hair, crying although I prefer the word “weeping” (something sadder. We cry for many things but we only weep when we’ve lost something once dear – a love, our sanity, our vision of the future we clung to). And, coincidence of coincidences in a city of six million people, the police guy was the exact bully from sixth grade who used to pick on my dad.
“Seymour is that you?” And just then my dad had everything in the world to be embarrassed about. I’m sure he looked out the window, the light coming in. Can’t the light reverse direction? Carry you out, back into the sun. Save you from this wretched planet. The Bronx, with cheating wives, a dirty post office, a mafia ice cream route, decades of ghetto jews, decades to come of burnt out ghetto everything else. Back to Ra, who the ancient Egyptians said was father of us all? My sister, two years old, me not born for another 10 years in another ghetto borough.
Thirty years later my dad’s business fell apart. He would burst into tears walking around a supermarket. He’d go to my younger sister’s parent teacher conference and she would tell me later how embarrassing it was because he would start crying right in front of her teachers. How horrible it is to go broke in front of your children.
I went to visit and we’d play chess and he’d just say, “What’s wrong with me?” when his moves were weaker than normal (he was a strong master in his day) and those moves never got better. It kept going downhill until he would make left turns on eighth avenue (his parents lived on eighth avenue – for his entire life you can only make a right on eighth avenue but he would start to forget). “What’s wrong with you!” my mom would say.
Sometimes I’d get the call from him. “I’m missing,” he’d say. And I’d drive out to whatever mall he was at and he’d forget where his car was and what he had bought and where he was going and I would pick him up and take him to the hospital and the doctor would always make everyone feel better, “Don’t worry,” until of course, dad was dead and the doctor was right – no more worries.
When I was ten my dad had surgery on his eyes. He had to sleep and not open his eyes at all or he could go blind. I was told not to wake him. But I was ten. And I was playing with a tennis ball outside and it hit his window. He woke up. “James!” my mom yelled from the front door. My friend said, “good luck” and jumped on his bike and rode home.
I went in. My dad’s room was dark. I stood in the middle of the room. My mom limped over to me (she had polio as a girl). “Stand still,” she said to me but it took her time to reach me. My dad, bandages over his eyes, the room completely pitch black except for the glimpse of sunlight trying to peek through. I could barely see my mom standing right in front of me. “Hit him,” my dad said. So my mom did, across the face. More than once. But I deserved it. I was afraid he was going to go blind now because of me. I deserved it.
Years later, I went crazy. I was throwing things. Alcohol had been ingested. I was angry. What a horrible thing for children to see. The police were called. “What’s going on here?” “Nothing”. “Well, something is. Someone called us.” And I put up no fuss. Neighbor’s lights clicked on as I was led out to the back of the police car. No leg room. What do they care?
They took me to a small motel on the side of a random highway about ten miles away. “Don’t leave this room all night,” the police said, “or we’ll write this up and it will go on your record.” There it is, that “record” again. When can I play funky music on that record, white boy?
I was so tired anyway. The room was spinning from alcohol. I slept and for awhile it was like I was sleeping in the cyclone at the amusement park. And when I woke up I had no idea where I was. I walked outside. It was six in the morning. No cars were on the highway. Nuclear war had destroyed the entire world. And the radiation had finally mutated me beyond recognition.
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