Sometimes at the end of the day when light of another day ebbs and stillness reigns. I think about my father and all that he was and all that he always wanted to be, and could never be. That strange mysterious man that I could never really understand but that instilled within me so much of himself that every day I discover more that I could have ever imagined about the two of us. My heart aches as I choke at the emptiness of this place without his insistent presence. He, always too pushy to invade my thoughts, to involve himself in everything about me that I felt so many times I had no recourse but to push him away. Now, it seems, I have succeeded. He is here no longer. And I am incalculably diminished by it. Oh what I would give to live under such an unwanted tyranny again of that bumbling old fool that thought of nothing but the present, himself and me.
There is a transitional time that finds Winter ceding its grayness to the boundless bright blue of Spring. Though the air may still be cold the buds upon trees still struggle forth as if observing a celestial timetable in spite of all obstacles. While one is dissuaded from jaunts outside until this time, the brightness of cheerful Sunlight beckons one to reintroduce themselves once again to a world without a roof. And the necessity of short walks extends one’s route to include a wider field of travel. One one of these sorts of days, I happened by a lesser used route of former acquaintance from a time long past.
A small shopping strip mall that had cropped up adjacent to the high rise where my family had come to spend the better part of their natural lives as condominium residents running a small advertising concern from a spare room that I now inhabited. The same old vacancy stood empty on its furthest edge but to my surprise the rest of the spaces which had housed the same businesses for the last twenty-five years was now bereft one more tenant. A small little shop next to a nook where the Chinese restaurant extended forward a bit. A place where an odd couple had until sometime recently sold recycled lenses and frames at a cut rate unit price. The two were a funny sort with one eccentricity piled upon another. Their unconventionality seemed to break every custom with an almost awkward innocent charm. I guess I remember them most for their purchase of four wrought iron chairs that I had stewarded from the earlier days of my childhood. Family heirlooms that my late father had in his own quirky method of frugality spent a fair sum of money to have recovered long after their actual street value had plummeted to an amount that the cost of the rehab dwarfed many times over. Never being as respectful of the hard won worth of possessions I had allowed them to be sold to the old couple for a song. And many times in the past since when I had past by, I would look into the window at the four of them and consider how at some point I would allot some money towards their repurchase.
As I further recalled, looking across the shadowy emptiness of that expanse of bare floor across to the back where an old heavy wooden desk sits adjacent to a cheap chrome and plastic office chair. This shop had also been the last customer of our family company which had atrophied over the last fifteen years from its zenith as my father’s most successful business enterprise. The culmination of my father’s life’s work as a salesman. One that had started many years past in another time and era when he was barely seven years old. He had hawked magazines door to door of any place that didn’t kick him out. Bars, factories, small corner businesses and on the street, all these places he found out the hard way how to win over tough customers with the right words and earn a buck. How he ended up with no apparent heir to his life’s work came down to the indifference I held for what was to me a stultifyingly boring and mundane profession that offered my own ambitions naught but oblivion.
He had, like most new parents of humble backgrounds, provided too much, and expected even more from his son. His wishes in this regard, translating into the chronic application of misdirected efforts always bound to fall short by his offspring in always trying to achieve at an even greater level of success than was possible. The fundamental difference between them was, of course, that my father was an extrovert who loved to be with people. While I tended toward a more exclusive perspective as the opposite. The conundrum of our differences was never put to rest by either of us and saw a large divide from that point onward. Even the approach of his passing could not seem to heal. The unexpected emptiness of that storefront brought home a penetrating sense of vacancy within my own heart of all that once seemed interminably endless but that I would now be bereft of forever. The mysterious fate of those damn chairs would now haunting me as much as my inability to find any further physical embodiment of the lost spirit of my father amidst these surroundings where he once was a part of an all too familiar world. The sadness of that little abandoned shop under the approach of the beauty of Spring making me realize, how much I really missed him.
Forty years ago at the beginning of the leisure suit nineteen seventies on or around the time of the inception of Disco music their was another transition in popular entertainment occurring. One that I was unusually well-placed to observed as my father in particular was very much invested in watching. His heroes had been members of the advance guard of the cocktail circuit. Tuxedo dressed east coast comedians and crooners who like himself had fought their way into prosperity and recognition from very humble beginnings at street level. Their era had been under constant assault of a younger form of entertainment for almost a decade since the beachhead of the Beatles in the sixties. Names like Sinatra, Martin and Davis rang throughout his adult existence as well as throughout our house in my childhood spent there. There were many frequent pilgrimages made by him to that fabled entertainment Mecca of Las Vegas where he would occasionally gain an audience with one of these kings of entertainment at one of the casinos along with a couple of hundred of the the other faithful.
But by this time, unfortunately, the curse of the quest that every younger generation must endure for their own Rock based gods and demigods had taken hold of me. And a Berlin wall style perimeter formed between my father and I that made his enjoyment of his show business heroes seem like GDR propaganda for ears that yearned for the freedom of the Western democracies. He was completely unable to fathom why ‘his music’ turned me off and his kind of ‘humor’ left me flatly unappreciative. I admit like all young zealots that my level of tolerance for prime time TV roasts and sunset Hollywood entertainers performing in the afterglow of their careers had no resonance with my tastes. So in the true totalitarianism of a youthful connoisseur I avoided these programs like the plague. The decades past as I kept my distance searching within my own self-constructed sphere for a sense of popular definition that I might feel comfortable allying myself within. But, like the 33 RPM’s records turned to CD’s and eventually MP3’s, I like a Parsifal, I stumbled through the aisles of retail America looking for a golden temple with some heartfelt undying truth to call my own.
Now that my father’s memory has faded to a ever present but unexpectedly hard to define shadow I visit the stamping grounds of his elusive phantom in dreams and occasionally upon late night YouTube rambling journeys through random snippets of the old television shows from his heyday. There I here the one liners that he faithfully learned and ultimately recited for the bulk of his existence. There also the lingering spirit of men and women who learned the unthinkable horrors that humankind can do to each other at an early age in senseless world wars and retorted with an ability to freely laugh and sing as their own overwhelming form of final revenge upon this all too prevalent form of evil. It is s sort of homecoming in many ways similar to the last sense of James Cameron’s “Titanic” where once a stranger, I now am welcomed back to come in and enjoy a world that paralleled so much of my own beginnings. Maybe also a way of having my long dead father once again at my side?