DIPTYCH BEFORE DYING
The Left Panel: To Newfoundland
by THOMAS MCGONIGLE
My father and I went to Newfoundland in the summer of 1973.
In the morning Dad had been up before me. An empty beer can on the dining room table. He had smoked a couple of cigarettes. He had changed out of his pajamas and gone back to sleep in his day clothes.
[This is a transcription from that lousy source reality]
I never met a person who knew him as a young man or even from the time he had met my mother in New York as the country was getting ready to be taken up by World War Two. He is a solitary figure who exists in some pictures in a photo album where he is among people. He is only a photographic representation that when I die the ability to identify him will disappear as my children will have very little interest as by way of their mother they do have grandparents who they knew and to whose funeral they will have gone, though neither of those people have a belief in such ceremonies.
Both of the children have been to my parent’s grave on Long Island. For a few years when they were children Anna and I would take them along on Good Friday when we drove out to Long Island, went to the cemetery, brushed away the leaves and planted a couple of flower bulbs in front of the small tombstone and then later go to a diner near Patchogue, drive by the house where I had lived as a child, drove out on the Mascot Dock and usually stopped at a shopping mall on the way back to the city where they were delivered to their mother who lives five streets away from where I am typing this.
I heard him snoring. His toothless mouth was open. He clenched a light blanket to his body. He lay in the bed where his wife, my mother had died seven months before.
His dream would be burying the miniature poodle that had to be put to sleep. He took the newspaper wrapped body out to Sheepshead Bay and buried it in the sand, down deep where the fresh water began to run, he said. The vet had taped the eyes shut and bound the lower jaw to snout with buff colored twine. As the parcel lay in the puddle at the bottom of the hole he thought he detected movement. He ripped it open and put his hand inside. He pulled it out covered with fleas.
Dad, come on, you got to get up. It’s time to go. We have a lot of driving to do.
I don’t want to go. Your mother can’t come with us.
She’d want you to go. Have you packed the rest of your things?
I don’t want to pack.
I’ve packed most of your stuff. See if there is anything missing.
I don’t care.
I’ll check, don’t worry. Get your razor.
To cut my throat.
You can’t cut your throat with that.
You think so.
He goes from the bedroom to the kitchen and I hear a can of beer pop.
I have most of the stuff in the car. You gotta help a little. You do want to go?
I pack his fishing pole and equipment box. He drinks the beer.
You want one? He asks. It’s cold.
As I am drinking the beer he brings the razor and soap brush in a little plastic bag.
We are off. Ice chest loaded with beer. 9W to the Thruway north from Saugerties.
Dad sleeps in the backseat, wakes up drinks a can of beer, smokes a cigarette, goes back to sleep.
The New York City radio stations fade out. Above Albany we stopped before crossing into Vermont so Dad could have a cup of coffee from a machine in the gas station.
I was here once with your mother in Vermont. The car broke down. It was just before the war.
Didn’t that car break down on your honeymoon?
Yes, in Virginia. It didn’t when we went to visit that wife of yours in Virginia. How is she?
Okay, she lives in the city now.
Good for her. In Virginia, yes, we almost made it to North Carolina. That is where we wanted to go. I wanted to play golf. I had been there with fellows from work. But this was another time. Your mother and I drove up to Vermont, to see the leaves changing or something. Your mother liked to do things like that. I don’t know. We couldn’t understand what people were saying. We had a nice time even though the car broke down. Not like that time in the Catskills when they thought we were Jews, do you remember that? I loved Marion, your mother. She was such a good woman.
O, Dad, please.
But I did, Tom, I loved her very much and she loved me. I’d have done anything for her.
You can’t do anything for her now. Maybe have a good time.
How can I have a good time without your mother?
He gave me his glasses and went back to sleep, cupped the side of his head in his hand and slept.
Sentences: He could not look at me too long as he knew I held him responsible
I held myself responsible in some way for her death.
She lived out her life for other people, she said.
She never really cared for herself, more selfish than any of us because she wanted us to be left with the knowledge--- you did so little for me, I gave up my life for you, I couldn’t even read the magazines, there was always too much dust… I always put all of you before myself.
We were off to Canada, just the two of us: me and the old man. I resisted the expression, the old man: the old man got me this, the old man got me that, the old man was drunk last night, the old man is quite a guy.
In the hospital she seemed like a pink stain on the white linen.
Go away, she said. Go away. I don’t want to see you… is my hair messed up… my fingers are so ugly… how can anyone… your father…
All the time I had been with Dad since Mom died I kept saying to myself: I have nothing to say. What can I say?
He sent me to Italy and Bulgaria a month ago. I had been in Sofia on May 24 for the day of the language
Across Vermont and stopping at a small motel and cabins within sight of Mt. Washington.
New Hampshire was where Carol Lynley came from in RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE. She had written a novel and gone to New York City and come back home to meet the townspeople.
There had been floods, the guy in the motel said, keeps people away. Back from the road were big houses at the end of drives. The unabridged Webster’s dictionary is on a stand in the library of the house. The mountain was green going to black into a darkening sky behind a sign selling souvenirs.
Dad and I sat at a little table in front of the cabin drinking beer the owner had brought for us. Each of the six bottles was on its own little napkin.
Tom, I’m going to sleep early. Okay? You don’t want me to go out with you, do you?
No, it’s okay. I might drive into the town, look around, see what’s going on.
So go on then, I don’t want to keep you.
A concert was breaking up at the pavilion in the village park. I wrote but do not know what I meant: the first bar was vinyl. I saw a woman with blue hair who had a tooth pick at the corner of her mouth. I recorded this song lyric:
I’m just an hour of time
And a six pack away
From forgetting you.
Right here: stopped.
Do I recount a conversation in another bar, part of a big resort, where I went, go into a crowd and being told it was a party for the employees and asking if I could stay, seems like the people are having fun, and being asked what I was doing and saying I was going to Newfoundland with my father.
Distraction in November we gathered at my mother’s hospital bed. She could not eat. She did not want to eat. Don’t let the food go to waste. I’ve never had Thanksgiving dinner out. The next Sunday I had to cook a Turkey. Dad took a sip of Mogen David wine. She was just in for tests, really. Maybe she could try to eat some cranberry sauce and some of the white meat. It hurt too much. When she got home… yes, she had gotten home. Everything was going to be okay. It had always been like that. The Fanellis next door left her cut flowers in a vase with a statue of the Infant of Prague attached to it. [gathered= a linguistic attempt to avoid reality]
I heard a bottle cap come off a beer. Dad was shaving and drinking. How do you feel, he asks.
You got in late, I heard you.
You can drive he told me and I asked if he could help me and he said, maybe.
The intake of the smoke and then the sip of beer.
We didn’t talk during the rest of the day. Drove into the Maine. Didn’t see anyone around and not a lot of traffic. Forest on either side of the road. An occasional church on a hillside and tombstones around it.
Stopped at a crossroads store and got two six-packs and a bag of ice. He didn’t want an infrared ham sandwich even though they had the hot mustard he liked.
Across the border at St. Stephen. Just waved us through. On to St. John. Union Jacks in the breeze. Easy to love England with an ocean between. To the Loyalist City.
Another day—as is always sometimes said.
Benedict Arnold tried to make a go of this imitation Glasgow, from my experience. We had a drink in a nice bar.
I’m tried, he says. Let’s find a place for the night and you can come back later if you want.
But you slept all the way
I’m not as young as you are.
A little less beer.
Let’s find a place
The motel with a newspaper.
HUSBAND KILLS WIFE AND THREE LOVERS IN ST. JOHN MOTEL ROOM
Do you need anything, Dad?
I’ll be okay. Go into the city and have a nice time.
I transcribe my first version of what happened next in town: “There are no good times in this city. At night the bar where we had been won’t let you in unless you have a tuxedo on. Walk around and find a bar. A big room with a couple of old men sitting in chairs watching the television. An ante-room to a flop house. I walk across the room and there is a smaller carpeted room. Again a television but at least there are some women to look at.
You can’t sit here. The waiter is standing next to me, He has a beard and jeans on.
You have to have a woman with you to sit here.
It’s the law. Now no trouble now, you know the law.
Where can I sit
Outside with the men.”
Found in a plastic bar [ plastic, a slang word whose meaning is obscure but which it seems everyone had a definition for it] near the motel.
GANGLAND SHOOT OUT
THREE WOMEN DIE
TEN YEAR OLD BOY HELD
Drink a little of that protestant Moosehead beer. Two bottles make you sick and swear to give up the drink for an hour of faithful resolve.
Dad was sleeping. I have FOR MEN ONLY to read and a new novel ALLTHE LONELY YEARS and from St. John we went to Moncton to Sydney in Nova Scotia for the ferry to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.
However, in the morning: slice of well-done bacon, scrambled eggs, coffee, no orange juice, just two eggs sunny side up, whole wheat toast with butter, a glass of milk
The history museum:
men go down to the seas in ships
My brother, Dad says, was a ships radio operator and president of the Wireless Operator’s Association
Yeah. I remember that funeral and knowing he drank himself to death and I saw kids tearing apart the mourning wreaths at the grave a few over to collect the metal frames, a sort of deposit on each one.
I’ll drive a bit, Dad says
Up a long hill
A far river drinking a bottle of Pepsi
I’ll have a 7UP, Dad says.
A cabin outside Moncton
Lot of French people around here.
Let’s go to the movies.
CLASS OF ‘44
the Dad dies
kid sees the old man’s shoes in the closet
his empty eye-glasses case
I don’t even know what he looked like
his girl was waiting for him
silly happy ending…
It was pretty accurate, Dad says. Made me sad. That’s the way it was.
We have a drink in the bar in the mall where we saw the movie.
We stop at another bar off the road to the motel. Rock being read from the music sheets in front of the muscians. Dad smiles at the waitresses. We drink cognac and beer. Dad has a cognac over the rocks. Likes the place
The waitresses smile at the old man. He must have some sort of secret
See maybe the emptiness in the heart, my heart, a sewer for a heart
Dad has a love of some sort
I went out and threw up in the bushes. Dad was worried, should I do the driving? No, I’ll be okay. I sat in the car and he went back into the bar. Came back in an hour. I liked that place. Good to get out but your mother woudn’t have liked that place. Something like the bowling alley in Times Square that the CANCO used to use on Monday nights… a long time ago,
So you’re set for Newfoundland, he says and I say, I am.
A MAN”S DESIRE NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IS A DESIRE TO SEEK EXTINCTION
On Sunday in Sydney they convert the bars into churches. We drank in the room, took showers and slept for the next day when we could take the ferry to Newfoundland. The day was long with him saying: I want to send a postcard to Deirdre.
Downstairs they must have them.
Could you get me a couple?
You got two legs. I’m not a servant the way Mom was.
She wasn’t a servant. She knew how to do so many things. I was good to your mother.
No, you don’t. Before you were born. She understood me.
That’s what you’ve always said. She understood you right into her own grave.
That’s not true.
Shut up, you’re drunk.
You drink as much as I do.
Shut up. I wanted to punch him in the face, break his glasses into his brown eyes, let the brown float like shit in his blood. *
Then the whatifs…why did I stop at the kiosk in Sofia, why did I put my hand through a door window in Mattituck, why did I go back to Sofia from Istanbul, why did I drive away from Hollins?
Did we go to sleep or pass out?
There was a good feeling waiting to drive on to the ferry. People seemed different. Raw hands, I saw, something I never notice, usually, some tourists but most people just seemed to be that, people going home or going to visit the home place.
Dad seems happy, buys a paper from the kid and tells him to keep the change from the dollar… I knew he had delivered newspapers when he was a kid in Brooklyn…
what I knew of his actual life in Brooklyn wouldn’t make up a paragraph.
The car was down in the hold of the great ferry sailing from Sydney to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland: I like saying the word Newfoundland… the o gets dropped out it seems or at least off my tongue.
Found the bar. A red and white plastic semsicricle. On the arc small round tables with four chairs about each with an ashtray in the center of the table and four Moosehead beermats. The waiters have been drinking all afternoon before we board. They’ve loosened their ties and their silvered serving trays are stained from the previous sailing. A red napkin covers the little pile of coins on each of their trays.
Dad and I sit next to this couple. Can you see who they are or is this description more of me, then? He and she of this couple have the look of people who hated the smell of babies and milkshakes, well, they’ve probably had the children but now free of them they were lonely and happy and a scotch was in front of each of them and I knew they would talk to us because they could talk without a child pissing into her ear and he saying, they are children after all.
And this other couple comes in. She has long red hair and is slightly heavy. Her eyes are green as are the trousers he is wearing. He seems just out of the Marines, heavy hairy arms, a long full beard and hair like a patriarch in a Jewish village in Poland though his voice is American mid-western… no, he’s probably a nice guy and I am a louse for making all of this up
We sat, Dad and I sat, comfortable in a place where the drink was a necessity and not a vice, where the hand held with comfort a pint glass of Guinness even though there was no Guinness to be had and I thought of McDaid’s in Dublin where I was drinking late Sunday afternoon and a lad next to me puked across the floor, went to the toilet, not too steadily, coming back asked for his glass to be freshened and it was for he was not in such a bad way and was a quiet one, to be sure.
An essential quote…
Everyone enjoys a good story. At six we clamor for stories at bedtime; at sixteen we call for them around the campfire; at sixty we count on them to pass our armchair evenings.
--ADVENTURES IN READING
--ADVENTURES IN READING
I want to be in love.
I turn to ask Jill if she would like a drink. She had been called Jill by the man.
I’ll have an orange juice. [what follow is the sort of stuff that got cut] If I had one more drink I’d give you my Mom’s bra size.
She’s not kidding, the man said.
Of course I’m not. I know you’d just love to know my mom’s bra size so you could put me down.
So, you’ll have an orange juice?
Yes, with some vodka in it.
[a conversation had been here but was removed for too obvious reasons]
During the serving of the drinks Dad took a scotch from the couple to his left and said his wife at died in December
And this is my son, Thomas.
I shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. Casey from Toronto.
We’re not originally from Toronto. We’re Newfies.
From Newfoundland. Left there 20 years ago with my childhood sweetheart (he pats Mrs. Casey on the back of her hand). Got tired of the snow and the potatoes and the smell of paper making. Now that the children are grown up I go home to visit. We go home to visit my sister and her mother, while we can.
My father was from Ireland, my father said.
And so was mine, said Mr. Casey. County Cork.
Mine was County Donegal. Tom went to Donegal once. Almost married a girl from there, I think. (Dad, don’t) Didn’t like the place though. I wish he had liked it. Instead he married a foreign girl from Bulgaria of all places. I wish he had married an Irish girl. I’d like to be able to go to Ireland.
Dad, shall we go to Ireland for Christmas?
Will you make the arrangements?
Yes, if it works out in Mexico.
Yes, Mexico. We’re going to Mexico, Dad says, to meet my daughter after this place. It would be nice to go to Ireland. My father never said much about Ireland.
Wasn’t he very young when he left Ireland?
Not young. He never said anything about Ireland. Ireland was a place to die in, he said once, I remember. He hated Ireland. Everybody called him the happy Mick but he hated the place and enrolled me in the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This was as close to Ireland he wanted anyone to go
Why did you let me go to Ireland for university?
You wanted to go.
God, Tom, you’ve a great old man. My old man threw me out of his house the first time I came home drunk. I was thirteen, I think. We were still living in Newfoundland at the time.
Ron raised his glass to Dad. That’s why I ended up in the Marines, the American marines of all things. I’m like all the Newfies on this boat, these poor bastards, hating the fucking place.
You should say cheers a hundred times. [more conversation removed]
I’m sorry, Jill.
You must not be sorry
Nicest girl I know, Ron says kissing her on the forehead and when the glasses came we raised them.
Tom you and your dad ought to go up to and see the sunset. It’s real pretty. The one thing that’s pretty in this place.
Dad, you coming up on deck?
No, I’ll sit here. It’ll be cold up there.
No, it isn’t. You’ll like it.
I like it here. Go on will you and leave me alone.
[what comes next strikes me as something it would be impossible to believe though upon reflection there is a truth in it and while I am pretty sure Tom did not have such words in his head as he stood on the deck]
The sun is flattened out on the horizon. A gold tongue In profile. Hair of Lois in the summer, but I never saw her in the summer, only in the winter cold. Lois was in New York and Dad’s words, leave me alone. He was always saying that. I wanted to capture: leave me alone.
Bring on the darkness.
As I started down the stairs Jill was walking up and asked, walk me around the deck.
[a conversation removed]
Jill has left the deck. I didn’t want her to leave. We have not commented on the wooden floor of the deck, the tiny pockets or rust waiting to be scraped and repainted. The toll of weather.
Dad was drunk by now and the usual… being embarrassed as he… but it was too chilly on the deck, too alone, so back down to the bar and Dad was sitting where I had left him. He seemed happy. Why was he happy? Ron and Jill were off at a table by themselves. Mrs. Casey was talking in a voice much louder than before, these kids, I don’t understand them.
Nothing to understand, Dad says. Just close your ears and eventually they get tired of hearing themselves talk. I learned that living with my mother back in Brooklyn and all my sisters and the nieces. They just get tired.
My son is studying in Toronto. To him everything I do is wrong. Either it’s not traditionally right or I’m supposed to be against the revolution.
I don’t read the newspapers anymore, Dad says. I used to buy the old Journal American when I commuted out to Patchogue. But that was for the comics and the Money Word game. Tom, here used to think he was going to win a million dollars and fly off to some castle and have his own army and wear the Kaiser’s own golden helmet. You know I used to see the men off at the Brooklyn docks during World War One. I played the flute.
You don’t seem that old, Mr. Casey said.
I’ll be 67 the day after my son’s birthday in October. I forget how old he’s gonna be.
Yes. 29. 1944. The war was terrible.
You were in service?
I was in the desert, Mr. Casey says. Left Newfoundland and ended up in the damn desert, but Mrs. Casey waited for me to come home. I don’t know. I wasn’t much of a catch. We had a hard time of it.
That’s what I don’t understand about the kids today, says Mrs. Casey. They’ve been given everything and still they’re not happy.
That’s what I don’t understand about the kids today, says Mrs. Casey. They’ve been given everything and still they’re not happy.
We are happy.
I don’t really believe you, excuse me, Mr. Casey says. Maybe you are but most of them young people… Our son is not very happy and that’s why he studies the past and the future. Doesn’t see much in the here and now. Just likes to talk to people he says.
I am waiting for Dad to talk about the American Can Company. About making c-ration cans. Having to go from one end of the country to the other, from Florida to Maine. That’s what I had to do. There was something wrong with my heart so they didn’t call me up.
It was not talked about: what he did during the war and even now when thought about the other Dads never talked about the war, it was just something they all went to, came back and didn’t talk about.
I have listened to myself. Almost believed it. My home in the middle of a ash heap and yes, Marion I am still waiting, is the television loud enough, can you hear Julie Andrews singing, she liked Julie Andrews and she was on television the night before.. I could hear her teeth cracking pieces of ice, that’s all she could eat…
I resented her being sick, being in the hospital, I wanted to be with Lois in the city, not there with the white coated nuns, crucifixes…… or when she was home again for the final weeks which I did not know as the final weeks… even found fake poetry: sad voice of tears
She did not ask for me
I was a disappointment.
So many times
You are just so unhappy,
she said to me.
[a memory that got inserted in a random fashion] Not knowing Mom was going to die, Deirdre had bought a Christmas tree and the day after the funeral she put it in front of the church adding to the decorations around the outdoor Nativity scene. We didn’t feel like decorating the tree… Christmas was over forever for my sister.
Dad’s lips are thin, clenched, pulled inward. There is some sort of electricity between him and the Caseys. They will not have to see each other on the morrow.
Tom, it’s a coincidence. Mr. Casey’s name is William and Mrs. Casey’s name is Alice. A small world, if you ask me. I’ve always said it, a small world. Alice was a good sister though she married a Protestant. She raised her children to be good Catholics, you remember? Ernest. That was her husband’s name. He always bought a new Cadillac every year. William was my brother. He went around the world before he was 17. I don’t know how many times after that. He was a radio operator on this yacht you see for Burne-Lowe. He was a rich man until he lost his money in the Great Depression. He jumped out a window, my brother said… smashed up on the street he was.
We were living in Wisconsin when my sister Alice died and we couldn’t go to the funeral. Deirdre had just comeback from the Peace Corps in Tunisia, you know? Tom was there too we sent them a telegram. He had just left his wife
No, Dad I went to Columbia. Lilia had her course to finish at Hollins.
Yes, I guess, well, he had a place and Deirdre stayed with him
She didn’t like the cockroaches and the shower in the place.
She told your mother and me she thought it was luxury after Tunisia.
I guess it must have been.
They went to the funeral together. I liked Alice.
Somewhere else I was alive, maybe. This is fiction amid, my mother’s blood, the warm jelly placenta her blood flowing into me through me… the blood that would kill her 29 years later in my life.
Dad telephoned. Your mother died. I went to see Steve Miller down at the place where he was making Xerox copies on Warren street and keeping a bed in the storage room as he was saving his money to buy a Ford 1968 Mustang.
We went to the Blarney Stone--- (it’s still there under a different name and has been there for all these years). They still had the prices in big red numbers up behind where the bartenders stood. A beer mug was being filled with dollars and quarters by the customers for the holidays. We had a couple of beers: Miller’s beer like his last name. I was a creature of habit.
I just sat there jealous of every single person. Ron being to war, Jill being with him, the Caseys, Dad and here the son who watches porn movies and wanted to rescue the girls from the bad guys so he can be bad to them.
Is that secret enough? In a toilet in Sofia, by mistake in the woman’s part the toilet filled with bloody strips of cotton, pee mixed with the blood, that’s what it’s all about, I guess.
The ferry has docked. The bar looked exhausted. Something it cannot be, I knew, but the words got thought and I would have said them.
I woke Dad. No one thought it strange people just lay down on the banquette along the wall…
His mouth was open a little. The false teeth yellow, a spot of drool on his two day old beard now.
We’ve arrived in Newfoundland.
We’ve got to go down to the car.
I don’t want.
We have to.
Your mother’s not with us.
She is in a way. Let’s go
He cocks his baseball cap to the side. I walk behind him to make sure he doesn’t go over backwards. While in the car waiting to drive off we have a bottle of Moosehead between us. They let you buy it as you are leaving the bar.
In the car next to us I hear French. We give them an extra bottle of beer.
You off to St. Pierre, I ask.
Have you been there before?
We’ll see you there.
Waves to Ron, to Jill, the Caseys, the French people.
Out of the ship, down into blackness beyond the floodlit lot and then more just blackness… really cheap with the lighting… No stars, no moon, chilly, no signs after the terminal. Rear red lights disappear… just drive a bit and then a hotel.
WELCOME TO PORT AUX BASQUES
I’ll go in and see if they have a room.
No, I have some reservations that haven’t shown yet but they are old customers, can’t disappoint them. A Playboy calendar behind him. May flesh, old May flesh, should have turned the page.
No room, Dad. I’ll drive until I get tired and then pull off the road and sleep for a while. We have to get to Corner Brook.
The next town on the map.
Couple hundred miles.
Do you want me to drive?
It’s okay. I’ll drive and then we’ll sleep.
The headlights reveal nothing but the road and a white line down the middle of its spine. Black shapes which must be houses come out of the grey and disappear to the sides. My hands feel like pliers on the steering wheel. I don’t want to die. A closed gas station, maybe the next one we can sleep at. I slow down, a car passes beeping it’s horn. Two lit cigarettes sit in the front seat, that’s all I can see. I slow down again looking at the rear view mirror. Crawl along the side of the highway. A drive way. Back the car into it
Tom, have we stopped, Dad says. Is something the matter?
I’m too tired. I’m falling asleep. I’m just backing into a driveway.
You sure it’s safe?
I think so.
Slowly back and the suddenly we are at a crazy angle Dad and I looking UP through the windshield at what would be the sky.
Wait a minute, Dad.
I open the door and there is no ground under the door. The back wheel seems imbedded in soft earth.
O my God, Tommy, how are we gonna get out of here?
Take it easy… I’m shaking… how should I know… I did it… take it easy… too much to drink… always knew the damn guardian angel wasn’t on the job… I’m heartily sorry… Dad, I’ll get out and push… when I say go give it the gas… there is a deep gully… maybe 20, 25 feet down along the side of the drive… my feet sink in the soft earth… I trip… the palms of my hands are cut by the gravel… I try to push at the car… the smell of rubber… smoke… Dad it’s no use… he gets out of the car… I don’t know how he did that… his bald head in the now sudden light of a passing car…Tom, why we come here?... why did we stop here?...I was tired… let’s try to push together…It’s no use…Tom, get in the car and give it the gas when I say… I’ll push… I have to get you out of here that’s what fathers are…you can’t Dad… I’ll try... nothing happens… more smell of rubber…O, Tommy, I’ve dirtied myself… I’ve dirtied my pants… the smell of whiskey… beer… diarrhea…
Get out of the pants and find your clean ones. You packed them didn’t you?
I can find them
So get out of your pants… I’ll find them.
Dad’s legs are withered vines twisted sticks.
I’m so embarrassed, he says
It could happen to anyone… we’ll have to get a tow truck.
Dad sits on the ground near the car with the new pants on. Dad. Daddy.
I wave as the cars pass by… some slow down and go by like I would while others stop and saying nothing and go on.
A priest taking some boys home stops… he’s a young guy, a kids’ friend. Dad says he doesn’t feel well.. the priest and the boys talk to each other… he comes back and says we’ll go get this boy’s Dad’s tow truck and pull you out.
Dad and I sit there and they do come back.
They really did.
Pull the car out just like that and don’t ask questions.
Can I give you some money for your trouble and time, Father, Dad asks.
No, we just help each other in Newfoundland’
But I’d like to
Send it to Catholic Charities in Port Aux Basques. Have a safe journey
I don’t like to owe things to people, Dad says I’ll send him something when we get home.
The priest said there was a gas station a couple of miles down the road. A bar across the road was still open
We went in, veterans of a hard fight. Ordered up two beers each and two for the road.
Can we sleep in the parking lot? No room in the inn.
Sure, why not.
The beer was good and I slept in the front seat and Dad slept in the back seat and we drank all the beer and in the morning the sun came through the misted up windows.
My breath on the chilly July air. Mountains all about: skulls upon which trees grow. The parking lot was pebbled and rutted. Nature would take it back. A stream on the far side of the road lead away somewhere as a deer was drinking and then suddenly alert and away.
Dad, are you awake?
I’m always awake. I was awake when your mother wanted me. She might wake up at any moment and need me in the night. I never slept all those months.
Shall we get some breakfast
I don’t feel like eating.
What about coffee and an egg?
A cup of coffee.
I wiped the dew from the windshield and drove the highway. An empty land. I do not like people very much. The trees have been harvested. The lakes look naked with no trees about them. Stone and rock, a Japanese stone garden built by a nation of giants.
Dad looked and said nothing I had him sitting on the edge of the bed calling the doctor, the priest, the judge across the road. Cold, the cold spreading cross the sheets, lapping at his legs swimming up his ribcage.
History Lesson. Newfoundland, first seen as I knew by Cabot and before him the Vikings and even the Irish were said to have been here. They left no skeletons, only a few marks on stone.
Ate breakfast in a gas station… the restaurant was part of the station, oil and steel: the wrenches lying in their compartmentalized chests, the girl smiles when she takes our money.
Have a good journey
I hope so. She probably didn’t think twice about my answer. People were left to themselves. Dad sat and smoked and I drove. I was a failure. He was a failure. We both knew this, really knew this. We drove or I drove rather. What to do with knowing this?
O you might think its goofy
But the man in the moon is a Newfie
O you might think it’s goofy
But the Man in the Moon is a Newfie
The words repeated themselves over and over again in my dry mouth. All we wanted now was Corner Brook.
A paper mill and a Holiday Inn. Dad had his credit card for Holiday Inn. You know what you are going to get. Not like going to see an old friend you haven’t seen in ten years. Eccentricity is a lonely voyage. Maybe I should be like Michelangelo and stick my hand up the ass of a dead person and puke when I touch the back of its teeth.
Dad and I drove against the coldness of the road. No cheap tourist word photographs of what we saw.
In Corner Brook, Dad went to the bar and I went to the movies. I saw Borsolino and The New Leaf. What a combination, you might say.
Dad sat in the bar of the motel talking about his wife, my mother. He loved her so much, you know, don’t you, what can I do?
I climbed the hump of stone in the center of Corner Brook, get a view of the place and found a weather-beaten twig, carved by Bosch of the devil’s head, I thought, really
When I got back to the motel and the bar I asked Dad, Let’s go for a drive.
I drove out of the city and turning a sharp corner Dad slammed his dead into the sun visor and cut his brow. HE was like a little kid. He bled into his handkerchief. HE was very alone. I saw his blood. His blood. Mom always took care of him when he was sick and now he only had me.
What’s the matter? It’s only a little cut.
It hurts. My head hurts so. Hurts.
We sat in a large empty room of a bar.
We have strippers here at night if you want to come along, the guy behind the bar said.
Tom you should come back and have a good time., My head hurts too much. I don’t feel well.
I did go back there. It was like the go-go place up on the highway between Appleton and Menasha… in 1966, in Wisconsin: see beautiful INGA. I wanted to talk to INGA… take her and this girl in Corner Brook away from this and just dump me, she is thinking, look at you, take me away from what and to where: you got to be joking, mate. She just likes to show off her tits, not down there, you aren’t allowed to show off down there, from Vancouver to Newfoundland.
Come along gents. Time. Finish your drinks. Gents. No trouble. Now. Gents. Time.
Long into the night of Molson’s Canadians…
A couple of Canadians for the road.
Under the moon, yes, I remember the moon and looking down to some sort of body of water and logs glistened, waiting to be turned into paper or something or other.
Dad was not in the bar. He went up to his room a couple of minutes ago. You just missed him.
He missed Mom’s death, I think I know and he knows I know this, In spite of being there all the time, he missed it.
Dad was in the bathtub peeing on himself.
What the fuck are you doing?
You’ve wet yourself
No, I’m sleeping
Come on. Get out of there. You’ll get sick, catch a cold. Then what would I do. We better go back to New York.
I don’t care.
The acid smell of urine. My father. Dad. Why. Daddy. Dad. He slept as he fell into the bed. I washed the water around in the tub. Urine has a hot smell. Dad, why. Okay, I pee into hotel sinks but at least I get the fly down first.
Must have thought the urine would be dry by the morning, so why worry. What’s the big deal?
Dad snores I went to drink. The bartender says you have a good old man. He left this here by mistake. He gave me the five dollar bill and I used it to buy some beers.
I went upstairs and passed out and awoke finding Dad sitting by the window saying, when are we getting on the road?
After a swim. Do you want a swim, Dad?
No, I’ll go get a coffee.
I swam. Breasts, cunts eyes, blonde hair filled the holes of my head. I was alone. What if one of them said, hello?
Dad and I drove to Gander. On our drive ‘round Newfoundland, you can’t go across the place.
In Gander, once, stopped on my way the first time to Europe. An airport cut into the night.
Now rows of one story buildings and house built about an airport. Dad was tired. He sleeps in the Holiday Inn. I drove around looking for moose steak. It was out of season. In season you get so tired of the stuff you long for just an ordinary hamburger. Roads going out of town disappeared into trees. The movie theatre was only open on weekends. Like a lot of places the kids leave as soon as they can and then come back when they can’t enjoy the place anymore, a guy say says in a bar
Had a beer someplace and got a case of Molson’s for the car. Ice is free in the Holiday Inn. The bar of the motel was the insides of an old airplane.
Did you see a bald man in here before?
Yeah, he went up to his room, I guess. He related to you?
Take care of him. Something’s bothering him.
He hadn’t taken his coat off. His hat was still on. He had put his glasses on the table next to the bed. He’d pissed in his pants.
Dad, wake up, you’ve pissed in your pants. Why do you have to do this. Just like you used do it to Mom. You killed her with this stuff, don’t you know it?
He didn’t say anything. Just moved in his sleep. At least he hadn’t broken his glasses. Maybe he should have. Give him something to really complain about.
You have to get out of your pants.
I don’t want to. I don’t care, so why should you care.
You have to.
I turned him over on is back and unbuckled his belt. Thought of which woman.
Come on lift your ass up. I pulled the pants off and put them in a paper sack. They also stank of shit. He was asleep again.
I drove out to Gander airport. He’d sleep it off and maybe in the morning be good. That was the phrase: Be good. Can’t you be good? He would not remember. If he did he would know why I would not forget. We travel knowing all of this, I think, maybe.
The airport was larger than remembered, done up in blonde wood and endless Canadian cheerfulness which I could never match. The shop girls sold gossip to each other. From Gander one can fly to Europe twice a week, away from the filth of the new world. Pain. Common pain, left in pain, with hope still on their lips, lips No one to talk to. So I drove from Gander to sit eventually on the balcony of the hotel bar and drank as the sun went away.
Dad and I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Clarenville, Newfoundland. A sprawling sort of place with at the center from which the spokes of rooms radiated: a large bar or pub as the sign announced: SIT AWHILE A WHILE AWHILE…
I didn’t want to go on. Here we could decide whether to go on to Fortune and the islands or to go to St. John’s or go back. I don’t remember why and how and why it was decided to go back the way we came.
I know Dad didn’t want to drive around the village. He liked staying in the motel. He ate his lunch there. He sat in the bar. He made friends with a doctor from St. John’s. He didn’t see any reason for traveling. He didn’t care what we did. I didn’t want to go to St. Pierre Island. The idea of going was better than the going. They spoke French there. I didn’t want to go with him.
I decided we would go back the way we had come. Dad agreed. He wanted to get back to Saugerties. Why’d we go travelling in the first place? What had been the point? You didn’t ask that question when she was alive. I didn’t have a reason to. Don’t wreck the car with your drinking. I won’t.
Clarenville, a village with a shopping center: parking lot not paved. Walked about the shops. Wanted to buy toilet paper, soap powder, a large box of corn flakes, a half-gallon of milk, a jar of allspice and if they had fresh ginger?
Look as if I were new in town and just stocking up.
Had a beer in a bar that they hadn’t finished building yet. No rush, the bartender says. We don’t get many people in here. Not much reason to come into the village. People rush by staying at the motel up on the highway. You staying around here?
No, just for a few days.
If you did you’d go crazy.
I don’t know. I thought I would at first… when we moved here… I guess if you think you’ll go crazy you don’t.
I don’t know.
A gray airy bar from which I could see the harbor. I thought of Pula. Always thinking of someplace else. I would kill Dad but he was my father. Lonely as a finger of Turgenev’s, as sad as the roses about the grave of Bach in St. Thomas Kirche in Leipzig. [while there is an arbitrary pretense to this…]
Dad was drinking whiskey with Dr. whatshisname from St. John’s, If you get your son to drive up into St. John’s be cure to call me. If I’m not there my nurse will take the message. I’d like to show you and your son the morgue. I think it would do you good. You’d realize how young you are. Ireland might be a nice place for you to visit. You could see why your mother and father left. Where did you say your father came from?
You get there and you’ll know why he left. They probably had no choice in the matter anyway if I know my history. And I do. I can show you the morgue. Usually they don’t permit it but in your case.
I don’t like hospitals, Dad says.
Neither do I and I work there of course. In the morgue you don’t have to act and put on a show. No one is going to smile at you with their pathetic eyes.
I don’t know.
I hope I’ll be seeing you and you’ll be still using your legs. Make your son come along,
He has a mind of his own.
He’s too young to have one of those.
Have a drink for the road?
In St. John’s
No, I’ve got to be going.,
Go to hell.
That’s always a possibility. Neither one of us will know for sure. St. John’s?
I’ll see. Tommy, you’ll have a beer. Get me one too.
The doctor left. He didn’t say goodbye to me. We hadn’t been introduced. I just listened. Dad went to the bathroom. I got a second bottle of beer.
Red table cloth. Ashtray piled up. Empty glasses, bottles: a new family shared activity with the edge of what it did to the body… see if he or she could survive. The knee of my jeans was going but better the knee than a split up the backside.
Dad had been talking with the doctor. The doctor had been talking with Dad. A doctor. How in a couple of hours had they known so much about each other that the doctor could suggest a visit to the morgue?
I sat in the green bar in town. The guy behind the bar was different. I could see the waves were low and gentle upon the shore as if waiting for a storm. Went back to the motel.
[I know this not from experience but from a wish for it to be here]
That night Dad was thinking about being a guard at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. This had been during the war to pay for my brother’s birth and for his death since he didn’t live.
The hotel is seedy, Mr. Casey had said on the ferry. How did he know that? Memories went seedy. The gun rusted, broke into pieces even as he carried it on his hip. She had been the one to kiss him in the evening when he got home.. It was always very late. Working two jobs for her. He was the one who cared, Mom said.
Next day, Ron and Jill showed up on their way back to North Dakota. An argument with his father. He can die alone and bury himself, Ron said. Lumber wasn’t any cheaper in Newfoundland and the best had been cut and shipped a long time ago. Now there was only scenery left. North Dakota is like Newfoundland without all the stumps of barren harvested woodlands.
We have to go back to his father, Jill said. We had a few too many drinks at the bay there and then it hit Ron he couldn’t leave the old man like. Just can’t do that. You’re stuck with him and he’s stuck with you.
They left. Dad asks why didn’t you marry a nice American girl? But no, you break your mother’s heart and mine. You see Ron and Jill. Ordinary people.
I guess so.
I’m having another. I lost the wallet with the pictures of you and your sister and the two ducks you had in Patchogue, you remember them, Wacky and Lucky, I don’t know what happened to them.
I went to the room alone and drank from a bottle of Screech.
In the morning Dad ordered two pan fried steaks and French fries and cold really cold bottles of beer.
Tom, I don’t want to go to those islands. I am tired of traveling.
We have to go to Mexico.
I’ve lost my wallet. Mom might need us. Your mother wants us.
We’re going back to Saugerties.
[partial poetic aside]
Finally, on the road again. To be in Corner Brook by night. Words are swallowed. Januarius is a name of this guy who wants to talk about the man who steals smiles and the story of the man who is talking about mouth jobs behind the Pan Am building. [How to date the reference] And the Brady Hotel. Melinda has a room there.
All you can do is do what you can do.
Dad’s head hurts again in Corner Brook. He has no interest in drinking. He slept. I climbed up the mountain again and again found a piece of weathered wood in the shape of an incomplete crucifix: much too symbolic to be believed. Both pieces of memory got lost somewhere along the line.
Hilda would be waiting in Saugerties.
The wallet and photographs were found
Dad posed for a photograph that did not come out.
Picture taking was not part of this journey.
In Moncton we stayed in the same cabin again. Like returning home. A two car head-on crash on the road right in front of the cabin. Blood on shattered glass. Smell of rubber and a dead dog moving into a final shape.
A night drive to a hill indicated as a sight and experience not to be missed. Car parked on the road. Engine turned off. A mysterious force pulled the car up the hill backwards.
The quick descent through Maine and across Massachusettes, this time.
In the papers a card for SUNSET MOTEL. Auburn.Maine. On the back: SAUNA BATHS, POOL
IN ROOM COFFEE
Going into the dark sauna as I remembered the red front of the outside of the motel. I sat in the heat for a few minutes and aware of being alone back to the room where Dad was sleeping.
As one looks at the post cards the isolation of the motel and the aura of sheer loneliness are evident. The sunbathing woman of course confirms this: the woman possibly being the daughter of the owner. The power lines suspended from the poles across the front view of the motel.
Home again to the house and the mail collected by the neighbor.
Dad sat in his chair. The jacket still on. A bottle of beer. She did not call him.
I planned for Mexico
Hilda would drive passed the house in her old Chevy, one of the springs in the back was gone. She was looking for the car so she could call from the candy store opposite the Exchange Hotel to meet me in Woodstock where I first met her late at night drinking in The Pub, this old blonde woman who was drinking Guinness because it was a natural beer…