Monday, October 20, 2008

Spending Time with Dad While Waiting for the Apocalypse on CNN

Dad’s head is on the coffee table. All of us kids are sitting around, keeping him company while he adjusts to his new Medusa docking station. We’re all getting used to this, really.

While we watch TV, he spends most of the day asking Stacey to take him to work or complaining about phantom aches and pains. Then the breaker blows and he loses power. His eyes close and we pause for a moment to admire our dad, our father, noting the iconic dignity of a Che or a Nietzsche as seen on our t-shirts: an immortal, postmodern quality. Then, smirking, Avery says he looks more like Lenin with that bullet-clean scalp—those wrinkles on his forehead are for the revolution, not the people.

Our eyes roll and we find that someone has pulled the plug. Avery says he didn’t do it. Yeah right, we say, you’re the only one always saying you wish he would have died.

He says: Actually, I’d prefer to let his whole generation go. Don’t get me wrong, the docking gadget is really cool, and it’s comforting that dad’s body parts are right up in the attic, nicely vacuum-sealed in case we want to get nostalgic, but the whole living forever business, though it looks fun and all, it’s not doing anyone any good. If the Baby Boomers really care, they’ll move on so we can too. Then Avery turns to dad’s head and tells him, Just say the word, pops, and I’ll set us all free from this nightmare.

Stacey squeaks. She’s crying and glaring at Avery. We’re lucky to get this last little bit with him. It’s called making up for lost time, you asshole.

It’s a little late now, Avery snorts. He had a choice just like everyone else. And he chose to spend every moment of his life at work, Stacey, remember? He chose work and not you. Does it sound like he wants to be here when he’s always begging you to take him to the shop?

We gang up and explain that dad wants to go to the shop because it’s all he knows. He’ll get used to this. Give him some time. Besides, look around at all the nice things we have. Things we wouldn’t have if he hadn’t cared enough to spend his life at work. True, we shouldn’t have had him docked without his consent, but it’s better this way. Really.

Avery tells us where to put our nice things, and asks how many hours of dad’s life are packed in the closets and sealed in Tupperware.

How can you say no to a second chance like this?

Fine, he says, I’d like to trade in 10 or 12 of those video game systems rotting in the basement for a fishing trip, or maybe a game of catch. Fuck it, let’s rob a bank for all I care. He pounds the coffee table and sits down.

Dad’s head is still rebooting, so he misses all this. His eyes open and he asks Stacey to take him to work. Her eyes grow glossy again and she bites her lip, looking between us and him.

No, dad, you’re not going to work, Avery says. Your job at the plant still requires a body and you haven’t got one. That’s how you ruined it in the first place, remember? So, no. Just watch TV with us, your loving children.

We actually agree with Avery and encourage dad to watch TV with us. Besides, we say, consumption is the new labor, and you’ve instilled us with a great work ethic, dad. When we watch the new Tom Cruise movie, it’s just like working. We don’t always want to, but we do it anyway, just like you did. Watching TV is good for the economy.

Fine, he says, then turn me so I can see.

Stacey cranks him in fine adjustment toward the TV wall.

And now the TV doesn’t work. We troubleshoot by aiming the remote control at different angles, beating it against our palm like a pack of cigarettes. When we get up to inspect the cable connection, we see that the TV is unplugged. Avery gets the evil eye while we plug it back in, making sure he doesn’t cut dad’s juice again.

Whatever, you guys. We’ve got a choice, Medusa or TV. You know the circuit can’t handle both. He settles into the couch with a scowl.

Stop being an idiot, we say. We’re trying to make dad feel more comfortable, more at-home, so we turn on the Revisionist History Channel. Another documentary is about to start. The RHC voice recites the slogan: “History of the Boomers, by the Boomers, and for the Boomers.” Avery joins on queue, “Who shall not perish from the Earth,” changing ‘shall’ to ‘will’. The next three hours of programming look like this:

1 pm The New Greatest Generation
2 pm Death is the New Twenty
3 pm Baby Boomers: The Hub of Human History

More mockery from Avery, but no one pays attention to him. Instead, we watch grainy protest footage and shots of topless women with pointy breasts flailing about during outdoor concerts.

Avery says this is bullshit. Dad died a little to pay for that video camera in the closet, so let’s go out and make some footage of our own. If we really wanted to honor him, we would use it.

Shut up, Avery, they’re talking about the Cultural Revolution. If you’d listen once, maybe you’d recognize progress staring you in the face and be a little more thankful instead of whining about everything.

Still, we toss around the idea of reenacting a march or a protest. But then there’s the issue of looking after dad, so we scrap that.

Reenactment? What about doing something of our own? Don’t we have anything to say?

There’s nothing left to say that’s new, Avery, haven’t you been listening?

Whatever. Solomon declared the end of the new like 5,000 years ago. Clever way of demanding the last word.

It’s just easier to ignore him, so we do. Halfway through the summary of vast social upheaval, dad sniffles and the lights go out. His eyes are closed. His cheeks glisten with sunlight from the window.

At first he liked watching footage from his youth, but lately it just makes him cry. His streaking tears short out the docking station, which of course trips the hyper-sensitive breaker, leaving us in the dark with no TV and no dad. It’s Stacey’s job to dry dad’s tears when we watch this stuff. But she was moved by the documentary, too, and forgot about him. We’re always afraid that this time will be the last.

After we admire his silhouette, she cleans him up. Everyone is quiet while we find flashlights to go downstairs and restore power. The air is thick with the same feeling we had at the hospital when the doctor told us we had lost our dad.

Meanwhile, Avery stands up and looks at dad’s inanimate head on the coffee table. He sighs and says, You know, it did seem like a good idea at the time.

first published in Rivet Magazine, The Power Issue, July 2007


Peter Cole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Cole said...

Hey I know that story...Rivet?

Josh Maday said...

Yessir. Did you read it in the magazine?

Peter Cole said...

no, I think you emailed it to me

Josh Maday said...

ah, yes, i have a tendency to do that.

hey, thanks for reposting nashville is reads, btw.