I ran swiftly towards the sound of of agony, but it was just my dad. His volume increased disproportionately to my distance from him, and the agony muted each of the words that I’d run back there with. The deceptive blur bolting between two holly trees, through the rectangle yard, over the split rail fence, and across the paper street was me, but until I first fixed my eyes on a real indecipherable scene, I wasn’t worried in the least about his well being.
“Dad dad,” I chased my breath through vines of our almost ripe raspberry bushes, “Almost there,” I barely managed. The elevated railroad tracks demanded a chase not an arrival, but out of habit I did pause for a mandatory albeit brief and unnecessary stop. Agony became unexpectedly quiet. He must be okay, I remember thinking. He has to be fine.
“Dad dad,” I tried Red Crossing myself through sudden fear. I decided to never tell him, or anyone; no way would I ever admit it, not then and not ever. All Quiet on the Western, all the way right pop? “Dad, dad!”
A fierce bombardment should get them off their machine guns; then on the whistle boys; we’re going in with the bayonets. Here the ground falls away like bravado. I learned a lot in the moment.
Temporarily fumbling control I gave myself permanently to gravity and faith; down the treacherous slope, disappear me into the embankment. I learned to do the illogical; lean forward into the incline, precisely you’re your mind tells you not to do, so it’s true, I deduced, my mind gets wrong sometimes. I stopped in that thought, mentally stuck on the scope of realization. Steepness has bothered since, convinced that trusting my mind was a fundamental risk. I looked for an alternative faith, but there isn’t one. Self is simple, reliance is right; my mind had it figured out, but fear tricked me momentarily. I was so afraid to see my dad crushed, but also concerned about finding him unhurt. The sheer queerness of his screams; the embankment as a formidable foe would allow me to create my dead dad resilient and courageous; survival would have been outrageous, an oncoming train, a cross cutting scene, too too gruesome, “Dad,dad,” I was next to the overturned tractor, “dad.”
my dad was trapped underneath; that’s what happens when you ride a steep horizontally, the old Red Snapper will roll, down embankment, “Dad, dad,” I was next to his face, “Can you hear me okay dad, it’s Benny, can you say ‘hallelujah dad?”
He didn’t say Hallelujah, I don’t know if he could have; he was banged up alright, bruised, confused, and bewildered. He eventually invented an animal in his version, and I always appreciated their furry presence. If he said a squirrel then I made a mongoose, squirrel/mongoose, beaver/bear, and weasel/wolf; that’s what I’m admitting too; I’m glad I didn’t challenge him about it, but I sure wish I wouldn’t have cared at all. “Dad, dad listen, listen,” I remember an awareness of my pounding heart, it felt amazing, and African. “Dad I have to run back to the shed and get some rope dad,” I don’t invent an animal, but I do say that here I touch his head a little, sort of stroked his hair back. I guess it’s possible that I touched his hair real gentle, but I really think it’s unlikely. “Dad is that cool, can you like blink dad if it’s okay for me to run to the shed? Okay great, thanks dad, I will be super quick.” I made sure the tractor was off complete and that it was in a stable spot. Maybe I did touch his head to check for any blood, I sort of remember doing that. I scramble out of that trench like it was 1915, Anzac, Gallipoli, and with all of that bravery it really wasn’t insurmountable at all. It took me a long time to trust my own mind; I’d say it’s a work in progress, a good work.
Which shares with me this vision of cognition; no beguiling nor bamboozling; I was able to launch myself out of the trench almost effortlessly; I was quite a bit more confident than I’d been, but did I have to stop and look back down. I know that’s a wasted worry, fact is that I did turn around, and there’s no changing it, what I saw that is. Compromising is maybe the best word I have imbued; simultaneously he started to moan again, which is probably, or at least possibly true, and in a Kodachrome moment of immortality, all that I could see was that Red Snapper having its way with my dad, his legs spread oh wide, his voice was rhythmic indecency, and the souls of his Converse were not the least bit scuffed.
I did get some rope from the shed and I did lean forward into the incline. When the mower finally rolled itself off of him my dad became a rodent, twitching towards a scrambled, so long as he was safe…“Dad, dad, there’s no train, you okay dad, you must’ve rolled the mower down the hill on top of yourself, again.” I showed him where the vines and saplings had been mashed down by the tumbling mower and helped him up the hill.
My mom called SEPTA just for safety and sure enough the R5 service to Philadelphia was delayed briefly; the mower had to be moved a safe distance from the tracks. My parents had to pay a significant fine. My mom insisted that I cut the grass going forward, and indeed the Red Snapper was cumbersome. Often the steering would just lock, but eventually I knew how to find my mind’s key.
Eventually my parents sold our back property, a podiatrist bought the land. His wife was agoraphobic. He ripped out the raspberry bushes and built a ranch house that his wife never left. Dr. Podiatrist hired me to cut his lawn.
A lot of times I’d stop, take a break on the railroad tracks, looking down that steep embankment, sifting through the severity of love, loss, and learning.
The above photograph was taken at my sister’s wedding. My dad is older now but still quite tan and handsome. He ‘s not permitted to be near any type of riding mower, chain saws, Winnebago’s, tattoo artists, or pain medication. He loves hockey, the Dodgers, Woody Allen, Larry David, Aerosmith, and Maine. He has four grandchildren, all of whom adore him. They call him “Pop,” and so I do too. He struggles for long periods of time from depression, OCD, addiction, vanity, and weird bizarre accidents that he engineers accidentally. He uses an exorbitant amount of bleach and buys an outrageous amount of shirts. He goes to the gym sometimes, sits in the steam room, does push-ups, then stumbles out barely conscious, lays down on the locker room carpet, sweats out plenty of Benz-odes, and heaves. It’s a mix really, some men sidestepped this naked man from Brooklyn visibly concerned and/or repulsed; while others chat my dad up a bit seemingly unaware of the murder outline he has sweated into the hunter green design. Occasionally the club’s owner has to ask my dad that my dad refrain from almost dying in the men’s locker room. “Don’t worry about me Jim,” my dad gleefully misinterprets the nature of Jim’s request. “Hey did you hear about the big stir on Broadway,” my dad widens the space that Jim has to cover about my dad’s offense. “Did you Jim, did you?” Jim’s gay according to my dad, not to Jim, but both Jim and his wife adore my dad and appreciate that my dad makes the effort to always talk about musical theater. Jim measures the the daunting space he’d have to cover in order to actually scold my dad for his oddly egregious steam room ritualistic heaving, and surrenders with some dignity. “Did you Jim?” A number of people have joined Jim and my dad, but neither of them seem to notice. “I’m no expert on musicals Jim, I’m mean I love Fiddler but I’m no expert. This one seems a little out there for me, but you let me, maybe even you’ve already heard it, nah, have you Jim?”
Jim is smiling, holding a basket of white towels, and bracing for my dad’s inevitable use of the word faggot. Finally Jim realizes that they’ve drawn a crowd, my dad already knew that but he’s an actor, damn fine actor, does agony incredibly convincingly, along with shit-faced, and just about dead. “Gary here,” Jim announces, “says there’s some big Broadway news which,” no Gar I haven’t heard any Broadway bombs.” Jim bends his knees in a way that he thinks a gay person would, which I’m not a good enough writer to describe. My dad imitates him though and laughs and reaches for Jim’s pectorals. Jim imitates Jackie Robinson brushed back by an inside screamer. “Look at the reflexes on this little ‘mo,” my dad swipes again unsuccessfully for Jim’s tit. The whole huddled crew of suburban seniors cracks up in unison, which allows my dad to sneak stealthily out from their midst.
“Ready pop,” I ask as he synchronizes his stride through the lobby to mine.
“Ready Benny,” get me out of here, he ever so slightly swivels his head back towards the mildly disoriented group. “Well Hello Dolly, Oh Hello Dolly,”
“Again with the Dalai Llama on Broadway jokes dad?”
“I’m meeting your mother at Hot Spot for dinner, if you wanted to; 6:30 which is right about,” mu dad checks his fake watch.
“Thanks dad sure, that sounds good.” Our car doors percussion a strong if not predictable heartbeat. I motion my dad to roll his window down. “I’ve gotta get Sammy from soccer so we may be a few minutes late.” Love in an Elevator is blaring from my dad’s BMW and he waves me to go ahead of him. He’s a spectacle, but tonight a finer sight than the wretched souls of his Converse sneakers, and a better sound that the agonizing Hello Dolly.