Friday, July 28, 2006
They don't get lightning storms in L.A.
That's what my Uncle Joe told me the other night when he called me from L.A....during a lightning storm.
He had called to see how we were doing and while I love talking with the guy I was wincing every time another lightning bolt cracked through the sky.
We've been having a streak of thunder storms in the northeast lately, big, massive affairs that sound and feel like artillery attacks going on in the clouds. The kind of storms where it's not a good idea to talk on the phone.
"We don't get storms like that out here," he said, as I held the phone three feet from my head. "I miss them."
I found it hard to believe that L.A., the land of extremes, didn't have thunderstorms, not with the brushfires, mudslides, endless rainstorms, and Charles Manson. But then we don't get earthquakes in Brooklyn, so I guess it all evens out.
There was a guy on our block who got hit by lightning as he spoke on the telephone. I was about four or five years old when it happened and I still remember the sound of the thunderbolt hitting his house. It was like dynamite going off right over your head.
The next thing I heard were sirens and I remember looking out the window and seeing an old police emergency truck, which were green back then, tearing up Senator Street in the wrong direction.
We heard that the kid had been knocked clean across the room when a lighting bolt had gone through the phone lines of his house and came blasting out of the receiver.
Judging by the sound of the thunder, I would have thought there would be nothing left of the guy but a pair of sneakers and a pile of smoking ashes, but he pulled through apparently no worse for wear.
"My father used to makes us sit by the window and watch thunder storms," Joe told me. "He wanted us to see how beautiful it was."
For years my dad told me a variation of that story, about how, as a little boy, he would run and hide whenever there was a thunderstorm. And how my grandfather wouldn't say a word, but just sit by the window and loudly enjoy the storm, cheering each bolt of lightning and every roar of thunder.
Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself
Gradually, my father said, he would come out of his hiding place and go sit next to my grandfather and enjoy the show.
There was a terrible thunderstorm this afternoon when I went to visit my father in the hospital today. The car service driver had pulled up to the door as the rain started coming down and a huge bolt of lightning carved through the air just as I was putting the metal house key into the steel doorlock.
I had this image of myself being fried on the spot, of being hurled across the street, stretched out in my neighbor's front yard while emergency vehicles raced up the street in the wrong direction to rescue me.
That didn't happen and I made to the V.A. Hospital. My father had some kind of seizure the other day, with all the outward signs of a stroke--slurred speech, weakness on the left side of his body, confusion--it looked pretty serious.
Today the doctors are backing away from that preliminary diagnosis and it looks like my father may have had some kind of temporary condition that mimics a stroke, but is far less harmful. I guess it's like a small scale thunderstorm in his brain that rages for a bit and then moves on. Let us pray.
My father was in bed, his hands bound after he had climbed over the railing of his bed and tried to go for a walk. The hospital staffers are afraid he'll hurt himself, so he's tied up like some lunatic from a cheap horror movie.
He was his usual self, harassing the nurses and trying to get out of bed. He has this annoying habit of kicking his blanket away and leaving his lower half exposed in a little production I call "Nutsack Theater."
"Haven't I got enough problems?" I growled as I fed him his dinner.
He was still somewhat disoriented, asking me what hospital he was in. Apparently he thought he was in some kind of restricted area.
"What lie did you tell to get in here?" he asked.
"I didn't lie," I said. "I just walked in. I can visit my father without having to lie."
My father was always kind of free with the facts. In other words, he lied a lot. To his customers, his family, and himself. So I guess so part of his brain is still thinking like the salesman he used to be, trying to find an angle, so he could put one over on somebody.
The shift doctor is a young woman, something my father can't seem to understand, even though he's been examined by a dozen female doctors over the years. When she left the room, he looked over to me.
"Don't tell Joan," he said, referring to my siser. "She'll be jealous that this woman is a doctor."
I was about to argue with him, say that my sister is a successful teacher, that she has a law degree, but then he threw out another little nugget.
"Robert will be jealous, too."
I was wondering if I should explain to him that I was Robert and that I wasn't jealous of the female doctor, either. Or maybe I should pretend whoever he thought I was and let him give his uncensored view of me.
Which One Are You?
I ended up pointing a thumb at myself and mouthing the words "I'm Robert."
It took him a few seconds to realize what I was saying then he shook his head.
"Who am I forgetting?" he asked.
I mentioned the one brother in San Francisco, the other brother here, but by then he seemed to have lost his train of thought. A large black nurse with a lovely smile came into the room to check his various hook-ups. When she left he nodded toward the door and made a piston motion with his fist.
"She's looking for a boyfriend," he said, indicating I should make my move.
"I wish her luck," I said tersely.
I hate talking about women and sex with my father. He can't help but put a sleazy edge on things--generational, I suppose. Plus he always tried to show us up when we were kids, so I figure if we got into a talk about sex he'd want to get the less word in on that, too. Best to change the subject.
I broke a date with a woman the other night when he was admitted to the hospital and she never got back to me. If she's mad at being stood up, I can't say that I care. She had my cell phone number and all she had to do was call.
But I just get this feeling she had never intended to keep that date. I hadn't heard from her for a few days and I've been on a pretty serious stand-up streak for the last few weeks.
I broke another date with another woman so I could see him tonight. I didn't want her to wait around in the city for a couple hours as she lives in Queens. I honestly wasn't feeling so strongly about her after the phone calls and e-mails, but I still want to meet her in the flesh.
Now I have a date with a woman tonight and I made it for later in the evening. Let's see if I get stood-up again.
I told my dad Uncle Joe, his brother had called and wished him well. I thought of all the times I had threatened to move out to L.A. I always end my conversations with Joe with the promise that I'm going to move out there some day. I'll be 50 next year and I still haven't done it.
Joe had warned me last night that things were going to get worse with my father, that there was nothing anyone could do about it.
"It's a shame you guys are stuck with it," he said.
Ah, hell, I don't feel stuck. He's our father. And one day there'll be a storm that will take him away from us. It's the kind of storm you can't escape, even if you live in L.A.
I left my dad watching Seinfeld and walked down the hallway to the elevators. I heard this sing-song voice saying "goooodniiight" and it took me a second to realize someone talking to me.
I turned and saw the heavy black nurse in the doorway, the one my father was convinced need a boyfriend. She was smiling at me. I thanked her for taking care of my dad and I introduced myself.
"You can call me Flo," she said.
I got on the elevator wondering if my father was so out of touch after all.