Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wheel Man

I never did get to the cemetery this weekend.

And I didn't go to the veterinarian either. But I was ready to go either to place on a minute's notice--just like the Strategic Air Command.

My sister had asked me to drive over to the cemetery in Staten Island with her on Saturday to visit my mother's grave.

Friday was my mother's birthday and I miss her so much, even after all these years, that hardly a day goes by that I don't find myself getting teary-eyed over some memory of her.

But I don't like going to the cemetery. It's a long trip for starters, but even if I lived around the corner from the place I don't think I would visit that often. I honor my parents in my own way.

I also don't like driving in this city, where the roads seemed clogged with gang-bangers, speed demons, and road ragers just itching to assassinate anyone who commits the slightest moving violation.

I don't know--I just don't have my manhood so deeply entwined with driving. I think I'm better off, but I seem to be in the minority.

Also preying on my mind was the fact that I would be driving my sister's car and God forbid I got into an accident.

My sister doesn't like driving on highways or over bridges. That's her little phobia. I'm terrified of flying and during our family holiday in highway, she held my profusely sweating hand for the two 10-hour flights, which should earn her a commendation from the Knights of Columbus or some such organization.

A friend said we make a good team, my sister and I. If you put us together you might have one normal person.

I really wanted to do the right thing for my sister, so I tried to talk myself into making the cemetery ride.

Hell, I told myself, you're the guy who drove your family from Kona to Hilo on a dark, rainy night along a twisting, barrier-choked highway. You can handle a simple run to Staten freaking Island.

But then my sister's cat, who had been suffering from heart trouble, took a bad turn Saturday morning and she asked to postpone the cemetery trip until today.

Then she called me and asked if we could put the cemetery visit off and instead go to the animal hospital in Manhattan. I had done this run a couple of weeks ago without incident, except for the usual case of nerves.

This has been a very stressful time for my sister. Her cat is only five years old, but he's seriously ill.

He's never going to be the same and we have no idea how much more time my sister will have with him even after the treatment, money, and heart ache that she's invested into keeping him around.

So instead of paying our respects to the departed, we were going to take care of the sick. My sister brought the cat over to the hospital on Saturday night and I adjusted my mental GPS to the animal hospital coordinates for a Sunday morning run.

Then I went out Saturday night with best bud Hank for a Thai dinner and way too many beers.

We wound up on some place on Third Avenue, drinking Smithwick's and semi-watching the Olympics. I tried to forget that I had to make to drive to the vet's in the morning by...having more beers, strangely enough.

We had a lot of laughs, but I'm afraid the talk got down to the locker room level as we watched a scantily-clad young woman running the marathon through the streets of Beijing.

"I've watching this bitch for hours," I slurred. "When is she going to stop running?"

I'm not proud of this kind of sophomoric behavior--my mother taught me better--but I did keep my voice down. And I don't drink beer that often, or at least that much of it.

"This place is full of zombies," I muttered to Hank at regular intervals. "It's the living dead."

What's your pint?

I approached the one single woman in the place who told me she was waiting for some friends. I didn't believe her at first, but then two other women joined and I went back to talk to the whole bunch. You know I must have been drinking too much if I did something like that.

Two of the women had just seen The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2--or was it The Dark Knight? I'm not sure now. Damn beer.

Anyway, they told me that they had moved up to New York a few years ago from West Virginia.

I'm happy to say that despite my condition, I didn't make any incest or indoor plumbing jokes. The other woman ran a pet store in Queens. See, I do remember some of this stuff.

When I did them good night, one of the woman looked at me and said in a very serious tone, "get home safe." I didn't know what she meant at the time, but I do now.

I was plastered and she seemed generally concerned about my well-being. Oh, those country people are so neighborly.

I got this morning and my sister told me that she wasn't sure when we'd be going to the vet's so I went down to Shore Road, crashed beneath a shady tree and alternating between reading the Sunday paper and sleeping off my hangover.

Every time my cell phone rang I was ready to make the drive over to Manhattan and every time my sister told me to hold fast.

Finally, she called and said to forget it, that the hospital was holding the cat over night and...oy...she would have to take him to another vet on Monday. So we never did get over to the cemetery or the animal hospital. And I'm sorry to say that I felt a degree of relief.

I feel so badly for my sister. The stress is awful, but we don't have much choice with the ones we love, whether human or animal. My sister said some of this business was like visiting my mother during the last years of her life and I know what she means.

It's heart-breaking, but you either handle the misery or go off you nut. Not much of a choice when you think about it.

I was having some trouble sleeping lately and one particularly bad morning, when I went to work after something like three hours sleep, I got a seat on the R train and, as I always say, once my keester makes contact with that seat, I don't get up until it's absolutely necessary.

I thought I would get some sleep during the ride, but it never happened. I slipped into one those semi-conscious states where you're not really awake, not really asleep, and you don't feel rested at all.

Somewhere along the way a pregnant woman got on the train. I knew I should get up and give her my seat, I knew that this what my mother had taught me to do...but I didn't.

I sat there rationalizing, thinking that one of the other men around me could get up, that I give up my seat all the time, can't I sit this own out--literally?

If I had more sleep, I'd give her my chair, I thought, which even in the confines of my head sounded pretty awful.

Finally a woman on another bench did what I should have done: she gave the pregnant woman her seat and I kept my head down until the train reached my stop and crawled out of there feeling lower than a snake in a mine shaft.

For a guy trying to honor his mother's memory, I sure didn't do a good job that morning.

My office has since relocated to a building near City Hall, a relic dating back to 1911 that has more columns in the lobby than a Cecil B. DeMille movie set. If I see Victor Mature anywhere near the place I'm going to run like hell.

I have a shorter commute now and I take the R train in every day. I'm hoping I'll get to like my office better but judging by the crappy first week I had at the place, I'm not feeling too confident. Between the work and some of the people, well, I'll just say it wasn't a stellar beginning.

Mom, I know I didn't do the right thing that morning when I didn't get up and I promise you I'll do better.

I'm sorry I haven't come to see you in the cemetery for so long, but it hurts so much I'd rather replay my memories of you than stare down at a patch of earth and a stone.

I know you wanted us to be happy--that's all you ever wanted for us. And I'm trying my best, I really am, but it's been difficult. I feel like I'm being pulled in ten different directions and none of them is the right one.

But I'm going to keep trying for you because you are my best friend and always will be.

Happy birthday, Mom. I'd say that I wish you were here, but you already know that.

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