The other day there was a dinner table discussion as to the merits of the month of February. The Breadwinner had no use for it seeing as the shortest month is usually cold and snowy mixed with the occasional freezing rain. Shit weather for sure but one can't change the weather so the stoic would say why worry about it? Disaster and his new found love of snowboarding chimed in that he loved it which brought a smile to my face as i've enjoyed watching him delight in his new interest. Of course it was three years ago that i spent the bulk of February and the first part of March living at my father's apartment. Time and all it's arbitrariness has given me perspective, recently memories of that time have come wandering through my mind like so many stray cats, pausing momentarily before trotting off back into the recesses of that mysterious place called memory.
The month i spent in Cleveland was a simple and complicated month. There was the balancing act back in the Burgh where i would at one point be chastised for my time spent sorting through my father's place as he prepared to both move and die. That was the fact. He would die. It was always in the back of my mind and there were days spent at his new place discussing philosophy and politics and sports and any number of things. Just me and my old man shooting the shit and debating the shit show of humanity, sprinkled with bits of dark humor about the situation we had both found ourselves in, his of course being a bit more dire, though that's not really the word, maybe immediate, than mine. Pops was always my sounding board when it came to the tribulations of my slowly decaying relationship back home and while i navigated the mine field of the Breadwinner in the Burgh when i was back in Cleveland all was calm. I knew what i had to do and i set about doing it. Cleaning out my Dad's place, squaring things away, donating stuff, organizing papers, cleaning a bachelor's apartment. It was simple and pleasurable work. The drone of the television or the sound of my old tapes coming from an old stereo in the corner. The hiss and crackle of FM radio while i sat at the kitchen table sorting through papers.
There is a mental math, so to speak, that takes place in my head, thinking about the days and going back in my mind, the travel days of Monday and Friday, the days in between where i was strangely at peace with my task and the situation. The twice daily visits to see my Dad and hangout, sitting in his place, relaxed and jawing away, watching basketball games or movies with him. The periodic knock on the door when a nurse would look in or bring him dinner. The easy way he got on with the staff and how after he died, when i was back cleaning out his new place, a number of them stopped me and told me what a great guy he was, how he was mellow and easygoing and a pleasure to be around. The woman at the front desk joked how their fundraiser was going to take a hit as my Dad was in the habit of buying two candy bars every time he went out to grab a smoke, i laughed as my eyes welled and told her i had inherited his sweet tooth and then bought two candy bars.
The time spent driving around my old hometown, walking through the hallways of memory, remembering where old girlfriends lived, places i'd hung out, some still there and some long gone, the record stores i used to frequent, the venues where i went to shows. The change in the landscape a thin veneer of my youth which lay underneath, peaking out and easily exposed when i pulled back the curtain. I realize now i felt most at home in my Dad's place, much more so than the house i grew up in where my Mom lived. I'd stop by and see her and her husband but the house i grew up in felt like it was someone else's. My Dad's apartment was home, the place i'd come back to after the divorce and during the Wilderness Years. I was comfortable there, a mind and body at ease, as if for that month i had assumed my father's place in this world. I'd walk down the street to the same breakfast joint and eat then i'd roll back and get started on things. It was a simple and spartan way of living.
Three years on. I remember the head shop where i bought my Dad a one-hitter so he could for the first time in his life smoke pot. A one-hitter he never used. The conversation with the kid behind the counter, the parade of hip joints along Detroit and Madison Aves. Driving past Brookpark Road and seeing the neon of Clevelands' own mini red light district, filled with strip clubs and cheap hotels where if you turned the Do Not Disturb sign backwards you might meet a new friend. The powder and pilled wasteland of the Normandy Tavern, McGinty's Pub where i'd sit quietly and drink a Guinness while waiting for a pizza from the place a few doors down. But most of all i remember the conversations with my father. I needed to know if he was okay with what was coming and in his usual fashion he knew i was worried. He was okay. And as i've said before he told me not to worry about him because he'd be dead. His wry humor peaking through, to take care of those boyos and in general be a decent human being, to do the best i could.
The last time i saw my father alive was the morning of March 9th. 2018. Like most things i didn't know that would be the last time because the reality is we never know when the last time comes until it has gone. My dad liked movies and some of my fondest memories are watching films with him. I remember being 13 or 14 and him belly laughing in his recliner. I wandered in and he told me to sit down, that i was old enough to watch this movie now. It was Animal House. As a kid i was thrilled. After the divorce my Dad spent a lot of time going to movies. I think he needed to take his mind off shit and he wanted to get out of the house. I had come into town, i believe for Chrimbo and my Dad had asked if I'd seen Pulp Fiction. When i said no he turned and said really? You'll love this movie. He then opened up the newspaper and found a showing and we headed out the door. To this day it's still one of my favorites, partly because of the memory attached to it. The night before the last time i ever saw my Dad i went to his place. The Departed had just started and he was watching it, asked me if i'd seen it, i said i had. I had planned to do something that night but instead i sat and watched the rest of the movie with my father. At one point i joked, this is some pretty bleak shit to watch with a guy who has terminal cancer. He laughed and said, isn't it though. To this day it brings a smile to my face when i think about that night. My Dad and i just sitting, watching the film, a few comments here and there but both of us relaxed and happy to be in each other's company.
Ask me about February? It's one of my favorite times of year, the first week of March as well. One could say it is a cold and dark month in the Rust Belt. All i know is that it keeps me warm.
(And if you ever want to see a tall and grizzled man try to hold his shit together just play this song. It brings me a melancholic joy as to the fleetingness of it all and it never fails to make me think of my own Holy Trinity, the boyos and their grandfather.)