The COVID Set

Last Sunday, I performed magic for a live audience in a backyard.  It was my first live magic show of the COVID-19 era (not counting shows in which I was performing for an audience in my computer).  Truth be told, creating and executing that show was a journey with many bumps, forks, and side roads, but one that I’m sure I’ll take many more times in the next few months.

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The occasion was the 90th birthday of my mother, Sally.  She owns a two-story house in suburbia in which she lives with her Shih Tzu dog Phoebe.  Since the beginning of March, she has been isolating in that house.  We’ve all been quite strict about her isolation, because she is at very high risk of death if she contracts COVID.  She has diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and she can sleep through the night only with the aid of oxygen.

“If I get this thing,” she has said, “I die.”

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As Mom’s birthday approached, we struggled with ways to make her birthday special.  We had originally planned to travel somewhere—Europe, for example, or maybe just New York City.  Claire and I have been visiting her on a regular basis, but have not gone inside the house at all.  It seemed quite a shame that she would be isolated, unable to kiss or hug anyone, unable to be comforted, on such a momentous, albeit bittersweet occasion.  Ninety, of course, brings with it an expectation of passage.

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Gradually, an itinerary for the day formed in my head.  I decided we would bring her a meal at noon from her favorite restaurant.  We would Zoom with her relatives from 1 – 3 pm.  And then her new neighbors would come over and visit in the backyard in an appropriately distanced way.

The neighbor family consists of a couple, Codi and Jeff, plus their three children, aged 2, 3, and 10.  Codi has been doing all of Mom’s grocery shopping for no extra charge (Mom just pays for the groceries), and we have all been astounded at their generosity.  Her help has saved me an hour in driving time, and probably another hour or two on top of that, every week.  Their help has also helped my mother feel less alone, and reminded her that people care for her.  Given that Codi and Jeff’s family are such angels, I offered to do a magic show for them at 3 pm.

But I had to think long and hard about the show.  The first challenge was my performing space.  I couldn’t perform inside of the house, of course.  And in the backyard, the main section of the yard has no shade.  Since it promised to be a hot, sunny day, that was out of the question.  The only option, unfortunately, was on the side of the house, beneath a large pomegranate tree that hadn’t been trimmed lately.  But it was quite a poor option.  My audience couldn’t be in front of me.  I would have to face the house and some garbage cans, and the audience would have to take shelter beneath a patio overhang to the far right of my stage area.  My mother, of course, would have to sit at a safe distance from there.  The only option was a space far to the left.

The performing situation, then, was the famed Dancefloor of Death that we magicians dread.  That’s a situation that magicians often face in hotel ballrooms, in which the magician is instructed to perform on the dancefloor, with half the audience seated to his right, the other half seated to his left, and the DJ directly facing him.  It’s a horrible performing situation.  First of all, your angles are terrible.  Not only that, but you’re always turning right or left to talk to people, and in the process, ignoring the other half of the room.  If you’ve ever tried to perform in that situation, you know that it’s a recipe for a bad audience response.

I also realized that I would have to perform a no-touch show.  No onstage volunteers.  No handling of props.  No borrowing items from the audience.  That meant that all pick-a-card tricks were out.  My Tossed-Out Deck was also verboten.  As I thought about that, however, I realized that I could perform some card tricks; there were workarounds.  For example, if a trick required that a card be signed, I could actually ask the spectator to name a card, and then ask him or her for their name and for a number between 1 and 100.  That makes the card nearly as unique as a signed card.  Under those conditions, I placed Card to Pocket on my set list.

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There were many other tricks that I could not do.  No sponge balls, for sure.  Bill in Lemon was impossible, because I would have to borrow a $20 bill.  (I could have performed a Signed Card to Lemon, using the signature strategy mentioned above, or a Chosen Card to Lemon, but chose not to work out the new moves.)

Also, almost no mentalism was possible.  One of my methods involves asking for thoughts to be written down and secured in envelopes, and that was out.  I perform TOXIC with a spectator’s phone, and that was out.  No book tests could be performed, because the spectators would have to handle my books.  Technicolor Prediction was out because the spectators couldn’t handle my envelopes.  My coin bend would have to be modified because I couldn’t borrow someone’s quarter and they couldn’t sign it.  My Double Cross was out because I couldn’t touch a spectator’s hand.  My Kurotsuke wasn’t possible, either, because nobody could grab any object of mine.  I also couldn’t perform Psychokinetic Time unless I used my own watch, and that makes the effect much weaker.  The only mentalism trick that seemed to require no touch was the Invisible Deck.

Fortunately, over the past 15 years, I’ve developed a silent opening segment (to music) that warms up the audience and lets them get to know me.  It seemed tailor made for this situation.  It includes the following tricks:

  • Torch to Rose
  • Glass Production
  • Linking Rings
  • 50-foot streamer production from a rolled-up map
  • Extended Salt Pour
  • Billiard Balls
  • Fingertip flowers
  • Spring Flowers from a Cone of Construction Paper
  • BEKOS
  • Tom Frank’s Yes We Have No Bananas!

This silent segment generally takes about 15 minutes, so that was taken care of.  As I thought about these tricks, I was also thinking about my summer walkaround gig at the 5-star Terranea Resort, which may or may not happen.  I realized that there are a number of tricks of the silent or manipulative sort that I should quickly work up, if my summer walkaround gig is to be successful.  This includes no-touch classic tricks such as:

  • The Shell Game
  • A coin matrix
  • The Endless Chain
  • A walkaround Billiard Ball routine
  • A thimble routine
  • Three Fly
  • Dice Matrix
  • Coin Flurry

Some of these require a table, of course, and I don’t own one of those walkaround tables; I’ve always preferred to work in the hands or on the customer’s table.  I guess I’ll be buying one of those.

Back to my 90th birthday set, the silent magic segment was easy.  When I moved into the talking part of my show, however, I ran smack into limitations.  I could perform my rope routine, but I couldn’t invite up any spectators to hold or test the rope.  I could vanish silks, but I couldn’t invite up spectators to hold the silks.  I couldn’t perform my Impossible Rope Escape, because nobody could get close enough to me to tie me up.  I usually toss a fake egg into the audience to choose a volunteer, but that was out, too.

The rest of my set list, then, looked like this:

  • My version of The Coloring Book (which is custom made and doesn’t look anything like the original trick)
  • Flash $100 Bill Production (using flash paper)
  • Daryl’s Rope Routine
  • D’Lite routine
  • 51 Cards to Pocket
  • Die Box

Mentalism:

  • Invisible Deck
  • Dice divination

Fortunately, it was enough material to make a full show.  It looked like it would take about 45 minutes to perform, which is a perfectly respectable length of time.

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I got a good sleep the night before the show.  I was eager to pull off this show.  After all, I had really performed for people for weeks.  When I arrived at the house, however, I realized that my performing spot—underneath an old pomegranate tree—was difficult.  The branches hadn’t been trimmed in a couple weeks, and I would have to use gardening shears to give myself some headroom.  Even after doing that, however, I realized that anything involving fire was too dangerous because the branches were still too low.  Therefore, Torch to Rose and my Flash $100 Bill Production were both out.

Still, the rest of the show was quite doable, so I set up, and by 3:15, Codi and Jeff’s family had arrived.  They were mostly dressed in masks, but I wasn’t.  After all, how can you perform for people if they can’t see your face?  You can’t project, you can’t emote, and the audience doesn’t connect.  I didn’t remark upon my lack of a mask, but simply kept my distance.  I was never closer to them than 20 feet.

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I also worried about the 2- and 3-year-olds.  I envisioned them staggering towards me, as kids that age do, and endangering my health.  I imagined the show being disrupted.  I imagined me running from them in comic terror.

Despite my fears, the show generally went to plan.  I wouldn’t call it my best show.  I wouldn’t even call it an average show.  It was rather subpar because I was performing on The Dancefloor of Death.  On the other hand, I think the audience understood my limitations and cut me some slack.  I also suspect they were laughing and gasping underneath those masks, even though I couldn’t see them.  The 2- and 3-year-olds knew to keep their distance, too.

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And the angles certainly did mar the show.  Often, I had to make a choice between exposing a trick to Codi and Jeff’s family, or exposing it to my mother; I always chose my mother.  Billiard balls, after all, are quite angular.  The music was great, and my Audio Ape remote system worked flawlessly.  Mistakes crept into the show, and it always had to do with the performing situation.  I stepped on and destroyed my pair of performing sunglasses, which I wear only for the first trick.  I also dropped a couple of tricks from my set list on the fly, just because they didn’t feel right.  But certain tricks felt like naturals for this situation, including Invisible Deck, which is a perfect no-touch set piece.  BEKOS was perfect, as well.

After I had finished, though, it got weird.  Usually after a show, I mingle through the audience to let my new fans get to know me, passing out my business card and allowing them to float their own ideas about hiring me for their own events.  They all want a piece of me.  They ask me how I got into magic, how long I’ve been doing it, and then showering me with compliments about my virtuosity and their astonishing experience.  However, after this show, I was afraid to mingle with the audience, and they were afraid to mingle with me.  They drifted off in their masks.  It’s a sign of the times.

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This COVID tragedy has damaged magic badly, to be sure, but it hasn’t killed it.  There are still people who want to be amazed, to feel the wonder lift their hearts.  And one day, this flu shall pass.

It Tells You Something About People

Two days ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom recommended that all bars close in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Claire and I have been quite careful about exposing ourselves to other carriers.  I’ve been staying inside and working on my home computer.  Claire has been teaching her college classes over Zoom.  When we shop for groceries, we try to touch as little as possible.  We use our own bags rather than using a shopping cart.  When we get home, we wipe all our products down with rubbing alcohol.  We’re conscientious.

Tonight, we drove around town, just to see what was going on.  The St. Jude’s Hospital ER was staffed by people wearing high-tech face masks.  There were signs saying NO VISITORS.  The parking lot was fairly empty, so we figured they were just waiting for the crush of patients.

Driving home along Imperial Highway, we cruised by the dive bars in town.  As we passed Hedz ‘n’ Tales, we were surprised that their parking lot was completely packed, and further down, Duffy’s Bar was nearly so.

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Maybe it’s that alcoholics can’t stop themselves.  Or maybe it’s that they just don’t care.  Or maybe it’s that they’re in such a haze that they don’t know whether they’re at home or at the bar.

Either way, it tells you something about people.

The Injustice of Small-Claims Court

All I wanted was to see financial records.  California law guarantees condominium owners the right to see the homeowners’ association financial records within 30 days of asking for them.  It’s now been over two years, and I’ve seen only about 30% of the records I’ve requested.  If you’re looking for fraud and abuse, looking at only 30% of the records is ridiculous.  It won’t show you anything.

In 1985, the California legislature passed the Adams-Stirling Act.  It stated that condominium homeowners associations are corporations, and that each homeowner is a member of that corporation (California civil code 4950, 5205, 5210, 5235, et al.).  As members, we have the right to the vast majority of HOA financial records.  After all, it is our corporation.  It doesn’t belong to a board.  It doesn’t belong to a management company.  It belongs to us.

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Last January, we went to small-claims court to sue for those records.  The law clearly states that members can sue in small-claims court for those records, with a penalty of $500 per violation.  We appeared in the court of Judge Pro-Tempore Anthony Moreno Peters in West Covina.  I stood in court and began delivering my case, but when I had not gotten even halfway through my arguments, Judge Peters interrupted me.  He was running up against the lunch hour, he said, and wanted to take my typewritten notes and consider the case in private.

I should have said no.  I should have said that the law affords me the right to present my entire case.  But I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve never been in a courtroom.  I allowed Judge Peters to cut me off and not finish my argument.

IMG_2707 smA few weeks later, we received the judgement.  Judge Peters had ruled against us.  No reason was given.  Even though the law says that the HOA was required to give us the records, Judge Peters ruled that we were not entitled to those records.

I was told beforehand by a lawyer friend that California judges often don’t understand California condominium law.  That day, I received a firsthand lesson in that.  Now, a year later, that same HOA tells us that they have taken the $300,000 reserve account that they were given three years ago and whittled it down to only $2,000.  They are now talking about levying a $50,000 emergency assessment on each owner.  That’s what this judgement has allowed.

I Was in Love With Kathryn

I fell in love with her when I was 9.  Kathryn had moved to our school from another area, and she sparkled like no girl I had ever seen.  She was an Italian girl with brown hair and eyes and darker eyebrows than any of us had.  There was a life within her that was so terribly exciting, and yet at the same time, approachable.  She was pretty, but surprisingly, she would talk to us uncool guys.  It seemed so unlikely.

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I was in love with Kathryn when we passed into adolescence and we all became sexual beings.  She was one of those teenagers with an irresistible face, always animated, always interested.  Everything else from childhood remained, too.  She became a cheerleader, a school celebrity, but also, a searcher, asking questions about life, relationships, and indefinable concepts such as existence in such earnest tones.  I, on the other hand, was lacking in social skills, overintellectual, and lonely, unable to make contact with others.  I felt superior but at the same time inferior.  We were circles that were contiguous in only a small area.  Still, it was an essential area.  We were born-again Christians not because we believed in absolutes, but because we wanted to talk about our inner lives.  After we discovered other ways to do that, we shed the Christian skin like a Garden snake.

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I was in love with Kathryn in our late twenties, when she was made an office manager of some nameless small company in Orange County, California.  I once visited her at work, and to my surprise, she was wearing eyeglasses.

“I don’t need them,” she whispered to me.  “I just wear them because they give me more authority.”

Later, I visited Kathryn at her apartment on Newport Peninsula.  Kathryn later said that I rejected her there, although I don’t remember that.  I can’t imagine ever rejecting having a relationship with the beauty of body and soul that she was.  I think she just made that up.  She seemed to have a thing about sex, like it was a bother she didn’t want in her life, like there was some childhood abuse that twisted her in that direction.

I was in love with Kathryn when she came down with Crohn’s Disease and endured years of unending abdominal pain.  She blew up in size and started hiding from her friends.  She moved back home with her parents, her loving father and her hateful mother.  She worked for some other nameless company that she hated and kept working there because she needed the health insurance.  She tried to cure her disease through traditional medicine and then acupuncture and then other alternative modalities, and in the end, declared that it was only when she cut the Chinese-made margarine out of her diet that the Crohn’s magically disappeared.  It was ten years of pain, though, and it took a toll.

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I was in love with Kathryn when we sat outside of a grocery store in her early forties and we chatted about where life had led us.  Her beloved father had died by then and she was stuck with her mother, who Kathryn said was the worst, although I didn’t see it.  Her brother was horrible, too, and his kids, as well, in some unnamed way.  We were sitting on that bench looking back over our lives, two children who had become adults bundled up in jackets in the night.  I pulled her close and tried to kiss her, but she had that same aloofness.

I was in love with Kathryn when she came down with lung cancer in her fifties, even though she had never smoked.  It was one disease after another.  They cut out half a lung and I still loved her.  She had been sick so long at that point that I think it changed her.  Being sick had besieged her, like a Medieval military force camped outside city walls, and the army inside deteriorated and started going bonkers.  She developed strange ideas.  She began talking about the Bilderburg conspiracy and the Trilateral Commission.  I tried to argue with her, maintaining that real conspiracies are hard to pull off, with so many individuals in this world pushing in so many different directions, but the same excitement she’d had for all those years about life had now been applied to pushing her new conspiracy theories.  Her voice crackled with the idea that we Americans have no control over our lives because there are wheels within wheels operating on a level so high and so labyrinthine that we could never fully grasp it.  It was hopeless, she said.

I was in love with Kathryn when she started talking about how much sense Trump made, and how he treated women so well in his companies.  I was shocked.  I tried to talk sense to her, but she had her mind made up.  She knew that the invading Hispanics and the entitled blacks were the source of all our problems.

“You know, I’m half Mexican,” I said.

“Oh, please don’t identify with that side,” she said.  “You’re so much more than that.”

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I was in love with Kathryn when they cut out the rest of that lung.  She invited me to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to a cancer fundraiser and I turned her down because her rants left a bad taste in my mouth.  I was in love with her on that dark day in November, 2016, when Trump was thrust into our nation’s anus like a gerbil.  I was in love with her through every degradation of the Orange Loser, from Stormy Daniels to Charlottesville to Roger Stone and all that, and every time I thought of her, I’d think of his disgusting suntan and belly and all of his treasonous Republican colleagues, and I’d turn away in disgust.

And I was in love with Kathryn when I heard that she died.  It was after some surgery or other, I didn’t catch the details.  Her medical condition had been looking up, apparently, and then suddenly, she was dead.  There was a memorial at St. Bruno’s Catholic Church, but I couldn’t force myself to find the time.  The day came and went.  Perhaps I didn’t love her anymore.  Perhaps I was being small and petty.  Perhaps I was feeling besieged myself.  My high school friend Richard attended the memorial.  He said that hardly anybody was there to pay homage to the girl who was so vivacious and promising at age nine, a wonder, a star, a beauty.

Everyone Was Named Linda

Sometimes, as a magician, you have shows you know you will always remember.

It was for a a social group of 20 couples who meet four times a year to socialize. They formed the group in 1944, and have been meeting out there in Upland ever since, cycling in members when other members die or drop out.  By their bylaws, only 20 couples can belong at any one time.

The dinner was held in the wine cellar of the Magic Lamp, a quite fancy white-tablecloth restaurant in Upland that was founded in 1955. I took a girl there for Valentine’s Day in 1991. She was a Ph.D. candidate in microbiology at USC, and she hated magic, because she felt that it made her look stupid.  She was always alternating between feeling like a genius and feeling like a dunce.  It lasted only three months, and only that long because she lived just a half-block from the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

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I arrived at the Magic Lamp show at 3 pm, three hours before showtime, because I like to have everything set up perfectly. Like parachutists, I like to check my equipment. Three hours gave me enough time to set everything up at a leisurely pace. The restaurant was closed, but they let me in and I loaded everything in, about six trips of stuff. Then I started setting up everything–the table, the set list, the tricks, the placement of the props, the sound system, checking the cue list, tweaking the volume, the settings, everything.

I met a waiter named Thomas, and he asked me about the group.

82865935_10158012513538658_349892530130649088_n“They’re a social group,” I said.

“Swingers?” Thomas said, hopefully.

“I don’t…think so….”

“I don’t mean that it’s a bad thing,” Thomas said.

Much later, Thomas told me that he had actually made it to Triple-A baseball, which is pretty high up. He said that it was extremely easy to get laid in that environment. As a result, unfortunately, he now has three children from three different mothers.  He never made it to The Bigs, and now, he works as a waiter.  I didn’t ask about child-support payments.

83035450_10158012513633658_6259629218594816000_nI also met the bartender, Rita.  She was a luminous blonde 30-year-old from Vegas. Her hair fell onto her shoulders in a glorious way, and her smile lit up the room.

“I have to get out of here early,” Rita said. “Yesterday, a friend of mine died, and some of us are getting together to celebrate his life.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

“He was my sober buddy,” Rita said. “We used to go to the gym together and stay sober together. But I wasn’t with him last night, and he overdosed on prescription painkillers.”

She said she didn’t feel addicted to painkillers, but that it was so easy to get.

“Do you still feel an addiction to anything?” I said.

“Just alcohol.”

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I looked around her at the bar. There was so much alcohol available to her all the time.

The people starting arriving at 6 pm, and I performed a little walkaround magic during the cocktail hour.  Then they sat down to eat, and after dinner, around 8 pm, I started the stage show with two magic tricks–a glass production and linking rings–and then launched into a mentalism set. Everything went quite smoothly, and at one point, I asked two spectators their names. They were both named Linda. At that point, you deadpan to the audience.

“Is everybody named Linda?!” I yelled.

I asked a man his name.

“Linda,” he said.

Everybody howled.

83026423_10158012513673658_773951779594305536_nI read people’s minds, divined choices, bent coins, and performed mathematical miracles.  I finished the show with a rousing street performance of a lemon trick that I used to perform on the Third Street Promenade 20 years ago.  I clocked in at about 40 minutes, but could have gone 1:15, if the audience had consumed enough caffeine.

Afterwards, I schmoozed with the audience for about 90 minutes, passing out my card and doing more tricks to small groups. It was an older crowd, and a couple of people were 90 or older. One guy said he had owned a lumber company before he retired.  I made a particular impact on a surgeon from Loma Linda, so I did my best stuff for her.  My time-travel trick really pissed her off.

“Your ex-girlfriend isn’t stalking you through time,” she said.  “What do you think I am, stupid?”

“Then how did I do it?”

“I DON’T KNOW!!!”

One couple came up to me and mentioned that their son Duane had been a magician. Ten years ago, he passed away. I didn’t recognize the name. But when they mentioned his best friend, it clicked.

83736390_10158014864333658_4452905728943849472_n“I see him all the time at the Magic Castle,” I said. “Great guy.”

They said that Duane had known Matt since high school. They’d been on the swim team together and the juniors at the Castle together, and that they loved magic. Peter had become a wrestler, too, quite muscular. I sat with them for a while, remembering Duane.  I didn’t dare ask how he died, because they were having such a lovely, although sad, time. The sadness was written across their faces. They had been sad, it seemed to me, for the last ten years.

By the time all the guests had left around 9:45, the bartender Rita had left. Gone to celebrate the life of her sober friend, hopefully without alcohol. I arrived home around 10:45, and my girlfriend asked me how the show went.

“Fine,” I said, and didn’t elaborate.

A review of “The Tender Bar”

This book has become one of those memoirs that everybody recommends you read, like The Liars Club. It certainly has things in common with Mary Karr’s classic. Kid grows up in a nowhere family shadowed by liquor. Kid grows up to be a writer. This memoir, however, has a lot more dialogue in it, in fact, it’s driven by dialogue, which certainly makes it more readable and vivid than Karr’s dense and even poetic account.

The Tender Bar is really about nothing else except growing up, which is fine. There’s no central event, like a murder or the discovery of a secret family. It’s just about a son of a single mother growing up. Moehringer’s family makes for an eclectic cast of characters. His mother has all the best intentions but no money because of a deadbeat Dad. His uncle was born with no hair or even eyebrows and is a bookie at the local bar, and ushers him into the world of liquor and alcoholics. His grandfather is a man who lives in a decrepit old house and does everything he can to alienate everyone around him.

What makes this book special is that everything is vivid. The prose is pretty good, although not always. Sometimes his sentences read like a first draft that should have been gone over a few times.  But obviously, he knows something about writing, having won a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing.  At one point, Moehringer writes that “words even helped me organize my parents. My mother was the printed word–tangible, present, real–while my father was the spoken word–invisible, ephemeral, instantly part of memory.” And it is the passages about his father and his longing thereof that form the core of this book.

“My father was an improbable combination of magnetic and repellent qualities. Charismatic, mercurial, sophisticated, suicidal, hilarious, short-tempered–and dangerous from the start. He got into a fistfight at their wedding. Drunk, my father shoved my mother, and when his best man objected to such treatment of the bride, my father decked him. Several guests jumped my father, trying to restrain him, and when the cops arrived they found my father running up and down the sidewalk, assaulting passersby.”

His description of Grandpa was equally illuminating: “Grandpa had a photographic memory, an astounding vocabulary, a firm command of Greek and Latin, but his family wasn’t able to enjoy his intellectual gifts because he never engaged us in actual conversations. He kept us at bay with a ceaseless patter of TV jingles, advertising slogans and non sequiturs. We’d tell him about our day and he’d shout, ‘It’s a free country!’ We’d ask him to pass the beans and he’d say, ‘Tastes good like a cigarette should….’ His private language was a fence he put around himself….”  God, do I know about that particular type of fence.

Fortunately, there is a way out for this narrator. He does so well in school that he is admitted to Yale, and that’s wherefrom hope springs. He doesn’t feel adequate to the task, and neither does his family’s bank account, but he dukes it out.  It made me think about my own struggles at UCLA, where I lamented my inability to read quickly, and marveled at those Wunderkinden who could apprend immediately, as if they were spongi.

I believe that it’s best to begin reviewing a book when you’re about two-thirds into it, and that’s what I’ve done with this review.  I will update it as I finish the book.

 

The Politics of Touching

Joe Biden has been going through a lot of scrutiny lately over his touching of strangers.  It’s the beginning of a campaign, and that is the natural time for such issues to come up.  Some people are quite insistent that Biden has been inappropriate, while others are defending him.

As a teenager, I never hugged people in greeting. I felt that I had a wall around me.  I was lonely and awkward socially.  I didn’t know any way out of this conundrum, because my upbringing hadn’t given me any.

David Groves age 8

Then in college, I met people who hugged. When they saw you, they hugged you. When they said goodbye, they hugged you. It was how things were done in their world. Or maybe it was a moment in history when that changed, the 1970s, when men started wearing colors and gays started coming out of the closet.  Or maybe it was the circles that I suddenly entered, the big city that I had moved to, the sophisticated people, the bohemians and artists, I don’t know. At any rate, I started being more touchy.

David Groves with Afro ca 1979

I have never been as touchy as Joe Biden. I have admired how loving he is, how confident, how giving, but I have never been able to pull it off.  It’s a cultural thing, too, like Latin cultures that are more touchy (Italy, Spain, Greece), and look down on Anglo cultures that aren’t as touchy. There is a tradition that glorifies that kind of touching.

In fact, my mother tells me a story about that.  She comes from Mexican culture and my father comes from a German/English tradition–i.e., a white guy married a Mexican girl.  And when I was born, my mother hugged and held me all the time.  My father objected.

“You’re going to smother him,” he said.  “Why are you touching him all the time?”

“Because I love him.”

It was a point of conflict with him, and they never resolved it.  Twenty years later, when I was in college, I came back from school being more touchy, and started hugging him hello and goodbye.  My father was shocked, although he never said anything to me about it.  But in private, my mother tells us, he did talk about it.

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My father sitting in his favorite chair, smoking

“When he hugs me,” my father asked my mother, “what am I supposed to do?”

“Hug him back!” my mother said.

There are subcultures that grow out of trauma, such as molestation victims, who freak out when you hug them. And then there are people who seem physiologically averse to touching for whatever brain-chemistry reason. And there are religious subcultures who avoid touching because it might be sexual (cf. Mike Pence, who doesn’t even like to be alone with any woman not his wife, or Muslim subcultures).

I am more aware of personal boundaries than most, probably because my parents taught me to be aware of that. When I was dating, I had problems with the moment when you kiss someone for the first time, for example, because it was an uninvited moment. You had to read the other person, and you could always read wrong.

What I’m saying is that this is not simple.  And before you condemn Joe Biden, ask yourself where you think it comes from: a good place, or a bad place.  That’s the key.

Air in the Deck

[This is chapter 10 in an ongoing work of fiction.  To read chapter 9, see here.  To read chapter 1, see here.]

Evan was stabbing a man, but then it turned out to be a goat, and then he wasn’t stabbing it, he was fucking it, and then Father Iturbide was intoning, “Do you take this beast to be your lawfully wedded husband?” because the goat was pregnant now and he was a girl and gossipy old bitches were hissing, “It’s an abomination!” and then he realized that the priest’s words meant he was a girl now, and then he was a snake eating its own tail and it tasted like chicken.

Evan opened his eyes to tubes biting into his veins like leeches and John hovering above him with Apocalypse on his face and he didn’t know whether he was awake or in a nightmare, because John’s was the wrinkled and unhappy face of all his worst imaginings, plus he didn’t want to hear what John might say, he just wanted to know where his own Springfield EMP was, and then he got the idea of running out to the car, wherever it was, and getting it from his trunk, but he didn’t get further than lifting his upper body before a level 10 muscle spasm laid him out like a slaughtered cow so he closed his eyes and let The Raft take him down the River of Chartreuse Pharmaceutical Dreams once again, with arrows shooting at him from the shore, where indigenous warriors jeered at him: Ai, coward!  Aiee, coward!

Jeff Petrell distressed 1a

Days passed.  Leeches were attached and detached.  A shady doctor with platinum-blonde hair and putrid cologne showed up and evaluated Evan’s chart.

“When you fell onto the driveway, you sustained a concussion,” the doctor said.

Then he primped his hair and left.

Machines pumped, breathed, hiccupped, essayed.  Finally, Evan opened his eyes.  Kara, standing next to Evan’s hospital bed, gasped.  He worked to focus on her face.  She began to silently weep.  It had been three days.

Evan turned his head and closed his eyes.  Something within him shrugged and shrank, and he suspected it might be his reason for living.  That reason had always driven him, but it was all tangled up now, like the roots of something, he didn’t know what.  His parents had once been his roots, but the idea of parentage had now been ground into mulch.  His purity had once been a part of his roots, too, but that was mulch, as well.  He wasn’t much in pain, but he also couldn’t move much, either, and soon realized it was the numbing power of the drugs.

“Where am I?” Evan asked.

“In the house,” Kara finally said.

“What house?”

“John’s house.”

“You mean…the gambling house?”

“Yes.”

“Doesn’t look like it.”

“It’s the basement.”

“Where’s John?”

“Upstairs sleeping.  It’s like three in the morning, honey.”

Kara helped him sit up.  It was an arduous task, slow and painful, but when it was all accomplished, he had a view of his living quarters.  There were no windows.  Across the room was a stairway that led upstairs.  There were paintings stacked against the walls and bronze statuettes scattered about.  He could see a couple of them from his bed.  They looked pretty damn good.  One rang a bell, although he couldn’t remember the name of the painter.

“Did they look in my car?” Evan asked.

“Your car?  No, why?  Do you want me to get something from it?”

“No, no, no.”

“It’s still out there in the driveway, parked sideways.”

“East to west.”

“What?”

Evan closed his eyes to summon the energy to express a more complex thought.  It was like moving iron furniture.

“I parked east to west, not sideways.”

“Why did you park it that way?”

Girl 3a

He tried, but moving this particular iron sofa was too much for him.

“For luck,” he finally said.

Two days later, Evan woke up to John’s red face peering down at him.

“Who the fuck was it?”

Evan’s mind was running on a single rat on a single treadmill.  He felt transparent, as if John’s eyes were looking into his soul trapped in a mayonnaise jar and seeing his intentions and everything ugly about him.  Evan’s hands began to tremble.  His voice was weak.

“What do you mean?”

“Who the fuck got to you?  Was it Zinszer?”

“What?”

“Who beat you up?”

It was an amazing moment in which things turned, like the moment when a spectator sitting across from you realizes that you’ve changed a two into an ace and the whole dynamic has changed, the whole sky is now purple and the highway orange, and many forks in the road are now opening up to you.  Evan had expected that John would know exactly what Evan had been planning.  But now, it became clear that John had misunderstood.

“I—I’m not sure who it was.  It was dark.”

“Man, this ain’t how it’s done,” John said.

“You lose or you lose, that’s it,” Pancho said.

“So tell me the story.  What did he look like?”

So Evan came up with a story, as best he could at a moment’s notice, about who jumped him.  Who beat on his midsection and broke his ribs.  Who muttered, “You took our money, asshole, and now you’re going to pay.”  It sounded corny, but it was the best he had.  When he ran out of lies to tell and began to stammer, he played it like pain.

John looked at Pancho.

“Last time I saw Zinszer, he was looking a little piquéd, don’t you think?” John said, a knowing look on his face.

“Oh yes, piquéd indeed,” Pancho said.

The silence that ensued was unnerving.

“What do you mean?” Evan finally said.

John looked down at him.

“Piquéd is a condition that is immediately fatal,” John said simply.

Sometimes, Evan woke up and nobody was around but the leeches.  Other times, there was a large black nurse named Jolie who fed him.  She was a woman who seemed divorced from her face.  At other times, Kara was in the room.  But there was always one thing on his mind, and it wasn’t sex, it was the other thing.

So one day or night, Evan didn’t know which, he decided that he would find his father and do what he had to do.  He didn’t have his gun, so he would use whatever he found, his hands if he had to.  He struggled to roll over on the bed, the pain baiting him like some schoolyard bully, and then struggled even more mightily to sit up, as if he were rolling a boulder up a hill, and then he was panting hard and it seemed impossible that he would be able to stand, but he punched through the pain with iron fists and finally he was peering across the room to the foot of the stairs, that was his goal, just the foot of the stairs, and he started putting one foot in front of the other and packing the pain away into a backpack, he was walking slowly and painfully on sore feet and achy ankles and pulsating temples and screaming ribs and trying to forget that he was carrying that fucking backpack of pain.

“Oh, Mr. Evan.”

Jolie stood behind him with her fists on her massive hips.  Then she walked over, gently turned him around, and walked Evan back to the bed.

Two days later, Evan tried it again, but Jolie had some kind of sixth sense.  After that, she slapped padded restraints on his wrists and ankles.

“You are such a bad boy,” Jolie said, a shade of disgust in her voice but her face impassive.

Evan had been at the Magic Castle the night they discovered Daryl’s body.  Police cars rolled up en masse, maybe a dozen or more.  They didn’t know if it was a murder or what, so they locked it down, nobody in or out, 490 people in suits and evening gowns locked in this big old Victorian nightclub, most of the shows cancelled, people with $16 drinks in their hands saying, “What the fuck is going on?”  That’s what the padded restraints were like.

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Kara brought a copy of The Hobbit and started reading aloud.  Evan didn’t follow the plot, but liked the sound of her voice.  She always had a lovely voice.  When she reached the end of a section, they would sometimes talk.  About what kind of day it was outside, how searingly hot, which convention was in town, what her band was doing without her now.  Somebody had come up to Kara in a grocery store and mistaken Kara for Kendra.

“Happens sometimes,” Kara said.  “They’re strangers to you, but they talk to you like they know you.  I just listen.  I’ve always liked the idea of passing.  It’s kind of the thrill of a magic trick.  You know?”

“Yeah.”

“Like, the first time you pulled off a magic trick, did it give you a thrill?”

“Yeah, made me misty eyed.”

“It’s a beautiful thing.”

“It is.”

“Like the first time we pulled off a deck switch.”

“I remember.”

“That night, I cried.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world.”

“Did you know that birds deceive other birds?”

“Really.”

“Deception is shot through nature.”

Later that afternoon, the conversation veered to childhood.

“I was a quiet child,” Evan said.

“I can see that.”

“I couldn’t engage in smalltalk.”

“I hate to tell you, baby, but that’s still a problem.”

“All right.  Anyway.  At some point, I realized that I would need some attitude to get things in life.  So I started doing these tricks that I read in books, and the tricks had attitude.  So I slipped into those tricks like a jacket.  It was my first attempt at getting a personality.  Then things happened to me and I put on those jackets, too.  And people hurt me, and I put on those jackets.  And gradually, all those jackets became, like, a skin.”

“That’s weird.”

“What?”

“Well, I never put on any jackets.  I’m just me.  Can’t be anything else.”

Evan didn’t say it, but it seemed that from what she said, she had always grasped things, but never the ideas behind things.  He had sensed it, of course, but now it all fell into place.  It made him sad.

Sometimes while Kara was reading, Evan fell asleep.  When Kara saw his eyes close and sleep kick in, she would stop reading and set down the book.  She would smile sometimes, her eyes drifting to the Tramadol on the bedside table.  She had tried that once, and it had been a smooth ride, sleighing through the powder with no bumps, no possibility of wiping out.  Once, she picked up the bottle and shook it.  There were a whole lot of rides in there.  A whole lot of problems solved.

“Jesus help me,” she muttered softly, her eyes closed.

“I have something to confess,” Kara said.

“Okay.”

“Like in a Catholic church.”

“Right.”

“Like a priest listening to what you did.”

“Uh huh.”

But then she didn’t say anything, she just sat staring into space as if something out there was the source of everything bad in the world.  Her face looked puffed up with emotion and red and ready to burst.

“What?” Evan asked.

But her face didn’t burst, it subsided.

“No,” she finally said.

Kara was thinking about the priest she had fucked, and then the blow they had done afterwards.  And the three other times she had gone back.  But fuck it, she thought, I don’t want to spill all my secrets.  It’ll take away all my mystery.  I’m a magician now.

Evan remembered his phone.  He fished it out of  his jacket pocket and went to the web browser.  It had only 3% battery left.  He googled “stolen art,” and there it was on the Houston Chronicle site.  Five months earlier, 11 paintings and 12 sculptures had been stolen from a Houston museum.  A few of them were Rodins, a few others, Rothkos.  They still hadn’t found the thieves.  Then his phone died.

It was an endless cycle, day and night, and then day again and then night again.  But then Evan realized.  It had always been.

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The strip-out false shuffle was a move of unsurpassed beauty, like Beyoncé.  It looked like you were shuffling, but you were really just setting up the deck for cheating.  You knew the location of every single card in the deck.  It was a door opening onto immense possibility.  It made everything that followed it more stunning.

Back when Evan was working on it, though, there had been one last little bit that had

eluded  him.  In doing the move, you have to remember three things.  First, make it look like you’re shuffling fairly.  Second, make the moves look like they’re not even moves.  And third, don’t hesitate, never hesitate.  Relax, be chill, don’t ever pause.  If they see you think, you’re dead.  So he practiced it over and over again, but he ran into trouble on that last little bit.  He had trouble bringing it up to 100%.  So he had asked his mentor, Bodine, the dude with all the moves and every minute slice thereof.

“Why can’t I get it up to 100%?”

Bodine had sat back in his chair in his sunny dining room and sighed.

“You got to get some air into the deck,” Bodine had said.  “Squeeze the deck back, squeeze forward, and that puts some air back into the deck.  Then the cards will strip out like hovercraft.”

Air, that was the thing.  It made the cards slicker, the strip-out reliable.  And that’s what he was trying to do now with John.  Get some air back into the deck.  Sometimes, all the answers to all the questions in the world were contained within a single deck of cards.

Evan thought about John sleeping upstairs.  He thought about climbing the stairs.  Peering into the dark bedroom.  The sound John would make while sleeping.  He thought about standing over John’s body.  He thought about waking him up with a whack to the face.  Maybe he would use the Rodin ballerina.  Maybe it would break his cheekbone.

“I’m your son,” Evan would say.

Evan would have to wait for the look on his face, that was everything.  John would be  holding his bloody face, and then, through the pain, Evan would see the look on his face.

“I’m your what?!”

That look would be payback.  Then, the sound of the gunshot echoing through the bedroom would give him such deep and intense pleasure.

In his hospital bed, Evan turned his head towards Kara.  He suddenly realized what the ancients had meant when they wrote that “the scales fell from his eyes.”  Everything was different now that he had a plan.  He could see clearly.  All that was false was suddenly laid bare.  Jolie and her bogus quietude.  She hated Evan.  All the food they brought him.  Food was bullshit.  All the cash he had pulled in.  Just green stuffing.  Pancho and his silence.  Aka rage.  Sebastian and his bad jokes.  A middle finger to the world.

Only one thing seemed true.  Kara had laid her heart out on a slab for him.

She was staying with him day and night.  She was the only faithful thing in his life.  He could see the vast faithfulness in her eyes.  They were puppydog eyes, trusting everything.  It might also be hurt, and a bad childhood, and being buffeted by the winds of her lack of discipline, but what he was entirely sure of was her fidelity.  So he looked her straight in the eyes like he had never looked at her before, unafraid, all there.

“Honey, I’m going to kill John,” he said flatly.

Kara blinked.  She stared at Evan for a long moment.

“Don’t joke about that,” she finally said.

“I’m not joking.”

“You better be joking.”

“I’m not.”

“Honey, it’s the drugs talking.”

“It’s not the drugs.  I have a gun in the car.”

“That’s ridiculous.  I’m not listening.  I’m going.”

Kara walked out the door and up the back stairway and she was gone.  It was another half-hour before he realized that all the pills were gone, too.

Evan was dead.  Surely Kara would tell John.  He was so stupid, so fucking stupid.  Or, at best, she would never return.  Leave him to rot in his padded-restraint prison, to kill his father himself, an act that was nothing less than a gravestone.  He tried to lift himself up, but his muscle spasm laid him out again.  He was like a rabid dog on a chain.

This must be how Dai Vernon felt when he had that famous accident, Evan thought.  Vernon had been a successful closeup magician in New York City in the Roaring Twenties, and in 1926, had become known as The Man Who Fooled Houdini.  He was a brilliant thinker, perhaps the best of all time.  But by 1932, work had become scarce for everyone and he took a construction job.  He was working high up on scaffolding.  He was carrying a heavy pail in each hand across a wooden plank when it cracked and broke, and he began hurtling through the air.  On the way down, he hit other planks with his arms and hands, the nexus of his art, the focus of all his musculoskeletal accomplishment, destroying all that his life had been about, plunging six floors down and into the icy East River.  When he woke up, he was in the hospital and the doctor was telling him that they wanted to amputate his arms.

That’s how Evan always felt lately, hurtling through the air and hitting things on the way down.

Three hours later, just when the lack of painkillers was starting to whip Evan’s ass, Kara returned.  She stared down at him, her eyes suspicious, as if seeing him for the first time.  She didn’t even say anything, just stood there.

“Why?” she asked.

“You know why.”

“I want to hear you say it.”

“It’s what I’ve been silent about for weeks now,” Evan said.  “It’s what came between us.”

“And?”

“Because….”

And then Evan was stuck in his lies again.

“Because he’s a bad man,” he said.  “He’s everything that’s wrong with the world.”

Kara looked at him sideways.

“Or is it because your uncle is your father.”

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Evan looked away, and there was a silence that lasted for about 99 hours.  Kara just staring at him.  Finally, she reached into her purse and took out a knife.  It was one of those big, long knives that you buy at Bed & Bath and that you chop bell peppers with.  The moment foreshortened for Evan, like the way time slows down when you’re in a car crash, the way that each moment breaks down into little eternities that can be examined minutely, like an insect pinned under a microscope, and he realized that this was how he was going to die, restrained to a hospital bed and not really having much hope left, anyway, in fact, part of himself welcoming blackness with open arms, like all of this suffering would finally be over.

“There was something I didn’t say to you earlier,” Kara said.

“What?”

“That sometimes, I want to die.”

Evan opened his eyes and their eyes locked.  They were twins, if just for a moment.

“I love you too much,” she said in a thin voice that was from somewhere far, far away.

Kara moved towards him and he flinched, closing his eyes again.  But when he opened his eyes, his restraints had been cut off and she was holding out Swann’s pistol.

“Let’s do it tonight,” Kara said.

[This is an ongoing work of fiction.]

On Reaching My Dad’s Age

When I woke up that morning before 7, there was already a message on my phone machine.  I had unplugged it because, as I liked to say jokingly, “No emergency is so dire that it can’t wait until I’ve had eight hours of sleep.”  It seemed like the most reasonable philosophy.

Donald Groves Positive Thinking

My father Donald Groves in his twenties

“Your father has been admitted to the hospital,” my mother’s message said.

I hadn’t counted on that kind of emergency.  I cancelled everything on my schedule and drove across town to the Kaiser Hospital in Bellflower.  While I drove, I focused on what would be best for my father: a cheerful, optimistic attitude.  Whatever the prognosis, it was best to present a face that said, “This is nothing.  You will get better,” but without coming right out and saying that.  I was wearing my black long-sleeved shirt in which I felt like a real man, a Clint Eastwood man, even, a guy who could roll up his sleeves and show everyone his muscled forearms.  I was 33, after all.  I was a man.

And when I stepped up to his bed in ICU, with my mother standing next to him, holding his hand, I tried.  But the moment I saw him, it hit me out of left field, from somewhere deep in childhood, perhaps, or deep in my child’s heart, or maybe deep in my forest of fears, I don’t know, from somewhere it hit me, and on a dime, my face turned from a smiling shield to a crying mess.

“I’m sorry, Dad, I’m sorry….” I said.

My father had spent the past 20 years getting more bitter and more distant from us, and as a result, I had become increasingly unable to speak to him.  But still, when it came down to it, I loved him from a place deep down.  In sickness, he became a bit more real to me.  He was vulnerable.  In fact, being in a hospital gown with tubes down your throat is about the very definition of vulnerable, with doctors pronouncing your fate and depending on straight-faced nurses for nearly every biological function.  I remember the look on his face, like, What’s going to happen to me?

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My father in his fifties, when he was increasingly sick with lung disease.

I had given him that cold.  A couple weeks before, I had visited him, my nose running and feeling lethargic, and predictably, he came down with it, too.  But there was a difference between us: I wasn’t hiding advanced lung disease from everyone around me.  That cold, combined with his silent killer, felled my father in March, 1989.  All that anyone could say was that he was gone too young, that he had a lot of living left to do.

He died the month he made the last mortgage payment on his house.

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In the years since, my father has become a memory more than a person.  I wonder if he really was the person I remembered, or whether my memory had distorted it.  Or perhaps the person I was at the time had distorted it.  As an adult, I had become increasingly unable to connect with him, because being positive and hopeful wasn’t something we had together.  He had become someone who expected the worst, thought everything was stacked against you.

My father’s politics were pessimistic, too.  Politicians were all corrupt, so just don’t give them any money to steal.  Starve government.  Cut taxes to the bone.  Rapid transit is a scam.  He bought all that self-serving Republican crap.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about when they say we’re overpopulated,” he said.  “When I fly to jobs, most of the time I look down and it’s just empty land.”

As I lived my life, I chose a different path.  I followed that positivity thread as far as it could take me.  In fact, it became what I had instead of religion.  As a freelance journalist, I believed in a better world.  I believed in progress.  Later, when I became a professional magician, I ignored hecklers, never struck back at them.  Always, I try to surround myself with only good people, so that I can feel comfortable giving, knowing that I will always get things back from them.

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But as the years marched on and I got further and further from my father’s death, I began to wonder one thing.  Will I outlive my father?  In some weird way, it seemed like I might die on the day that I turned the age he was when he died.  It wasn’t a rational thought, to be sure–it was wacky, even–but it was a thought that occurred to me, nonetheless.  Die on the day.  We are each allotted a certain number of years, and it just seems fair that you shouldn’t–be allotted more years than your father.

As that day approached, my mother grew increasingly depressed.  Of course, her depression has been her constant companion in the years since he died.  Every March 9, she was depressed, because that was the day that he died.  We had to be with her on that day.  Then we realized that she became depressed in the month before March 9, and we increased our time with her during all of February, too.  Then we realized that she became depressed in the months approaching Christmas, so we increased our time with her during that time, too.

Basically, we just paid more attention to Mom.  I was visiting her once a week and called her every other day.  Then I increased it to every day.  Then to twice a day.

“I’m just checking in, Mom,” I would say on the phone.  “How are you?”

But How are you isn’t really sufficient, because she would always say Fine.  You had to dig.  You had to spend time with her.  Sometimes, after four hours in her house, she would break down and start crying.

“I just miss your father,” she would say.  “I miss him every day.”

I missed him, too, but in a different way.  I wondered what he would have said to me.  I wanted to hear about his Korean War service, because he had never talked about that.  I wanted to hear about what he saw, the friends he’d lost, the gooks he’d killed, and how badly he felt about that.  I wondered about his mentally ill mother, because he had never talked about her, either.  Plus, I just wanted to sit with him.  Watch bowl games with him.  Watch him play with his dog.  Go to a coffee shop and have eggs and bacon and hash browns with him.  An oily, unhealthy breakfast with lots of ketchup.  He really liked that.

In 2012, I began calculating the months and days until I turned his age when he died.  His death day.  Turned out it was August 9, 2015.  I wondered what I would do on that death day.  Wait for a lightning bolt to kill me?

A month before, I called my mother and told her all about my feelings about August 9.  I asked her to be with me on that day.

“Why is that date important to you?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  But will you go out to the gravesite with me?” I said.

“Okay.”

So when the day approached, I cleared the calendar.  That morning, I woke up with a purpose.  I drove to my mother’s house and gave her a big hug.  Then we went out and bought some flowers.  We drove to Forest Lawn in West Covina, which is all rolling hills and grass as far as you can see.  I helped my mother up the stairs.  We stood above my father’s gravestone and thought about him.

He was the man who coached my Little League baseball team when I was 12.  I loved playing catch with him.  We were connected, it seemed, by the flight of the ball and the plunk of the ball into the mitt, and that pleased me so that I cannot adequately express it.  I was playing catch with my Dad.

Donald Groves and kids David and Diane and friend Dana Crague

My father coaching my Little League baseball team when I was 12, with my sister and her friend behind him and me in the background.

He was the man who taught me how to be good.  My mother was the strategic one, the one who was always figuring out how to get ahead, but my father was the one who didn’t have any angles on anything, he just worked hard and loved us.  He turned down promotions so that he could spend more time with his family.  In his fifties, he would always sit slightly outside of the circle of the family and watch quietly.  It was his angle, outside looking in, as if he were saying to himself, I want to remember this moment forever.

David Groves age 8

He was the man who was the smartest, the wisest, the best.  He never gave me worldly advice, like, To thine own self be true or Neither a borrower nor a lender be.  His wisdom was more everyday.  Like when I hit adolescence and began developing the upper-body physique of a mesomorph.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “you’re not going to grow breasts.  That’s what I thought when I was your age, but don’t worry about it.”

Or when I got angry at somebody at school, he would say:

“Remember, you can attract more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.”

That was his wisdom: breasts and vinegar.

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In many ways, he was me.

Combo David and Donald shot closer

There was a time, before I arrived, when my parents’ marriage was shaky.  He was thinking about moving out of the house and divorcing her.  There may have been another woman involved, I’m not sure.  But then, Mom told him that she was pregnant.  He moved back in and made the marriage work.  He wasn’t going to desert his child.  That’s the kind of man he was.  He wasn’t going to leave a child without a father.

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On that day at the cemetery, we placed flowers at my father’s grave.  We lingered and talked about him.  We meditated on his life.

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Once, I asked my father what he wanted for Christmas, but his tastes were spartan.  He asked so little from life.

“Oh, don’t get me anything,” he said.

“No, I’m going to get you something, so tell me what to get you.”

“I’m serious.  Don’t get me anything.”

“Dad, I’m going to get you something.”

“No.”

So I asked my mother, and we came up with something: He loved macadamia nuts.  It was his only luxury, it seemed.  I had made a fair amount of money that year, so I splurged and bought him four bottles of macadamias.

“Oh, no!” he said when he opened the present.  “This is too much!”

Even though he complained, though, I was happy.  He deserved it.  I loved him four bottles’ worth of macadamias.

I was thinking about this during our visit to his grave.  Afterwards, we left and sat in the car.

“You want to go out for lunch?” my mother asked.

“Sure.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“I have an idea,” I said, smiling.

We went to Carrow’s.  I’m not a fan of the place, but this was Dad’s day.  He was a cheap bastard and would have liked us eating at a restaurant whose food is unremarkable but whose bill makes you happy.  He would have smiled.