Monday, June 10, 2013
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Friday, December 31, 2010
While investigations continued as to why Oscars’s Zero took a nosedive, his three sons en route from Sicily landed safely at Newark International Airport in a Boeing 747. Having only been to the states once in their lifetime about five years prior with their mother, the boys were excited at the opportunity to go alone, sorry of course that it had to be for their father’s memorial, but happy all the same that they had been granted the opportunity to attend solo. At age seventeen, twenty-one, and twenty-three, the boys had been born, raised, and protected by her in Sicily.
Oscar had been a bi-yearly visitor at best, something the boys’ mother had subscribed to very near to their first rendezvous. Both parties seemed to get on well with the arrangement until the day their mother decided to settle down with another Italian. Oscar accepted the news like an adult at first, even flew the boys out with their mother and her new beau so he could congratulate the clan, but it was only a matter of days before Oscar broke down openly at the site of their newfound family.
With the sudden realization that he no longer had an open invitation to sleep with their mother, Oscar tried to convince her to leave the Italian (all of this while the Italian was showering) and unite as a biologically solid family. When she politely declined, Oscar negotiated down her monthly support and with the help of his attorney, Azeda Caldwell, instantly changed his will so that upon death, the estate would only go to his sons. Their mother didn’t understand Oscar’s sudden change in heart as he had always been free to carry on with his impulses thousands of miles away, and had never before expressed the desire for a traditional family, but she very kindly agreed to the new terms of his will and the reduced child support and took the boys back to Italy.
The week before Oscar died, I had escorted him to Thanksgiving in the city hosted by Azeda and her daughter Naomi. In spite of the deep sorrow it brought me, I have to admit, I was flattered to be the second person Azeda called with the news of his passing, and even more astounded when she asked me to accompany the boys to the memorial and spend some time as a kind of docent to Oscar’s psyche. Their mother had instructed the boys to make this second trip to the states with their goal being to get a better understanding of who Oscar really was, something she herself had a hard time communicating. I told Azeda I could definitely give them a tour of the island, but filling in the blanks on Oscar would be challenging since we had only become friends over the past few weeks.
The first time I saw images of the boys and their mother also happened to be on Thanksgiving after Azeda’s meal and was the first time I ever entered Oscar’s home. Prior to that we always met out some place. Oscar had marched into his abode armed with a new bag of weed from Naomi and tipsy from too much drink. He stumbled over to his record collection and put on The Cars before heading into the kitchen to prep both the kettle and vaporizer. I was left in the great room to snoop around as I pleased.
His house wasn’t another traditional colonial, it was a midcentury modern home and while for a single man it felt lived in and cozy, I milled about under the cathedral ceilings feeling very out of place in my surroundings. I searched for a connection in the images on the walls while “Let The Good Times Roll” played and slowly started to feel at ease. I found multiple pictures of Oscar in his younger years before he had silvery-white hair. I became fond of a series of postcards framed in a row, all from different spots in Italy and wondered if one of his sons had sent them. I retraced the faces in each photo I found of his family in order to make sense of who was who. Single pictures of the boys that I’d seen at first had me confused since at least two of the kids looked very much alike and all seemed close in age. Then I spotted a picture of the trio together and could see the slight difference and that the youngest was the most fair.
I started into the kitchen and asked, ”Is the youngest one Alvise?” just as Oscar was finishing his hit.
“Middle is Alvise, “ he turned to me and offered out the vaporizer, “I want you to try it, please.”
I think it was the “please” that got me to agree. I inhaled from the bag easily. Considering the fact that I could count the number of times that I had smoked on one hand, at first I thought I was pretty smooth, but soon an overwhelming high set in. In the short amount of time I had to retreat from the kitchen and sit back down on the couch a great warmth had spread all over my body, hitting me hardest in the arms and the chest. Completely overtaken by the feeling, I almost puked at the sudden noise of the teakettle whistling. I had to close my eyes and melt into the couch briefly. I imagined the boys’ life in Sicily without him but it was hard to imagine since I had never been out of the country.
I opened my eyes to Oscar handing me tea and my hand was unsteady. He could see it. Embarrassing, but I had to say it, “I don’t like this. I feel funny.”
He took the tea back from me, set it down, and became fatherly. He sat next to me, not too close, but the perfect distance. He reached his warm hand out, took mine and we held them together over the crack in the couch cushion.
“I promise you it’s okay.”
In spite of the handholding and reassurance, I was feeling the furthest from fine.
The next Cars song came on, all clappy and happy-like, messing with my ears. For some reason “Just What I Needed” set forth a series of images of my dad working in the garage, pretending that all in life was grand.
“Can we please change the music?” I pleaded. Otherwise I might have a panic attack.
“What would you like to hear?”
“Anything but this.”
He started to get up, but then looked back at me quickly.
“If you want me to come back and hold your hand again after I change the music I will”
I didn’t realize that I was still holding tight to his hand. I let it go. Oscar smiled and went to set the music straight for me. I liked when he smiled. It didn’t happen often.
“Did your hair really go white when your wife split?”
He didn’t answer right away so I decided he didn’t hear me. I watched him pull the needle from The Cars, then listened to that clear and special sound of records being pushed and pulled out of their sleeves and slid back onto shelves. The sound was all amplified by a thousand because of the weed. Oscar set The Beatles up to play next and then sat back down and answered me. He took my hand and explained her visit with the boys and the Italian Stallion and his mental breakdown that followed. As he spoke, I reclined on the arm of the couch. I was feeling incredibly heavy with the weight of his words. I was listening but couldn’t give him the same caffeinated attention as in some of our past meetings. I tuned in completely though when I felt his hand pull away from mine. He grabbed his tea instead and concluded with, “I would never hurt anybody.”
Unfortunately, because of my drug-induced half-assed attention, I wasn’t sure how this statement played into the whole story of his boys’ mother not wanting to commit to him completely and if I suddenly asked, he would’ve known I hadn’t been listening. So his words just sat with me as I suddenly over-focused on him slurping his tea. People slurped, they also chewed, but at the time the sound while high as a kite, was more than mildly annoying. No matter, every now and again I also found myself falling for him and then in the next moment he came off as slightly pathetic and unappealing.
I had fallen asleep to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and woke up in the morning to the sound of the waves and the smell of coffee. My feet were curled up under a blanket and I was still on Oscar’s couch. My eyes darted about but I kept my heavy head on the pillow. I was unusually cozy. As I became more clear, I started to regret being stoned and paranoid and wished I had listened to Oscar more intently. I wanted to go to the wall, take the postcards out of the frames and read the back to see if one or more of the boys had written them to him. It was becoming important to know whether they were at all fond of their father who visited them so sporadically.
Off of Oscar’s wall and in person at the baggage claim, they were the most striking boys I’d ever set eyes on. They stood in age order from left to right. Antonio. Alvise. Andrew. I forgot for a moment about needing to know their stance on Oscar’s fathering and was more interested in knowing whether they enjoyed the simple things the way he did, simple things like Gouda cheese and the beach.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Surely Oscar remembered that he gave me a loose invitation to karaoke after the Overeater’s Anonymous meeting last week. Much to my delight, the invite was made right after I got up the nerve to ask him to be my sponsor. It’d been about ten years since I really had trouble and nearly faded away, but I still needed a sponsor to stay on track, like any other 12-step program, it was essential. Since I was one of the trimmest in the crowd, and didn’t want to take life lessons from anyone overweight, although I respected their internal issues, Oscar’s good-looking place in life made him seem the right person to choose.
I had heard from my cousin that his family owned one of the world’s largest greeting card companies. I had also heard that he wasn’t as old as he looked, his hair had gone white from stress the day his wife left him. What I’d been hearing from his own mouth on a weekly basis in meetings had to do with his anxiety over never seeing his three sons who lived in Sicily, a sudden fear of flying his planes, and a compulsion to over-exercise in compensation for occasional binges. He was the older ex-fat dude who now looked pretty normal and I was the former anorexic boy who now appeared to have his life together too.
As soon as I put my butt on the chair, Oscar was getting up to karaoke so he didn’t even see me before getting on stage. I sat alone and started drinking as he started Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan.” Did I want him to be my sponsor or did I want something more? There was a time early on that I sat across from him in meetings and only yearned to be his CPA. Well, admittedly, I still wanted to be the one to give him sound financial advice but asking for that place in his life somehow seemed a bigger step. His voice was nowhere near as deep as Leonard’s, but he sounded good and clearly practiced this song often. Oscar wore sneakers with his suit that night. He didn’t always.
He continued to lament on stage and I could see him recognize me. Eventually his eyes shifted to the back of the bar and clearly followed the bartender girl as she made her way to the stage and started into the microphone on female vocals. A small pang of jealousy washed over me. I questioned the feeling for a split second and then shut it down. Admittedly, they were good singing together though and she had a sweet voice. I finished the rest of my beer much faster than I had intended. The bar room applauded and Oscar grinned, a real grin, that I had never seen. Thankfully, the bartender girl made her way back through the tables to do her real job and he sat down to his ½ full glass across from me.
“I like that song,” I said awkwardly.
“Me too, somehow it sticks with me.”
He took a sip of his drink and then…
“You want to take the ferry back to my place so we talk?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. I had just got off the ferry and I wasn’t ready to talk on and on about myself. Ignoring my issues in that moment sounded much better.
“Honestly, I’m good just hanging out here.”
Oscar seemed pleased by my response and we had a careful second round. He refrained from another song and enjoyed watching everyone else sing instead. He encouraged me to do my theme song, but it wasn’t my thing to be in the limelight. I played keyboards a little in high school and sang backup in a band someone decided to call Privileged F**k but even that was uncomfortable. The stage wasn’t for me.
Sitting next to him through everyone’s theme songs became one of those magic moments. Chalk it up to extra-sensory perception or pheromones or whatever you want, but it was all clicking and right. I didn’t know it then, but within the next week we’d be having a montage of good times, listening to the waves high on junk from his vaporizer, visiting the local supermarket’s deli to get free samples, comparing record collections, and staring at his collection of planes. In a week and three-quarters time, we would become fast friends, but sadly, that would be the end. On the third Thursday in November, a week before Thanksgiving, Oscar mustered up the courage to fly one of his planes again. He took off from a private runway in his prized Zero and not long afterward, plummeted into the Long Island Sound.
Friday, November 12, 2010
New York was the first state outside of my hometown of Los Angeles that I had ever been to and I was back to make it the first in my lifelong tour of the United States. I was 28 now, but in a year, by 29, I would move on toward either New Jersey or Vermont and stay for a year, then move on to the next state. It became a goal mid-high school career to live this way and experience the US. Depending on my health, I would have my 80’s to travel Europe. I needed to conquer the US map first; a story for every state. I had been on Shelter Island for three months and was slow getting a story in this place going.
Friday, October 29, 2010
The first winter living on the island was as desperate and lonely as I expected in comparison to the summer vacation that burned a postcard image into my boy-head. I stumbled through that winter envisioning myself as some jean jacket wearing character in a well-paced art house film on a journey to find the key to his existence, all the while a really great soundtrack being the glue holding the audience captive. In reality I was doing about the same as that fictional hero, but I didn’t own a jean jacket and was smart enough to arrive with a heavy winter coat.
Since I always had it in mind to go back and spend more than just two days on the island, I decided to move to my great aunt’s Shelter Island house indefinitely. When she died, the house was left to her son who died shortly after her from botulism. Her son’s wife, also the island’s best postal woman, didn’t want to live in it alone, and decided to rent it to lucky me.
I’d rather do five sets of fifteen push-ups than try and describe winter on the island properly. I lack confidence in describing my surroundings. I tend to over-focus on the dynamic between people and the thoughts racing through my own head rather than the local architecture, and the way in which the clouds roll in. But, I’ll give that kind of description a crack as we move slowly into winter and then let’s hope I can give you more of a flavor as time goes on. Let me warm up and introduce you to some of the most important people first.
It had been a typical, lonesome, working day for me when I finally met Oscar in person. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and I had been running numbers at my desk that faced the bay windows looking out over the slope of what used to be a lovely lawn. The curtains were open to let in the rest of what was left of the dimming daylight, my computer was still on, my coffee mug half full, and there was a line of birds on a wire, like the Hitchcock movie, The Birds, but don’t give the birds I’m talking about as much credit. Just picture the moment as bleak and as still as some of those in the movie.
Some real estate agent trying to rent the place over summer might have called my workspace a breakfast nook, but I referred to it as my office. My aunt’s old study was upstairs but I could never bring myself to work up there. It was too dark and the window faced out toward the backyard so I stayed downstairs, plus the record player was in close proximity. It’s great that a record needs to be turned over because I needed an excuse to get up often.
On this particular day, instead of putting another record on, I turned the player off and put on my heavy coat. I skipped finishing the rest of my coffee, and vowed that I might get back to my clients’ work when back from the bar in Greenport, the town just across the sound. It was karaoke night and I was ready for a drink and a bit of a scene. At this point, I had no idea that Oscar would be there singing Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan” and no clue that he would become more to me than just some wealthy man who got shuttled to and fro in his Jaguar on the ferry.