September 16, 2005
Grandma fell and broke her hip. It was a matter of time before it happened. Now she was in the nursing home with Grandpa. He was cheered by her presence, although he was in poorer health than ever. I went to visit them occasionally, but part of me was secretly glad they were in there. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest, and something of a well-deserved break for me.
However, Dad had his sights set on cousin Bill now. They got along great for the first few weeks, and many times I’d pass by the foot of the stairs and hear them laughing in Dad’s office upstairs. Dad would be pounding on his desk gasping for breath as Bill relayed one of his many funny stories.
Then Dad started to turn on him. He seemed jealous of the relationship that Bill and I had, since I was growing closer to him than I ever was with Dad. So Dad started finding things to pick on him about. For starters, he was getting really fed up with the mess in Bill’s room, even though Bill was as much of a packrat as he was. His room was filled with piles of clothes and plastic bags and papers – including magazines and newspapers of Dad’s that Bill had rescued from the recycling bin. There was eventually so much shit that I hid part of a tree branch in Bill’s room for a joke. It took him two weeks to find it, but he thought Dad put it there to send him a message. Whoops.
Finally things came to head when Dad put dish detergent in Bill’s juice bottle. He saw Bill drinking out of one of the containers from the fridge and decided to teach him a lesson. I guess Dad thought Bill was drinking out of something that we all used, but it wasn’t and Bill got awfully sick afterwards. He figured out what Dad had done, and one night he marched into Dad’s office brandishing a piece of paper from which he started rattling off a list of chemical ingredients.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the hell is this?” Dad said, spinning around in his office chair.
“I took my juice bottle down to my friend who works at the 7th Precinct and he had it tested, and he found traces of chemicals in it. The SAME chemicals that are found in dish detergent, which YOU put in my drink!” he said, looming forward and jabbing his finger at Dad.
(While Bill did have a friend at the police department, he didn’t actually do any forensic analysis. He just said that for dramatic effect. Bill later told me – chuckling – that he just copied down the ingredients on the bottle of dish soap. Then he later had to tell his police friend the whole story after Dad called the precinct to “inquire about the ongoing homicide investigation you have against me.”)
This pissed off Dad something awful, and downstairs I heard him shout, “BILL IF YOU’RE GOING TO STAND THERE AND ACCUSE ME OF TRYING TO POISON YOU THEN YOU CAN GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW!” But Bill gave as good as he got and Dad had finally found his match. Oh boy. I retreated into my bedroom and tried to not to listen as their voices shook the walls and ceiling.
Finally I heard Bill stomping downstairs, breathing heavily. Phew. The fight was over. I lay down on my bed to read a book, only to be distracted by flashing lights outside a little while later. There was an ambulance in front of our house and I found the paramedics working on Bill on the living room floor. He’d meant to take a walk to cool off after the fight, but after he came downstairs he was struck with a crushing chest pain, so he dialed 911.
Dad eventually drifted downstairs to see what the commotion was. He just stood in the corner with a silly little smirk like this was just another production from Bill the Stage Actor. We watched as they loaded him up into the ambulance and sped off with sirens screaming. Dad snorted, shook his head and went back upstairs. I found him in his office with his feet on the desk reading the newspaper. When I told him I was going to the hospital he just rustled the pages and said, “okay, sure, whatever.”
I paced the waiting room at the hospital until 1AM. Finally a doctor came out and told me, “your dad’s going to be okay, he’s out of surgery now.”
I laughed with relief. “He’s not my dad.”
“Oh. Your grandpa’s going to be okay then,” the doctor corrected himself. I laughed again told him that Bill was just my cousin. He led me into see him. Bill was awake but loopy as hell, slurring his words and trying to focus on me with mismatched eyes. He told me the doctors were calling him the “Miracle Man” and that they almost lost him on the way to the hospital.
“I have to thank your dad,” he told me. “I had no idea what bad shape I was in until now. The doctors said my heart could have gone at any moment. So it was a good thing we had that fight…”
Meanwhile, as the doctors were sawing Bill’s chest open, Dad was in his room back home boxing up all his papers. He didn’t believe Bill actually had a heart attack. Dad thought he was just faking the whole thing for attention or sympathy, and now that Bill was out of the way he could clean his room. I saw his stuff at the curb when I came back in the morning from the hospital. After Dad left for work I loaded everything into my car and took it over to my mother’s house. When Dad came back home and saw all the boxes were gone he asked me where they went.
“I took care of them,” I said cagily. I expected Dad to start questioning me, but instead he just beamed at me with such a look of pride on his face as I had not seen in years.
Not to fret. I gave Dad a little payback in my own way. I was still harboring resentment over his opening and hiding of my college aid letters that time, and his continued “accidental” opening of my mail. I’d gotten a PO box but the occasional letter would slip through and I’d find it open on his desk. Fine – you like reading mail? I’ll give you all the mail you can read, Big Boy…
So I went on the computer and started signing him up for free-trial subscriptions to every magazine and newspaper I could find. The more liberal, the better. Then I signed him up for a whole host of gay magazines. And all those little subscription cards inside the supermarket magazines? Check.
Before long Dad was drowning under a sea of mail from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, The Advocate, Ebony, Oprah, the Democratic Parties of Delaware and New Jersey and Virginia and Michigan, The Washington Post, The LA Times, Mother Jones, The Nation, Good Housekeeping, a bevy of Muslim lifestyle magazines, Cosmopolitan, US Weekly, Time… the list goes on. The mailbox was filled to overflowing every single day.
Dad was going berserk, especially since half of it was addressed to “Boss Tweed” and “Salacious Crumb.” He was getting so much mail that he actually called the police. Yes, the police. I would have loved to have heard that conversation. What did he want them to do? Arrest the mailman? But they actually sent a cruiser to the house and Dad met the cops out in the street to fill out a police report. Right on cue, the mailman rolled up and handed Dad a stack of magazines and newspapers bundled up with twine.
“I’m going to squash this!” Dad ranted outside. Meanwhile I was doubled up in silent laughter at the window I was watching from, and I’m sure the cops were laughing their asses off too as they drove away. But the best part was when Bill came home from the hospital and started rooting through Dad’s mail again. Bill had no idea what I had done, so when he came across Dad’s stack of gay magazines he brought one to me and said, “Uh, Tommy… I think there’s something you should know…”