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The Subway Diary: 24-May-98

Trite Truisms From a Trip to See My Grandfather

People seem cruel when they mean to sound funny. A child wailed on the train, and an old man said to me, "they should stick a sock in its mouth."

People are grateful for small things. Volunteering with a sponge, I dusted the motor on the electric recliner. My grandmother told my mother, brother, and by phone, grandfather of my epic dusting. Later, I moved the picnic table and mowed the long grass beneath it. My position elevated beyond esteem. "I cannot imagine a better grandson," she said. "He mows and dusts."

People always ask: "do you have a girlfriend up there in New York?" To my brother, I reply: "her name is Fidelity Righthand." To my grandmother, I reply, "no, not now." To my mother, I say, "please...let's not get on that."

Age comes badly to those who need control. My grandfather, house-emperor for most of his eighty-four years, barks commands like a sea captain: to nurses, to my mother, and to my grandmother. As he loses management of his body, he tries to gain it by yelling at everyone in sight. He is on Xanax, a Prozac substitute, to soften his temper. He calls it his "fidget pill." Four a day.

People rationalize. My brother and I went to Ground Round, after hours at the hospital, and ate bowls of nachos, lettuce, and beef, enough for an African village. "It's a salad," he said.

Doctors avoid your eyes.

He's finally going to die, after eight years of waiting for him to die.

Ritual and habit rule us. It felt fine to open the door to this tiny Brooklyn apartment, the air damp and soupy, the horns honking outside, and type this entry. The death and old age can stay in West Chester, PA, but I'm safe and 23, here at home.


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