My father had a playful side to him that popped into view once in a while. Before he was married he used to wrestle with his little cousin Azi, a man who looks uncannily like him. Azi was Uncle Aren’s grandson. Azi told us recently that when my father got engaged, and brought his finance over to Azi’s house, Irv took young Azi aside and explained that they wouldn’t be able to wrestle so much anymore as Irv now had a new wrestling partner.
My father rarely passed up a chance to hoist a small dog by the armpits and slowly rock the dog back and forth as the stiff armed dog gave him an uncomfortable look. I can perfectly see the look on my grandparents’ Chihuahua Bunny’s face as the little dog endured this odd swinging exercise. Bunny’s arms and legs would be stiff, face staring unblinkingly at the man smiling and swinging him back and forth on the fulcrum of the little dog’s armpits. There was nothing sadistic in this playful routine with the dogs or with the young Azi, for that matter. My father had a good sense of humor and a playful streak that sometimes got the best of him.
“Lydia T. Shize-kup!” he would suddenly say out of nowhere. Her last name meant ‘shit head.’ He would say no more about Lydia, just her name, and it always suggested to me a hidden world of the man’s playful imagination. “Jonathan Trrrrrrah-ahhhhsk!” he would say out of nowhere, rolling the “r” and giving a broad Germanic stretch to the “a” — another whole story never told. Sometimes he’d ask, overly cheerful and to nobody in particular “have you relatives in Chermany?” I was in a vast cemetery the day before my sixtieth birthday, strolling with friends in a historical graveyard in Brooklyn. One of the graves was of someone named Trask. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I heard my father’s exaggerated pronunciation and photographed the headstone for my sister. “Seedy Moronni” was another one. Each of these characters the star of some story that would never be written, or even sketched out.
The names of these characters bursting forth suggested to me recesses of my father’s imagination that were largely hidden from even him. It reminds me of the way he’d sing, tunefully and with style, a tiny snippet of some song he loved. “I-iiiiii wish you…. bluebirds….” he would croon to my mother in a Sam Cooke cadence as she served dinner. Just those few notes, never anything more. The songs he loved were pretty much worth loving. Some of them I didn’t hear full versions of until years later and they turned out to be songs I learned and played. “I’ve got a house, a showplace, but I can’t get no place, with you…” snapped off at the end of the phrase. I Can’t Get Started is the name of that one, Ira Gershwin lyrics to a tune by Vernon Duke. One of the few reactions to my guitar playing I ever recall from my father was his enthusiastic smile and calling out the name of the tune when I played the first few notes of Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me.
I am writing these thoughts on a day when my eyes are tired, my hands and feet are tired, my legs and back are stiff. Along with thoughts of my father’s mostly unexercised imagination are thoughts of my own taxed imagination. I am at a loss to imagine how to proceed, on days like this. My mind suddenly fixes on my medical predicament, which is unfolding in slow motion. More tests the end of this month might or might not show my kidney function still unimpaired in spite of the persistence of all the side effects that alerted me to my mysterious, idiopathic kidney disease in the first place. $88,000 worth of immunosuppressive liquid buys you a 30% chance of remission. The upcoming blood and urine tests will show, perhaps, whether I have been lucky with regard to my kidneys. On days like this, there is not enough coffee in my mug to fully wake me up.
“Lydia Sheiss-kopf!!!” shrieks the skeleton of my father, out of nowhere and with unaccountable mirth.