I am not a good father. I never coached girls’ soccer, didn’t read Anne of Green Gables aloud to my daughter, and didn’t explain about menstruation, and yet she loves me lavishly, perhaps because I never made her pick up stuff off her bedroom floor. Her mother was the tough cop, I was the cop who bought Dairy Queens. Instead of instilling an appreciation of Twain and Perelman and Nora Ephron in her, she and I hang out on the third-grade level of mucous and flatulence humor. And yet when she sees me after an absence, she throws her arms around me like little Heidi greeting her cranky grandpa. Someday she may write an honest memoir and settle accounts and reveal my neglect to a sympathetic world, but meanwhile I’m a hero.
This is why I don’t disagree with people who refer to me as a “person of privilege.” It is true that I worked in a scullery and as a parking lot attendant and for years arose at 4 a.m. to do a wake-up radio show, but the truth is that I am a darned lucky guy. I once led three canoes of nine 14-year-olds across an enormous northern Minnesota lake in a thunderstorm, I who had no life-saving training, canoes with no life jackets, and we reached the opposite shore and pitched our tents, I who was an English major and couldn’t understand the tent-pitching directions printed on the flaps. No lives were lost. No parents threatened legal action.
It is true that I worked in a scullery and as a parking lot attendant and for years arose at 4 a.m. to do a wake-up radio show, but the truth is that I am a darned lucky guy.
I’ve had close calls. I’ve driven while intoxicated. I once locked myself out of a rental cabin in Utah while naked in a hot tub and walked around the neighborhood with only a blue plastic sheet from the woodpile for a covering and nobody called the cops. Both my grandfathers died at age 73, and I am 79 and feel terrific, thanks to modern medicine. My doctor in New York is a couple miles away. I called him one morning in alarm and said, “I have a large hard growth on the roof of my mouth.” He told me to come over. I did and opened my mouth. I was thinking cancer of the mouth and larynx, major surgery, loss of vocal chords, dealing with depression, perhaps standing in an intersection and approaching stopped cars with a tin cup and a sign, “Former radio announcer now mute. Help me. Thank you.” He looked in my mouth and said, “That’s a torus palatinus. A lot of people have one. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t a problem.” He didn’t charge me for the two minutes it took to clear up the problem.
Privileged? Yes indeed, and thank you, Lord. We are vaccinated, my love and I, and our COVID cave is perfectly comfortable. She sits across the breakfast table and reads from the paper about the mounting disasters of climate change, we eat one big meal a day, we walk in the park, I work on my book, the Scrabble board comes out, and now and then I tune in a ball game. We’ve been feasting on salads, which gives me salacious thoughts. We are in no hurry to fly off to Europe and perhaps encounter other variants.
Meanwhile, the forests burn in the West and icebergs melt and COVID spreads in the South and people die thanks to Republican superstition about needles, and the nation is in a wave of self-righteous buggering that has the power to kill careers dead. A friend who is a Unitarian minister tells me that her church demands that she submit her sermons two weeks in advance “to make sure there are no problems” — apparently, the problem is that she has used the word “fellowship,” which raised concerns on the church board, some members preferring the term “community,” “fellowship” seeming too masculine. When liberal New York Unitarians decide to go puritanical, you know we’re in serious serious trouble.
Pretty soon the Freemans and Trumans and Petersons and Olsons will need to degender themselves and then how shall we make Los Angeles not threatening to agnostics? St. Paul will have to change its name to East Minneapolis.
And why do we keep the name America, honoring the navigator Amerigo Vespucci who sailed our coasts and thought he was in Asia? Do we know for a fact that the man dealt fairly with indigenous peoples? No, we do not.
You kids fight it out among yourselves. I was privileged to live mostly in the 20th century. The 21st is looking scary.
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