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“Death of a Book Man”






My Father was a book man. Door to door at first, like his father, selling magazines before him, although they both had a secret penchant for sneaking away from work and playing bridge or ping pong or chess somewhere in Queens, NY. The books kept coming as he worked his way from seller to publisher to agent to producer. Long years of Tolkien and Roth and Atwood and Smiley; of Atlas Shrugged and Night; of East of Eden and Crime and Punishment, of reading, buying, editing, talking, books, books books. It was an idyllic childhood having literature at my fingertips. We also played every kind of ball, and I endured some rage from him as he was a serious competitor. My father and I adored each other, and our relationship defined my life. Until it didn’t. When he walked out not long after my 15th birthday, (and I was a late bloomer, even more devastating), things didn’t not turn out so well. Gone was my number one cheerleader besides my ever-nurturing mom. My father was bright, good looking, athletic and charismatic. A real live narcissist. It was a blast. He never laid a hand on me, but was big on smacking tennis balls and throwing rackets. His bipolar mood swings were under control with medication and my parents thankfully were not big drinkers (preferring ice cream).


The world has changed so dramatically since 9/11 I used to think.


My parents missed my kids’ things because my mom died young and my dad was on the other coast. Bicoastal was his term; of course I never liked it. When I visited him at his new home in California, I hated that too. He did not take me to outdoor adventures, but rather to Rodeo Drive and Universal Studios. He was caught up in a new culture. Once we bumped into a real movie star whom I admired, William Shatner, on the street. I was not in awe of Los Angeles. I found it to be full of fakers and takers. I didn’t understand why no one seemed to work but everyone was in line for the next-big-thing in the movie business. My dad’s bold idea was to bring books to movies and introduce them into a partnership. Some might say he was visionary in that. He failed. No matter, because life was good out there in LA LA Land. He also failed on the child support, which tore my mother up, as she worked tirelessly as a teacher - special ed English, Bronx, NY - while he sipped in his martinis and screenplays. My mother’s economic fortunes shifted downward, as is typical in divorce, and we went off to college feeling a deep sense of otherness at our new found drop in status.


I was able to identify that I needed help. I kept latching on to the wrong people, hoping they could replace my missing father. But it was the ONGOING coming and going of him that set me off balance. It’s one thing to be abandoned, but over and over again? He would come in like a Disneyland Dad for sure, and then leave at the airport or train or taxi or whatever, and it was emotional whiplash. I never understood that I was his narcissistic supply until later. Our relationship had inverted.


After my father’s funeral, after I had shipped his worthless antiquarian book collection back and forth across the country several times at my own expense, I let out a long, hollowed out howl that came from the darkest corner of my soul. It was cleansing to be sure. I felt as if I could fly, that’s how long it had been since I exhaled.


I feel guilty that I’m not sadder.


I also had a dream some time later. I was walking away from a funeral procession (presumably his?), and a dancing witch (not unlike Helena Bonham Carter in “Big Fish”) was laughing and dancing behind the crowd. She turned her head to look at me, wagged her finger and cackled distinctly, “I won’t be seeing you again,” (or something to that effect). Again I felt released.


To this day I cannot recall the last book my dad and I discussed when he was hospitalized and bloated with water from congestive heart failure - though I can remember all the other books we shared together. I must have blocked it out. The mind is a strange thing when it goes from insecure people-pleasing to living on your own terms. Perhaps there’s a book in that.

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