SEPTEMBER 2009

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Bad Living
By Z. Z. Boone, Jul 21, 2009

The nurse practitioner finally tells us that the old man has Alzheimer’s, which comes as no great surprise. All through high school I watched him lose it. Make up things that never actually happened. Now it’s two years later and he hasn’t improved a lick. I see him every morning before leaving for my job at ‘Round Town Tire, and he’s sitting there staring at Handy Manny or Sesame Street. He’s sixty-nine years old, twenty-six years older than my mother. Since he retired from the maintenance department at Cecil Field, he does little more than hang out in the basement and watch TV. He even takes his meals down there, and every so often I’ll join him for dessert. If it’s on, we watch WWE wrestling, but the way he just kind of gawks at the set reminds me of a little kid looking at two bugs fuck.

Once, while watching a tag team match, he said, “I used to wrestle professionally under the name Pierre Poulet.”

“I believe that means Peter Chicken,” I said, and we both had a laugh over that one.

My mother refuses to accept the medical diagnosis and blames the whole deal on bad living. “Too much tobacco,” she’ll say. “A whole life of nothing but sweets.”

Two months ago she cut off his supply of cigarettes and banned chocolate. She took away his car keys. She even informed all the store owners within walking distance that her husband was not allowed to make any future purchases without her approval.

Recently things got worse. He’ll wake up in the middle of the night and insist on going home. He’ll sit in the living room chair by the front window, watching for his older brother—dead now nineteen years—to pick him up. If approached, even gently, no telling what he’ll do. One night, in a rage, he bloodied his own wife’s lip.

Okay. He was not the best dad growing up. More often than not he’d take off right after work on Friday and not be seen again until Sunday night. He’d be hung-over and god-knows-what-else, but he’d always have some little gift: a flower for my mother, an open roll of cherry LifeSavers for me.

And he would come back, week after week, as regular as afternoon.

“I made an arrangement,” my mother tells me yesterday at breakfast. “I’ve arranged to put him in a nursing home.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

“He’s a danger to both himself and other people,” she says.

“There’s got to be some other choice,” I say.

“If you had a better job that paid more money,” she says as she pours the maple syrup, “you could move him into the house you’re too poor to own.”

Suddenly, I have no appetite.

“They can take him tomorrow, right before dinner,” she tells me.

“We’ll never see him again.”

“It’s less than two hours away,” she says. “You can see him any damn time you please.”

She folds a pancake over double, slices it in half, shoves the entire thing in her yap.

The following day, I call in sick. It’s a Wednesday, the day my mother takes her morning Tai Chi class over at the community center. I try and get my father upstairs which is no easy task. He’s watching some MTV show where a bunch of girls with really big boobs are running around in Catholic school uniforms.

“Get out of your pajamas and come for a ride,” I say.

“I’m supposed to watch this,” he tells me.

“We’ll go to the store,” I tell him. “Pick up a thing or two.”

“The Tiger Mart?” he asks, his attention now all mine.

“Come on,” I say. “I’ll help you get dressed.”

He tries to take the stairs two at a time, but old age and gravity work against him.

* * *

After Tiger Mart, where we pick up a pack of Camel Filters and the largest Nestlé Crunch they sell, we head east toward Huguenot Park. It’s a hot, buggy August morning, too early for lunch, so we find a deserted picnic table without much problem.

“I once fought Joe Louis to a 15-round draw,” he says as he peels back the Crunch wrapper.

“No you didn’t,” I say. “But you did used to take me here birding, remember?”

“I should have never let him off the ropes,” he says.

“You could name every damn one of them,” I told him. “The cormorant, the sand-p lover, the white-wagtail....”

“Joe Louis,” he says. “One tough hombre.”

“Yeah,” I say. “He was that.”

We sit. The ocean tosses around, and not far off bathers talk loud enough to be heard. Somewhere a dog barks, and I can smell charcoal starting up. The sky looks endless, which I suppose it is. A couple, who looks to be still in their teens, stops and changes a baby’s diaper at another picnic table. On her neck, the mother has a tattoo that reads:
CURIOUS. We continue to sit, and I watch my dad inhale another cigarette. Across from me he smiles, perhaps not even recognizing his own son, his face hidden in smoke, his teeth the color of mud.

Z. Z. Boone’s most recent fiction appears, or will, in SmokeLong Quarterly and Annalemma.

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