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01.10.07

cave


Listen to Volcano Suns - "Descent Into Hell"
Buy Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four

(There are some sick people in this world. This post originally began with an anecdote about my family - the sort of thing that most parents would recognize immediately, a typical scenario that comes with living with the uninhibited nature of toddlers and pre-school children. It was written in a sort of retrospective fondness that I think suffuses this whole piece, but I've had to remove it at the request of my wife, and mostly because an awful little prick with a website used it as fodder in an obsessive - and possibly illegal - attack on a friend of mine. I hate having to do it, but it's a grim truth of life that no good deed goes unpunished, and innocence will always be poorly armed against determined malevolence. You know who you are, you sick fuck - I hope you're proud of yourself.)

Neither of them are in school yet, but I've already sketched out the vague outlines of my future with my daughters- a bit anxiously, I'd have to admit, if I wanted to be honest with myself. As Agnes approaches her fourth birthday, she'll be as old as I was when my own father died. He never saw me start school, learn to ride a two-wheeler, skip a grade, suffer years of almost constant bullying, matriculate into high school, turn into a sullen, long-haired slob, then a seething, angry little punk. He didn't see me graduate, start college, flourish briefly, then drop out and commence many long years of a hand-to-mouth existence as a struggling writer and photographer.

Dad and me, 1968?

He never met my first girlfriend, and he was lucky enough to miss his own wife's slow, debilitating slide to her own death. He didn't get to see my first bylines, though I doubt how excited he would have been to read my first major magazine feature on how heroin had infiltrated the downtown scene where I lived - never mind that the article was bowdlerized by one of the publishers, who suddenly conceived of an urge to do some hands on editing; there are few parents I know who'd have been able to focus on the words on the page and ignore the context that their youngest child was surrounded by junkies and mostly ambivalent about drug use when he wasn't partaking. I know that now, but I don't think I would have known it then, had I a parent to make complicit in the situation.

He missed my big break-up, the first few years of relative success, the first big career reverse and the crisis of confidence it triggered. He missed meeting the woman who would become my wife, who came along just in time to be the major cause of reversing that crisis. He missed the wedding, and he missed the birth of two new granddaughters to go with the two he'd already have, thanks to my brother. He'd be nearly a hundred now, according to the Air Force records I have for him, so the odds of him experiencing even half of this catalogue of events would probably have been increasingly slim, but I doubt a week goes by when I don't imagine at least a few more years I could have had with him, beyond that night in the summer of '68 when he had one heart attack too many.

Melancholy thoughts, sure - I'll cop to that. Though you can barely tell, it's winter, and I'm spending even more time than usual in my home office - the cave to which I retreat every morning, and for most of the day, to make something approximating a living. The air circulation's dodgy, there's not a lot of light, and thanks to the fact that couriers arrive up to six times a day with more and more packages, it's a fucking mess. Two years ago, when we moved in here, it was a pristine room - grey-flecked linoleum floor, off-white walls, and ten-foot ceilings. A careful, methodical person would have thought about the layout, considered ergonomics, light and flow, and hesitated before filling it up.

I'm not that person; I had to get to work, so I began, spider-like, excreting the usual sediment of habitation onto the walls - bookshelves first, then a bulletin board and pictures, computer, TV and stereo, then the usual floorbound detritus - magazines, newspapers, DVD cases, VHS screener cassettes, and paper, paper, paper.

A few years ago, some wasps built a nest outside the window by my desk in our old apartment. One day the landlord came, scaled a tall, swaying ladder wearing his beekeeper's gear, smoked the tenants out and pulled their nest down. The angry insects buzzed and beat furiously against my window for most of a day afterward, and after they were gone I found scraps of their former home in the flower bed downstairs - a perfect imitation of a honeycomb, but built with dry gray paper made from the tiniest shavings of wood cellulose that the wasps had industriously scraped from weathered fences, porches and garden sheds. I felt sympathy for those wasps - their home torn down, most of them would be dead in a day or two, but I also recognized a primitive but undeniable commonality in our need to construct a comfortable nest from layers and layers of paper.

This is my cave, and I'll probably always spend most of my days in a room very like this. That's the thing - I'll duck in and out of this room while my daughters grow up. They'll come in and visit me - naked or clothed, it's their call - every now and then, but the visits will get more infrequent as they get older, and fight to retain their own little space. Right now Aggie seems to love the hour or two she spends in here on Fridays - "Daddy Day" - watching Max & Ruby and Little Bear on my little TV while her sister naps and daddy checks e-mail and looks for music on iTunes.

I can't help but compare it to the time I'd spend with my own Dad watching the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour - it's the only concrete memory I have of him, and it might explain my lingering fondness for Looney Tunes. I'll never know just how often it happened - was it part of his unwinding ritual after he came home from Supertest, or was he home sick at the time, convalescing from one of the ailments that would end up killing him? Did it happen just a few times, or did it happen only once or twice, and end up lingering in my memory with an almost unnatural weight? For some reason, this possiblity feels sadder than all of the others.

Like all of the little rituals we've observed in our three and a half years together, it'll fade, and Aggie and her little sister will grow up and away. I suppose I'm mentally preparing for it - the fantasies about pulling out the perfect little photo or digicam clip twenty or thirty years hence, preemptively weaving continuity forward into an unknowable future. Mostly, I'm trying to imagine still being there for the grad, the prom, the tearful visit home after the first big break-up, the engagement announcement, the wedding, the first grandchild.

It's maudlin as all hell, but I'm relying on it with what I have to admit to myself is something like desperation. I want to be here for all of this - right now, it's the closest thing to immortality I have, and I don't want to miss it the way my father, God rest his soul, missed everything that came after that afternoon on the couch in the living room, watching Bugs Bunny. The trick is that I have to come out of the cave every now and then; I can't rely on all that life bursting in here, naked or not.


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© 2007 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters, a conservative catholic, a professional photographer, tv and movie critic, and ten years ago i would have told you that this was impossible. then i would have taken a swing at you. i might have been drunk. i look nothing like william powell.

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rick -at- rickmcginnis.com

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