film: Dan in Real Life (2007)

One of the rules I try to keep is that if I wake up, I should get up. In the middle of the night it’s easy to convince oneself that if only it was possible to get out of bed at this moment ownership of the whole world is within grasp, every notion of genius in all history with every heartbeat, every car slipping past, every sleepless bird singing because the streetlights never go out—get out of bed and the world can be mine. But before making that move you begin to question it all. Sure, you can get up and do something great, but you’ll just get sleepy within a couple hours tops. You could drink coffee. Yeah, but that’s not healthy, four hours of sleep and some coffee, in fact, you really need to stop drinking coffee past five anyway, what were you thinking? But the ideas! They’ll be there in the morning. Write them down now. Well, nothing to write with, okay you’ll remember them. Yeah, but, you rationalize, maybe I feel sick. Maybe I feel hungry. I should eat. Maybe I have to piss. So you get up. There. The supreme impetus to greatness: the refusal to piss in one’s own bed.

So, I’m up! Checking vitals. Hungry. Eating snack. Head aches, teeth ache, therefore I’m stressed. See lava lamp and get tears in eyes, therefore I’m getting older. We find words to express degrees of being alive. I wake up thinking about my grandfather, I wake up thinking about how he’s got medications making him piss out whatever’s made his legs swell up. You don’t have a chance to run a few tests on the stability of your soul before giving it a good pat and sending it up to heaven. You’d think that one by one you could piss out your organs if they weren’t doing right, being that regardless everything finds its way out of your body whether you’re alive or not. So your legs swell up. Piss it out. We’re teaching robots and computers to fix themselves, but when your heart goes bad, you can’t just piss it out, you don’t wait until your last organ is passed before heading up to heaven. You take a look around, see where the neighborhood is heading, lock up and head out, you can always come back for the plumbing later if you find the need.

We watched Dan in Real Life last night.

A few days ago she made a comment on how something or other “that’s why I’m not really interested in history, I just don’t see how it applies.” I explain that I wasn’t interested until I began seeing how it applied—that at the end of the day I often don’t see the past as present. And not in a metaphorical sense. I listen to the news and they discuss the Ukraine, civil war, the loss of the Crimea to the Russians, I think “well, I don’t give a fuck, that’s not my family’s land.” By which I mean the land we never owned outside of Kiev that we left more than a century ago. And that’s when it strikes me: I will never, ever get another story out of my grandfather. All this time, and I still don’t know what makes him happy. Well, I try to console myself, I got a lot of stories out of him. I took all his slides. But what of it? My father’s known him for 60 or so years. I have a handful of great stories from this past week alone. Who asked me?

So then you resign yourself to all the things you aren’t, all the things you define yourself by and yet aren’t. Well, let’s face it. I’m not a poet. I’m not a songwriter. I’m not much of a musician. No, I’m just another schmo trying to make a buck so I can tack another room onto the condo. In WWI when most of the French didn’t speak French they handed you a language. That’s what they used to do. Give you a language. A team. An economics you tie yourself to with credit and can’t never get away from. I have allergies and poor digestion and keep thinking, yeah yeah, if I could just get this idea to get me all rich I could be happy because then I’d have a doctor and could buy all the starbucks I want! I got my insurance card in the mail today. Seems like just yesterday that I was advised to try to stay healthy for the next four years or so and then Obamacare will kick in and at least they can’t reject me anymore. Now that they can’t reject me, I’m bitter because they want me to pay for what I lied and begged for before. What is it that I want? To read. To attend synagogue and feel closer to God. To be French. To practice piano. I dreamed last night that I was walking up and down an aisle of books of classical music. I was determined to buy one.

It isn’t that our parents are getting older. It’s that they’ve always been older. It isn’t that I missed out being friends with them when I was young. It’s that we play certain roles. I couldn’t drink beers with my dad when he was in his 30s because I was busy being his child. I would joke with my grandfather, on my birthday tell him I’m catching up to his age. We feel time standing still, but we see it moving around us. It’s everyone else who’s getting older. What about them isn’t habit? What about them can we extract while it’s still real energy, what can we listen to that isn’t an echo of words they said decades ago? I see this look on her face, and she says “right!” in a way that indicates she’s annoyed with me—it happens when she remembers that I lived for 30 years before we met. It’s how I know that when you find love, you can’t expect from it to replace the people who have died. There are holes that must never be filled. You have just to expect it to pick up where the people who’ve died left off. Left you. With holes. You can’t expect your wife to be your grandparents too. She has to just take you and love you despite your grandparents-shaped holes. Most of those holes I guess you just cover up, put them on paper, and just keep building out your life, looking back when nobody’s watching.

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