Monday, February 13, 2012


Consider the following hypothetical.

If, one winter day in 1975, for instance, we were trapped inside Bryant Street by a murderous blizzard, if all of the roads and schools and businesses in Buffalo were closed, if we were keeping the heat low to conserve oil, if we were playing tic-tac-toe with polka-dot bean bags, and if my father and I were the Xs, and if my mother and Kyle were the Os, and if my father’s final throw slid across the frozen surface of the tic-tac-toe set and he accidentally tipped an O over, and if we lost, I cannot say that I felt unhappy.

Yes, I could try to weep and wail and gnash my teeth, if that would make people more comfortable. I could put on a gown of grief, pick up a microphone and perform the typical song of desolation. I daresay, I could conjure up all sorts of emotions in the breasts of barren old women. This is one of the first lessons one learns as a child: how to extort love and money with tears. But why should I do that? Since it is just the two of us here, and we are both children, why should I lie about my actual feelings? Especially when the truth is so much more poignant and bizarre.

I was delighted that we lost. I leapt across the living room with joy. I smiled as I turned the Xs and Os back over to blankness. I threw all of the bean bags back at my dad with such comical fury that everyone erupted into laughter.

I was pleased because, for a moment, I had all the ammunition. I had everyone pinned down, trapped in the living room, while I was in the frigid sun porch, where the game was actually set up.

I somersaulted back while dad passed half of the bean bags to mom. It was time to switch sides and start another game—my father pairing up with my brother—me with my mother—a much more lethal combination.

I was happy because the loss I suffered with my father confirmed in my mind something that I had long suspected: dad had also missed the My Lai Massacre in 1968.

Edwin stumbled into existence during the siege of Stalingrad in 1943. Too young for World War II, too young for Korea, and taunted for being too quiet, my father enlisted in the Marines in 1962 and spent a dull tour of duty setting up tents in Taiwan and motorcycling around Japan. He returned from Tokyo in 1966 with a tailor-made tuxedo, but no tattoos. He is more like my flat-footed grandfather than my uncles who invaded Guam.

The Vietnam War could not compete with the charms of North Tonawanda and my mother. He did not re-enlist.

In 1968, he earns his journeyman’s papers, working the late shift at Columbus-McKinnon, a manufacturer of cranes. This is the first year of their marriage. Dad does delicate operations with a drill press, peering through flexible green-tinted safety goggles at a block of something shiny. I see him blowing tiny steel corkscrews away.

I wish I could see him watching Star Trek in its original run on NBC, as we did later, both in the living room on Bryant Street and in his little trailer on River Road, when the show was in syndication.

Many conflicting visions of the future appeared on TV during that turbulent year. But, for me, and probably for me alone, nothing reflected on the screens of 1968 appears quite so strangely compelling as that vision of love my parents presented to the world in January. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was born in September. Even 44 years later, I am sure my mother could tell you exactly what was on television when I was conceived—without consulting a single issue of TV Guide.

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