I find myself in Florida with my Dad, leaving his brother's unveiling. For the uninitiated, it's a Jewish ceremony that "unveils" the headstone a year after one's death. It involves a contrived and somewhat dramatic sheet removal of the covered marker. I had to suppress a physical urge to scream "ta-daaa" with animated jazz hands from the back of the mausoleum. The heat is oppressive and my father, sitting in the driver's seat of a compact rental car ("$60 a day for this?") in an absurd shade of electric blue; following pacemaker surgery, looks shrunken.
When you drive around a cemetery you cannot help but ponder about life, death and the in-between. The older I get, the more time I spend thinking about my life's purpose. Henry David Thoreau said, "...I want to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life." Well--hey--sign me up! Except, this thinking is completely paralyzing and gets in the way of the actual living. So remind Thoreau nobody consumes marrow anymore. And he can suck something else.
Because the airfare for a night is $750 (FLORIDA--NOT PARIS). I decline to rent a car. Accordingly, at age 41, I am in Miami--on the mooch plan.
Which leaves me; my Dad and my stepmother driving to my aunt's house for a post unveiling meal that will undoubtedly involve whitefish salad. Amen.
But first, we have to find the house.
Like any sullen teen relegated to the back seat of the compact car, I am not paying attention. I am texting, with the speed and dexterity of an adolescent and occasionally catching up on current events (does anyone give a fuck about Kelly Ripa?). But after many minutes, I begin to pester the parentals about their orienteering.
"Do you even know where you're going?"
"Yes--they live near the airport."
"OK, then why are we driving south?"
"It's not our first rodeo."
(Doth I detect an attitude?)
"Actually, it seems like it is because you've made several U-turns at this point. And that was a red light! Dad, the construction workers are waving to us, we have passed them so many times."
Everyone loves an adult child criticizing driving abilities.
My father takes this as a sign to head to the gas station and purchase chips and a coke. Because clearly it's 1978. As he pulls in too close to the raised curb, he continues to press ahead despite the obvious tension with the tire and the cement, largely indicated by a metal-scraping whine. But Harvey is a man undeterred he MUST get his snack. At any cost. It was at this point that a piece of the car surrenders to the pavement, with a defeated thunk.
I bet he declined coverage. I am a prisoner. Why didn't I drive with my sister? Rookie mistake.
My dad ambles inside without so much as a backward pause and I get out of the vehicle and take a photo of the abandoned corpse. Because it's too funny to pass up. Click.
Don't want to brag, but I too am a summa cum laude graduate of the Harvey Mendelsohn School of Driving. In other words, my abilities behind the wheel are pretty shitty. Christ. We left the cemetery an hour ago. I will eventually have to go to the bathroom. Hopefully not here.
At this point, I have circulated the car photo to the siblings. They're advice ranges from the humorous (Serenity Now!) to the more practical (flight leaves in 4 hours, take control). They also hinted that there was no longer anymore lox. The cousins have gone in for seconds. My anxiety starts to kick in.
I don't think we ever see our parents as people; they're too psychologically wed to being our parents. But for a brief moment, I look at my dad (chatting with the station attendant because he has to talk to EVERYONE) and simply see an old man. It makes me profoundly sad because feeling-like-a-teen-in-the-backseat at 41 is a short-lived gift. Soon enough I will be in NYC reviewing my tax statement. Regretfully, what's more, grown up than that?
So I give my dad a hug, kick the fluorescent metal road kill to the side with as much grace as one can muster, take away his snack and insist on GPS. You really cannot argue with technology and I'm hungry.