We use gray matter
To sort blacks and whites – until
It doesn’t matter
This haiku came to me after my last phone call with my Uncle Leo. In fact, it was my last phone call with him, period. He died on the last day of 2013. I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but it was a blessing. It’s also sad. He was 98, but that was one of the few facts he knew.
His wife, my aunt, died in 2012, sinking him into a grave for the living. His memory shattered, leaving him in a self-aware dementia. It was as if someone or something had cruelly flipped the switch on his ability to recall. Conversation becomes a nightmare when you can’t find your way back to the last two sentences. Each call was like trying to do laps in a kiddie pool.
He died in a nursing home in Denver, Colo., where the next generation grew up and left. His two sons traveled across the country constantly to check in on him, to maintain the vigil. They gave him a printed page, listing all the family members, how they were related, where they were living, what they were doing. It was his crib sheet for each call and visit. Without it, he could not play the role of my uncle.
Leo had a wonderful life, spending much of it smiling, laughing, arguing, kvelling, worrying and loving. Always the gentleman in every sense of the word, he made a lot of friends, most of whom left this mortal coil before he did. He was the father of all of us. We will never forget him.
One of our favorite Leo-isms will always be how he often instructed us when we came to visit that we should be mindful that Denver now had parking meters and we should not allow them to go overtime. He offered this advice after I turned 50. Maybe this was an early sign that Leo’s over-protection was turning a corner and heading for a darker place.
To ward off this affliction, I keep thinking about what might be called its lighter side. I make myself laugh at it, as if to keep the forgetful wolf from my door. I do crossword puzzles — in ink. I do memory exercises as well, like recalling the eight U.S. presidents born in Virginia, the seven born in Ohio and the four each born in New York and Massachusetts. Then I visualize the plaques of quoted figures inscribed on the federal courthouse in Boston. Going along one wall of the building toward the main entrance, they are William Cushing, Sarah Grimke, Frederick Douglass, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, John F. Kennedy, Lelia Josephine Robinson and John Adams. As far as my wife is concerned, the fact that I can spout all this just proves I’m not originally from Denver, but Mars.
So if I have the ability to do this, you’d think I could remember where I parked our mainland car in the Steamship Authority’s Falmouth lot. Forget it! Between expeditions, enough time apparently elapses to blot out the brain cell that houses the image of parking. The trick to finding the car becomes even more twisted if the last person who parked is not the next person who needs to drive. Now we’re talking Carmageddon.
Paula and/or I go over to America about two or three times a month. I have been getting my hair cut by the same wonderful woman for 30 years. She is in Chestnut Hill. I try not to go that often. I wait until my wife looks at my locks and says, “Well, it’s either time for you to get a haircut or an orchestra.”
As I ferry across the sound, my mind races. I was the last one to use the car. Where did I park? While the lot has been under reconstruction, many of the old landmarks, like posts with numbered signs, have vanished. So nowadays I can lose up to 15 minutes trying to find my car.
The car door remote has been somewhat of a saving grace, but the Falmouth lot is huge. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got a Popeil Pocket Fisherman in my hand, casting into the sea of cars, trying to reel in my own, waiting for it to beep and wink at me. It’s like using a car Clapper. Before I’ve reached the vehicle, voila, I’ve beaten myself up: Why didn’t you draw a map, take a smart phone photo, tie a balloon to the door, strap a stuffed Romney dog to the roof?
Then I notice I am not the only one clicking away. The Falmouth lot can look like a dementia hatchery, especially as our population ages.
But maybe this dementia talk is premature. Don’t we all forget some of the wheres in life — where did I park my car, where did I leave my keys, where did I put my career? Wait a minute!
Didn’t Jerry Seinfeld spend an entire episode searching for his car in a parking garage? Didn’t he also have an Uncle Leo? Maybe I’m just experiencing the secret curse of the nephews.
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.