Friday, August 5, 2011

How You See It

"What's wrong with Grandpa", Luke asks, his four-year-old eyes full of concern. "Is he sick or sumthin?"

I look at Luke and then at my dad who's prone on the couch sleeping. An occasional shudder passes through his body like the aftershock of a magnitude-seven earthquake followed by a sob the seems to wind its way up the well of his soul and spill out into air.

"Yeah Luke, Grandpa is sick or something."

I look at the mountain of loose papers, receipts, floppy disks and hand-scrawled notes that rise from the kitchen table like a newly formed landfill and flash back to my trash-hauling days and the DuPage County dump, how we'd helped to transform a hole into a mountain one garbage truck at a time.

It's 7:00PM, April 16, 1989, Tax Payer's Eve. Dad's decided he needs some help with his taxes, i.e., he wants someone to do them for him, e.g., me. I sigh, carried away in a stream of thoughts that grows to a torrent as new tributaries empty their burdens into the main flow.

This is going to take all night. Why couldn't he come to me earlier? Why didn't he just take me up on my offer to do his taxes when I had time a month ago? Where was everyone else? Why the hell did he always come to me with this shit? Why can't mom see that he's a drunk, an alcoholic? Why can't she even say the word?

Crash! The sound of Dave's cymbal stand falling over in the basement drags me to the surface and I think, "Shit, the band is downstairs waiting for me!"

They'd been so quiet trying to hear what was going on in the living room above that I'd completely forgotten about rehearsal.

Shit. I better go talk to the guys. There's no way that I'll be able to rehearse tonight.

I cross the kitchen to the basement steps and then turn to the sound of Luke's voice saying, "Dad, I think Grandpa had a accident on the couch. I thought Grandpas aren't sposed to wet their pants."

"No Luke, normally grandpas don't wet their pants, but sometimes they do. I'll take care of it in a minute, OK? Just wait here while I've go to talk to the guys. I'm gonna let them know that grandpa's sick and that I can't rehearse tonight."

As I trudge down the stairs, I hear the commotion of musicians retreating to their normal rehearsal positions. I turn the corner into the studio/garage and see four question marks waiting for answers. Finally, Reigh asks, "Hey man, is everything OK up there? Anything we can do?"

I stare blankly, ostensibly looking at Reigh, but I don't see him. My mind races through scenarios, trying to determine a way to take him up on his offer, but I've never been good at responding to offers for help. My mind reenters the present and I say, "No man, thanks. I'm just not gonna be able to rehearse tonight. You guys go ahead and play, or whatever you want to do. I've got to get back upstairs."

I bound up the stairs hoping to reinvigorate myself with some motion, turn the corner into the kitchen and see Luke dutifully stationed by the living room door, keeping and eye on his grandpa. Luke turns and says, "He's not doing anything, dad. He's just kind of lying there. I think he mighta been crying or something."

"Thank you for watching Grandpa, Luke. You want to help me sort these papers?"

Luke beams as if I'd just asked him if he wanted to go to a baseball game. "I can help?"

"Yeah, Luke. You can help. But first, I'm gonna help Grandpa change his pants. You wait for me here, OK?"

I go into our bedroom to retrieve some sweatpants. In the living room, my dad is snoring loudly.

"Dad, let's get you out those wet pants and into something dry."


I wrestle off his soaked khakis and underwear, toss them on the floor, work the sweatpants up his legs and under his butt, and then march the sodden clothes down to the basement and toss them into the washer. My dad never wakes. The couch will have to wait until morning.

Back in the kitchen, I pull up two chairs and sit down. Luke climbs on the chair next to me, rubs his hands together like he's about to dig into a box of new toys, and looks at me waiting for instruction.

I haven'I got a clue as to what to do with him. With a sigh, I reach into the pile, pull out a crumpled bank statement and say, "OK, see this piece of paper. It has green across the top and a little tree in the corner. I want you to find all the papers that look like this one and stack them on the counter over there. Can you do that?"

We dig in. Within 10 minutes, Luke's ready for another assignment. I can't help but laugh to myself as I watch Luke's energy and enthusiasm. Slowly my mood changes and I join him.

Around ten o'clock, we feel the garage door rumble below us as the guys leave. Luke and I have worked through three quarters of the pile and things are starting to look pretty good. By midnight, Luke sleeps peacefully, curled up on a blanket on the floor next to me. I've got all the data entered into my Mac. A couple of passes to check everything over and I'll done.

Two o'clock. Everything's filed and stacked into boxes. The forms are printed waiting for signatures. I carry Luke to bed. He wakes for a moment as I cover him. "Dad, did we do it?"

"Yeah Luke, we did it. All done. Good job."

I drape a blanket over my dad. Drop into the recliner and close my eyes.

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