My dad and I were visiting a bunch of old codgers in the solarium at their rest home. Some of them wore hospital gowns and others outdated clothes such as polyester slacks with suspenders and knee socks. One wore a pressure stocking on his leg. Another had a small bandage taped high up on his forehead. They were talking about the meaning John Denver had brought to their lives.
“For me it was certain far-out parameters that occurred along with, I don’t know, a joyful and innocuous meaningful state that for me defined a new era grounded in, what I mean is, openness and acceptance and a commitment to all living — uh, life,” said Bob, who had only shaved one side of his face that morning. I think his name was Bob, but don’t quote me. “That captured the era, you know, for those of us determined not to leave on any military vehicle, ship, or plane on our Rocky Mountain high,” Bob concluded.
“For me,” said I think Ted, who had managed to get the belt of his bathrobe caught in his wheelchair spokes so that he couldn’t roll forward or backward without squeezing the breath out of himself, “it was the time of our new age with granny glasses, the dawning or awakening of the senses within the cosmos — I’m coming to a stairway here — when the touch of a six-string guitar was all we needed to fly like an eagle. Still, I never made it out of Cleveland.”
“Lots of good hiking along the Cuyahoga River,” said a third. I couldn’t even guess his name, but he wasn’t allowed to drink anything caffeinated since that would launch heart palpitations.
“You know who I like?” said Seth, definitely Seth, who was scheduled to die that morning, in a few minutes in fact. “I don’t know why I like her as much as I do, but I do like her, I like her very much. You know who it is that I like so much? I just like her songs. I like very much the way she sings them. It is Carole King.” He then announced that he was ready for the euthanasia, and as a favor my dad pressed the nurse call button. It was none too soon, in my opinion, before they all started singing “I Feel the Earth Move.”
“Are you just giving up, then?” Burl asked Seth, badly missing the point, I’m afraid. I’m calling him Burl since he looked like Burl Ives, or Burl Ives after he’d been dead for a while.
The guys with the cameras and sound system came over. Seth was recording a farewell video to be sent to friends and family after his euthanasia. For personal reasons Seth had elected to die in the presence of his closest friends only. He didn’t mind having me and Dad there, although Dad had only visited him a couple of times before and this was my first visit, but he was afraid his family wouldn’t understand and would interfere with the proceedings. He was likely wrong about that. Dad, who had met them, told me his family was a bunch of idiots who failed to appreciate him — in fact, they regarded him as dregs. But neither of us spoke up about that.
“I’ve enjoyed my life,” said Seth, not without a dry catch in his voice.
“And we’ve enjoyed watching you live it,” said Burl. “Except for your recent acid reflux and vile temper.”
“But it’s time to go,” said Seth. “Time to skedaddle. Though I’m no ways tired.”
“Was it an easy decision?” my dad asked.
“Heck no,” said Seth. “I was looking forward to a few more years of restful mesothelioma. But then, unconsciously, without my being aware of it, I began to let go of life. The last days I was at home, I invited my neighbors to go through my garage and take whatever tools they wanted.”
“Whatever tools they wanted?” asked the man in the pressure stocking. The gimp could hardly believe his ears. “You might have let me know.”
“I didn’t know you then,” said Seth. “I only met you at the foot doctor here. And then what would you do with tools? You can’t even stand. But as I was saying, I let my neighbors choose from among my power mowers, leaf blowers, edgers, hedge trimmers, weed whackers, sprinklers, snowplows, bug zappers, gas grills and all the rest of that crap. Heck, it was like a Home Depot in there. But I no longer cared about any of it. My mind had made itself up. It was time to let material things go.”
“I would never allow myself to degenerate so far as to give up my tools,” said the man with the bandage on his cranium. “Your doctor should have put you out of your misery years ago.”
“Will you be transitioning to anything?” the cameraman asked Seth, stifling a yawn. “We have props to indicate several hereafters, including hunting rifles, roses, clouds, gold columns…”
“Of course he will,” said my dad. “There’s always a better life to come, isn’t there?”
“That’s heartening,” said the cameraman.
“I believe in a life after,” said Seth. “That’s the kind of roach clip I am. I want to sit on a cloudbank beside a mound of roses, singing John Denver tunes. Of course Carole King penned some worthy anthems too, and I might hum a few of those throughout eternity.”
“I want to be black, next go-around. I’ve thought it over carefully, and I want to come back as a black man.” That was Homer, who was already black. Good to know he was satisfied.
“What about a woman?” asked my dad.
“What about her?” asked Seth.
“I mean, why not come back as a woman, next time around?”
I was proud of my dad. He was a nonsexist reincarnationist, and probably an all-around equal opportunity one too. He wanted the reincarnated to represent a broad diversity of folks, or so I gathered. And he was proud enough of me to introduce me to his batty friends, even though not one of them reacted to my presence. At the same time I was worried about the old man. He was beginning to show his age and decrepitude, as was clear from the kind of people he was hanging out with. I also needed to let him know that there was no way I was letting him euthanize himself like Seth, and I wasn’t leaving him today until he understood that.
In a short time Seth lay on a gurney and absorbed his potion, Socrates-like only through an IV tube. As the film crew took down all our credit card numbers for advance orders of Seth’s farewell documentary, the nurse drew the sheet up over Seth’s face. Dad and I got up to leave as the elderly witnesses began to fall asleep in their seats.
“That was some exit,” said my dad, burning the hair off several knuckles with a glowing cigarette lighter as he sometimes did to ease tension. We were outside the rest home and in his car now, where he proceeded to light up a smoke. “Seth really did himself proud,” he added, starting the engine.
On the way back to his house, where I had left my car, Dad drove hideously. As he had on the way over, he ran through stop signs and sideswiped a couple of mailboxes that were set out close to the curb. He didn’t mention these alarming errors — didn’t seem aware of them, in fact. He held his head high, admiring his road skills, or what was left of them.
“Dad,” I said, “To be honest I hope you haven’t lined up anything like an assisted suicide for yourself LOOKOUT! Because I don’t approve of this euthanasia business for the able elderly WATCHWHEREYOU’REGOING! and as your son I’ll fight you on it MYGODSLOWDOWN! and WHYAREYOUSMOKINGANDDRIVING!?”
“If I ever become a bad driver, a real road hazard, you’ll tell me, won’t you?” he said, laughing his ass off. He narrowly missed smacking a parked car.
I considered this. It was clear that Dad held himself to a high standard of dementia, since he was practically begging me to keep him off the road, if I understood him correctly. I admired that, and promised myself that I would attain to the same high standard when my driving skills deteriorated and I became a road menace. I’d surrender my keys on the spot as soon as I saw that happening. But after all we’d been through today, I couldn’t bring myself to tell Dad that I’d never ride with him again under any circumstances, not if my life depended on it. Not yet.
“You’re not doing too bad,” I said.
“That’s why you keep screaming and curling up in a ball,” he cackled.
After he pulled into his drive, almost smashing the taillight of my parked car, he sat in the driver’s seat playing with the turn signal like a child with a toy.
“I’m going the distance,” he said after a minute. “Yea though I walk through the valley of baldness and hip replacements with countless hairline fractures and a prostate of stone, I won’t be checking out early.”
“Attaboy,” I said. “Of course you can reconsider if you start drooling on yourself and behaving like a potted plant. We both can reconsider.”
Then I demanded the car keys, and after stubbing out his cigarette he handed them over with hardly a word of protest, only bellowing in rage and thrashing about wildly while I literally tore them from his hands, which began bleeding. Then he grabbed them back from me and stuck them in his pants pocket, laughing like a maniac. I had to rip off the pocket, which came away with a great tearing sound, to get at them again. When I held them once more, securely this time, he only smiled contentedly and settled back in the car seat. This was the old geezer I admired and still wanted to be with, the one who was ageing gracefully and whose lofty dementia I would someday emulate.
Too bad I needed to make him bleed and ruin his pants to find him.