I had hoped that by now things would be looking better than they are for a still new year, but any momentary anxiety I might have had about running out of things to complain about proved groundless. Recently a friend asked me the rhetorical “How ya doin’?” and I actually answered, “Can’t complain.” The look on his face begged the question. I nodded and said, “Yeah, I know. I’m not sure how to deal with it.” This was toward the end of the holidays, which were atypically pleasant for me. It seemed I had been given a momentary reprieve from — I don’t know — the human condition, consequences of my moral failures, genetics, karma, the economy? Depends on who you ask. That moment, not long ago at all, poised between the insurmountable and the...mountable and as substantial as a play of light, was welcome. But that too passed. Pretty much on the same day I was turned down for another apartment rental because of a horrendous credit report.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” my father said constantly. Toward the end of his life, in his 40s, it became, “It’s always one goddamned thing after another.”
It is not unusual for me to think of Bob Brizzolara around this time of year. On February 7, my father would have been 91, not terribly likely, but hardly out of the question. He died at the age of 49. Heart failure. I like to think that this past decade I have been, in some way, living for both of us. Yes, I would love to say that those zany, carefree days for a man between 49 and 60 have been my bon voyage gift to Dad, but I’m glad that it doesn’t work that way.
Still, say it did and we could compare notes. My father was a writer, very good with words, better at sentences and excellent at stringing paragraphs together. I’m sure he would have a great theory as to why it is that those exact years are where “One goddamned thing after another” becomes “Shit happens.”
I doubt he would have gotten any more foul mouthed than that after 60, but it is in those years that men seem to come up with philosophical catch-all phrases from “What are ya gonna do?” to “Life’s a bitch and then ya die.” It is more along these latter lines that, as a bartender, I would hear men (usually in their 50s) come up with one-line barroom aphorisms (usually obscene) that would pass — during happy hour, anyway — for philosophy. Dad would have gotten creative, though never obscene. Still, he would appreciate one bar customer I had who, like Norm on Cheers, always had a good entrance opener.
“What’s new, Harry?” was once met by “Well, my semi-annual hard-on has now become my annual semi hard-on.”
They would get worse, naturally, but that’s about as graphic as Harry would get.
The bottom line on this phenomenon was proffered from Hunter S. Thompson, who shot himself to death in February of 2005 at the age of 67. In what passed for a suicide note, he had written days earlier, “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”
After reading Thompson over the years, I am conditioned to anticipate the riotously funny in his stuff. I found myself doing this as well while reading that last graph of his. Several beats after reading the phrase, “This won’t hurt,” I could sense my facial muscles tensed in a kind of gaseous or constipated grin. The other shoe hadn’t dropped, there was no punch line.
What was missing here was not something as simple as a sense of humor; what Thompson was looking at, I am sure, were some soul-freaking realities and not material for yuks. The “Doctor of Journalism” had wandered off (which is far too easy to do) from that place where what is ridiculous or the absurd is at the heart of all things. I like to think that Bob Brizzolara would have retained that to the end.
I wasn’t there. I was demonstrating on the streets of Chicago in 1968 and he was off fishing with a friend in the wilds of Wisconsin. His last words, via his friend Bill, were, “Tell Mary Jane and the kids I was proud to know them.” That could have been him, but it also sounds much like something a good friend would supply a family if that man were unable to speak at all.