So many guns, so much ammunition. If the Upper East Side suffered a zombie invasion and my father could see to shoot straight, he’d be the sole survivor.
In total, there were five handguns. Automatics and revolvers both. There were speed loaders for the revolvers, just in case six shots didn’t take care of the zombie and he needed another six quick.
He also had spare clips for the automatics, so that he could slide out the empty ones and be ready for action in seconds. Of course, the old man could barely fart in seconds anymore, but what are you going to do?
There were at least three rifles and a shotgun downstairs in a storage locker, but they were properly secured and hardly counted. The handguns, on the other hand, were located in any old place — some hidden under piles of clothes, others in his nightstand as if this were a bad spy movie, or we’d entered the world of noir.
The housecleaner came by once a week with her 5-year-old kid. Two guns were at child height and just sitting there, waiting to be played with. Guess my father was far beyond giving a shit.
My sister and I found briefcases filled with ammunition ranging from armor-piercing rounds to these weird bullets that sprayed ball bearings like a shotgun shell but were sized for a handgun. We found more boxes of ammunition on shelves.
We laid it all on his king-sized bed, which he no longer shared with my mom and that I couldn’t bear picturing him using with Lynn. The bed was covered so that you could barely see the duvet.
Hillary and I looked at each other for a long time. I said I was out. This was the final bridge I couldn’t cross. I could handle the unintentional semi-suicide — almost. But this was just too fucking much. The man had hurt me enough. I’d just started a new job and visiting him and taking care of him while he screamed at me for imagined slights was making me fuck up.
I’ve had a lot of jobs. This one I couldn’t afford to lose.
I’ll have to fit in the tale of the unplugged stereo somewhere else, but you can probably guess its direction.
Hillary suggested getting a safe to put the guns in and then not giving my dad the combination. I just wanted to walk away, but helped her to buy it from Gracious Home downstairs. I carried it up to the apartment and put it on the floor. Hillary took the guns and stuck them inside, swearing she wouldn’t give my dad access.
The drugs went down the toilets, just like in Miami Vice.
My father got out of the hospital some days later. I was long gone, done with him. He reached out to me, but I blocked his number. He sent me emails, but I sent them to spam.
Hillary, knowing her inheritance was on the line, was more accessible to him. And, after a few days, when my dad went from fake gratitude for our kindness in looking out for him, to rage and threats, my sister gave him the combination. I didn’t know what to say, but I kept thinking about calling the cops on my father. I was filled with rage at the old man and disappointment in my sister, which couldn’t have made less sense since I’d never had any faith in her.
The guns were illegal, and somehow I imagined that the cops would actually put this rich, old, frail, white man in jail. I called lawyers looking for advice. I thought about disposing of the guns permanently myself, carrying them down to the river or to a police station, but I was scared that I’d be the one caught with them.
In the end I did nothing. It was safer to abandon him and enjoy my endless rage. My self-indulgence cost me everything.
But that’s not The Maserati Story.
One day, when he was in his mid-60s, my father started smoking again. No one knew where it came from. He’d quit about thirty years before. But there they were, packs of unfiltered Camels, just like he’d let me puff one night on a dark road in Massachusetts when I was 8. We were sitting in one of my grandfather’s cars that the family had borrowed for a road trip to visit friends south of Boston.
Those trips were always filled with seafood and love. Going after Thanksgiving Day every year was the highlight of the fall. We stayed in a hotel called the Clipper Ship, and it had an indoor swimming pool and our friends would come over to swim with us. There were five kids, plus a mom who had gone to Radcliffe with my mother decades before. I loved Joey, Lila and all of the rest. Lila was a year older than me, and pretty enough that even though I was presexual I noticed.
I knew all about Radcliffe because my mother knew just how to drop it into conversation far too often.
So, one night, sitting on the enormous bench seat, on a dark, dark rural road, my dad noticed me staring at the cherry at the end of his cigarette. I think I asked to try it, but I’m not sure anymore. My dad put it to my lips as my mother offered faint objections and I blew into it. What the hell did I know? The cherry glowed even redder, lighting up my dad’s profile.
I loved my father. No relationship is nothing but hate.
Now, decades after I’d begged him to stop, and more than a decade after I’d stopped smoking myself, the Camels were back. My mom was beside herself. I was more sanguine. I’d had dreams of starting up again when I was old enough for it not to matter much. I just thought it was weird. My father had become the kind of ex-smoker that everyone hates: preachy.
It was then that my dad started to look sweaty.
Finally, my mom convinced him to quit again. He talked to me about how I’d done it, by taking an anti-depressant that has the weird side effect of helping people to quit smoking — Wellbutrin.
He decided to try it, getting it from the same psychiatrist he’d been seeing unsuccessfully for years.
And then everything got weird.
It was spring shading into summer. Perfect time for my father to disappear to the lake house, usually with my mother. They would go up there and sous vide in the heat and humidity for weeks at a time. There wasn’t an air conditioner.
I remember, as an adult, I’d bought them one as a gift — a gift that would actually make the place bearable for me, really — but they made me return it. Apparently, being hot and damp was all part of the pleasure of the place.
I’d never gotten much pleasure out of it personally. The family bought the house when I was about the same age as when I shared the cigarette with my father. It had three tiny bedrooms, was lined in hardwood and, despite huge skylights, was kind of gloomy. When I was very small, the opportunity to toast marshmallows was pretty appealing. It was also kind of fun to glide awkwardly over the ice in figure skates when the lake froze over.
I remember once coming on a goose that had frozen into the ice. Thankfully it was dead, but the memory lingered for years. I can still picture the spot. Have I mentioned I’m a city kid?
Snowmobilers plowed tracks across the ice and snow of the mile-long lake and we used the ruts as trails when we did cross-country skiing. That would have been one of the three times for the kids over the course of years. I think we had unused snowshoes, too, as we lived out Nanook of the North fantasies about 50 miles up from the city.
The hot chocolate was powdered, the marshmallows tiny, hard and delicious. The fire was a joy and a burden as my dad had a system that meant every log had to be moved from the pile outside on a procession of stops before it was deemed seasoned enough to be set alight.
Summers were sweaty and boring, with Hillary and I sitting on a couch, switching between three channels while being ordered to get out of the house and have fun. The country charms were lost on my sister and I, and to be honest they are still lost on me.
Hillary, on the other hand, now lives among the vast vistas of the West, in Santa Fe.
My father was often at his worst upstate. If people didn’t feel like doing what he was in the mood for, he got cranky. If you didn’t leap to helping him raise the sail on one of his two sailboats on this pond of a lake, the price could be terrible. He might be in a raging sulk for the rest of the weekend, we might have the weekend cut short, everybody shouted into the car all in a rush. Plans for a movie — complete with air conditioning — could be swept off the table.
Eggs were a big thing upstate — for him, I never liked them. They needed to be made by a specific time known only to my father and often revealed only after it was too late. My father could cook, or at least I think he could make eggs, but he relied on my mother each weekend day to do it.
He would utterly lose himself if the eggs weren’t ready when the timer in his mind went off. He screamed. He slammed things, often hurting himself and banking his rage to new heights. Hillary and I would hide in our rooms or even take a walk in nature, finding common cause where often I ignored her or treated her poorly or she whined and pouted and stubbornly made us all miserable.
I have very few good memories of the place and when my parents sold it many years later, I had no regrets — except that they didn’t share the money.
But the house upstate is kind of where the Maserati story begins.
Stanley Gordon Fields was a Camry man. He dreamed of reliability and low cost of ownership the way other men dreamt of long women with uncrossed legs.
For decades of Manhattan living, my family didn’t own a car. We didn’t need one. There was complicated math that led my parents to believe it was cheaper to rent a car every single weekend to go upstate than to pay for parking, insurance, gas and repairs.
Of course, you had to walk nearly a mile to get to the car rental place, and when you did, your reservation may or may not be waiting for you. And with your reservation, maybe a car. And on busy weekends, the cost could be twice what you thought it was going to be and the competition for a reservation was fierce.
My father would head out into the early evening on many Fridays, off to get the car and begin the slow, torturous commute upstate.
It was impossible to know the mood he’d return in. If things went well, he’d merely be anxious to get going and “beat” the traffic that always swallowed us. If there had been a long line at Hertz or a problem with the car, it could be an hour later and we’d be starting off the weekend with a bang.
His mood also depended on the kind of car he got. An American four-door and there’d be a string of complaints all the way up about the quality. An upgrade? It would use more gas.
Oh, but a Camry, a sweet, sweet Camry…
A box with a the charm of a toaster, but with an “eco” or “sport” mode to chose from. The man was in heaven, extolling the cars trusty virtues for what could be the two hour drive to get to the lake.
Sure, there were fancier cars — once we’d even been given a Pontiac Trans Am by the auto-rental gods for a trip to the relatives for Passover — but the Camry was the ultimate in a quality ride. A rebuke to the arrogance and incompetence of Detroit on four tires.
He loved to talk about them, and when he finally took a job at his father’s law firm all the way out in Queens, the old man lived his dream and bought one. Ahhhhhh.
The gray vehicle even had a black pinstripe glued on down the side. Class.
And when that Camry finally died — after many years and few miles, since he drove it less than 100 miles a week, he ran right out and bought a worse one. Toyota had “Americanized” their cars, making the ride much softer and the angles much uglier. It was a bouncing bag of mediocrity, but while my dad agonized about buying something else, maybe even a “sports car” like the Toyota Celica, he couldn’t turn his back on the first great love of his middle middle age.
He hadn’t always been this way. In fact, my father was something of a maniac on the road at one point. As a very young man — I think he was still in college — he’d bought a used 1954 Jaguar XK-120. The 120 stood for the car’s alleged top speed.
He had it for something over a week.
Driving home to his parent’s house (where he lived until he married my mother in 1964, at the age of 27), he was caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Long Island Expressway. He took his eye off the road for a few seconds, missed the fact that the hulking Buick ahead of him had jammed on his brakes. The front of the Jag slid right under the rear of the Buick, the nose of which had pitched down as it tried desperately to stop, lifting the tail way up in the air.
My father might have been able to stop, he always said when telling the story, but the clutch and the brake on the XK were reversed from what they are on a standard American car. A Jag, is a beautiful, fragile, ephemeral thing and this one was totaled.
The car was towed to the specialty repair show where my father had bought it. The man who sold it to him, who was also a mechanic and a true lover of the breed, looked at my father for a minute and then just shook his head side to side slowly. My dad knew then that he’d done more than crash a car — he’d pulled the wings off an angel.
Still, it wasn’t the end of my father’s time as a car romantic. At the time he met my mother, he was driving around a cute little thing called a Sunbeam Alpine, a two-seated, unreliable British import.
But then the slow decent began. The car they bought together was a Volvo named Velvil after a vaudeville act in the Catskills. It wasn’t particularly reliable, but it sure looked like it should be. They kept it until 1972, a year after I was born, and then went carless for years to come.
When I was a few years old, my father felt the special kind of itch that can only be scratched by a Porsche 911. They just had the $9,000 in the bank to buy it and dad was willing to part with all of it. He turned to my mom who apparently said, “If you really want it, you can have it.”
It was too much, my father regained his senses and the carlessness continued.
Within a few weeks of starting on the Wellbutrin, my father was sweatier that ever, dressed in dad clothes — beige, light weight cotton shirt, open just one too many buttons, khaki shorts and boat shoes. He was missing the Panama hat, but not by much.
My dad called me up one day — not that unusual, we were certainly on speaking terms at the time — and asked what I thought of the Maserati Quatroporte. I didn’t know what I thought of it, because I’d never seen one, but It was definitely a little weird that my dad was asking.
“Why are you asking?” I said as I looked the car up online.
“I’m thinking about getting one,” said the Camry Man.
The search result chose that minute to come up and my jaw dropped to the floor.
“What about your Camry?” I stuttered.
“Do you want it?” He asked, a generous smile in his voice.
He went on to explain to me that he was making a rational choice. Even though my sister and I no longer lived with him, having four doors made the car practically practical. Plenty of room for my son, Isaac, and I to come along on trips to the lake house and further afield.
I didn’t really know what to say, but in a way, he was asking the wrong guy.
First, he wasn’t in front of me, so I had no idea he was nuts.
Second, I knew he could afford the card and I was wondering what he was doing with his money anyway.
Third, I was a car guy and I hated that fucking Toyota Camry. I had tried to talk him at least into a Honda the last time out — you know, shake things up a little.
He was old, he was rich, he wanted a Maserati, why the fuck not? He might even let me drive it.
My mom wasn’t so sure. She knew my dad was a Camry Man, and she could see the sweating, which was all the time, even in the air-conditioned apartment on the 12th floor at 176 E. 71st Street. Was my father going to eat up their retirement?
It wouldn’t. The fact was neither of them would live anywhere near long enough to run through their money, not that they knew that.
So my dad came up with a cunning plan.
In order to protect the privacy of the lake house, my parents had bought the vacant lot next door to it. My dad figured that privacy should be worth have the cost of the lot to the guy who lived on the other side of it, too.
I guess you could see this as a kind of extortion — pay me or maybe I’ll build something and ruin your privacy — but months after my father bought the car, the guy agreed to it.
Finally the great day came.
My dad wasn’t looking order a Maserati Quatroporte, he was looking to buy one, same day, right now. So, he called around until he found a dealer that had just the one, out in New Jersey.
We made a day of it.
My mom was incredibly worried about my father and their combined future. But she couldn’t restrain my father — not even a little. But she had two strategies she thought might limit the damage. First, she called my dad’s oldest friend, Tony Arbizi, a soft, loving tough guy with a sense of humor, but also common sense. She convinced Tony to come with us on this jaunt in the countryside. She thought Tony would bring back my father’s sense of self, or at least his sense of shame.
Her second strategy was to offer my dad alternatives. Out by Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, just outside New York, there are these weird used car lots that deal with primarily luxury cars and the prices are oddly good. She convinced him that first we should stop and see a couple of particular cars there: Aston Martins, a Bentley, that kind of thing.
So, on a hot day in early June, Mom, Tony and I joined my dad in the Camry and headed out of the city. I was more than a little crazy myself at the time. I’ve mentioned the divorce, my job situation and mom’s recent cancer diagnosis. And I was doing these multimedia projects at the time. I brought along my audio recording equipment and my Rolleiflex camera for the day. I took pictures throughout and recorded people’s thoughts.
We had the windows down and the moonroof open. My dad’s transition sunglasses were trying to turn dark, but not quite getting there.
My mom had already begged my dad not to go, while also doing the difficult juggling act of supporting him. She was visibly upset, but she was almost completely invisible to my father. He liked me better that day because I liked cars and was thinking, hey what the fuck? I was happy for the ride. I was trying to comfort my mom while keeping a journalistic remove from the whole situation. I was happy to see Tony. I really liked Tony and figured if anyone could resolve this situation, it was him.
Out we went to Teterboro. At the first place we arrived there was a huge hall of cars, Porsches, Ferraris, the promised Aston Martins. My dad had called ahead about the Aston Martin, a DB7 convertible, but there was something he didn’t love about it. At $60K it was half of the Maserati he wanted, so my mom was all for it, but my father wouldn’t even take it for a test drive. He’d been humoring her all along.
I stood a little apart looking at the MiniCoopers. I’d always wanted one and they had a bunch for sale. My dad saw me and came over.
“You want one?” He asked.
I was startled. My father had always tried to keep me separated from cars, telling me I didn’t need one and that I couldn’t afford one, and couldn’t park it. But he knew how much I loved them.
Still, his offer was so out of character that it stopped me cold from saying yes.
My mom was looking at me and then back to my dad and then started shaking her head and called me over.
“You know you can’t take it, right?” she said. “He’s not making any sense.”
I almost shrugged her off. At the time I felt like my father owed me for a lifetime of shit. If I could take advantage of whatever the hell was wrong with him and get a car out if it, it seemed only fair. But even to me it seemed like the wrong thing to do. I’m not sure I don’t still regret it.
Since a convertible Aston Martin just wasn’t going to do it, we piled back in the Camry, me with my microphone trying to capture my dad’s madness as we headed deeper into darkest New Jersey on Route 17.
After what felt like days, we arrived at Bergen Maserati/Ferrari. It looked like any other auto dealership, nondescript except for what was inside. Brilliant yellow and red slices of speed for the Ferraris. More sedate silvers, grays and dark blues for the Maseratis.
My father walked over to the grayest, silverest, most dignified Maserati of them all, with an interior made of butter in a reddish brown baseball glove leather. If a baseball glove were made from little fluffy calves who had been slaughtered within minutes of their birth. This was the real thing. The dream more than a car — if you were a man entering old age and needing four doors for the sake of practicality on a car that got maybe 11 miles to the gallon.
The salesman had spoken to my father — Joe, a big beefy guy who looked like he might just sell you a Maserati. He saw my father’s sweat, the strange, determined look on his face, almost hostile, and knew this was a sale that he wasn’t going to have to do much to close. He began to show my father the million and one features of the car. The things that growled, the things that beeped. The sound system that made the car Carnegie Hall, no practice needed.
My dad sat in the pilot’s seat, the cockpit wrapping itself around him, ensnaring him with its wiles, entombing him in its firm embrace. My father was not getting out of that car. The salesman knew it, I knew it, my mother knew it. Tony kept his counsel close to his vest.
He was walking a line between a libertarian form of friendship and a warm concern that came naturally to him. It was becoming clear to my mother that while Tony would offer comfort, he wasn’t about to step out in front of the moving train that was my father’s naked desire.
My mom stepped outside while my father and Joe wooed each other. She began to cry. I took a picture, documenting like I was some kind of steely shooter working in a forest of Vietnam — not part of the action but intimately entangled with it.
We were offered coffee, we were offered tea or bottled water. I took some water. My dad, who must have been dehydrated like an Egyptian mummy, took nothing. He was too ensconced now in Joe’s little cubicle, working through details.
Then it was time for the test drive. Joe was braver than I would have given him credit for. My dad offered to take us with him, none of us said yes. Nobody wanted to get in a car with a man who was so clearly maddening by the minute. But Joe did. He faced the danger head on.
I don’t know what the commission on a $116,000 car is, but I guess it’s a lot.
They were gone for a while, but the contest was never in doubt. My dad returned and ahead was nothing but the paperwork. He was buying the car.
As my dad wandered off somewhere, I went up to Joe and appealed to his conscience, but he had none — at least in this regard. My father wanted a car? Why should the old man be denied? Who was Joe to stand in the way? As much to the point, who the fuck was I?
I walked away, not sure what was next until my dad was trying to decide what to do with the Camry. Joe was looking into the trade-in value, but the dealership didn’t have much to do with Toyotas much of the time. It wasn’t worth much to them.
I said I’d take the car and my dad was glad to let me have it. Even my mom approved. I don’t know if she thought my dad would somehow change his mind and return the Maserati and need the Camry back or what, but she even volunteered to pay the parking and insurance for me to keep it. I may have hated the car, but I was smart enough not to look a gift Camry in the mouth.
When it became clear that the titling, insurance and everything else would take hours more, my mother, Tony and I decided to head back to the city. There were more tears from my mother, but they were quieter. Tony didn’t have any wisecracks or warm words left. We dropped him in Queens with no one knowing what to say, and I drove my home to Manhattan.
It was hours more before my father showed up. My mom was pretty sure he’d crashed, but instead it was just traffic. He’d brought the car home and now the Maserati story begins.
My father immediately disappeared upstate. My mom wasn’t ready to do her usual forgive and forget routine just yet, so he went on his sweaty way alone.
Weird reports began to come back to us from upstate. My mom received an accidental call asking when did we want thousands of dollars worth of plants to be delivered? She began to check the credit card receipts. Thousands of dollars more had been spent on paintball equipment. He called my mom and began to talk to her about alterations to the lake house, busting open their bedroom wall and sticking in a hot tub.
And he began to talk about getting a dog.
Around the time I was born, my parents got a dog. Their one and only pet of choice. They’d allowed my sister to have cats, but the dog had been all theirs.
But the dog had been a pain in the ass. One night my parents went to lie down in their bed at the end of what I guess had been a long day and found themselves in a series of puddles. The dog, apparently, was gone next day. I’d never had the heart to ask where.
Now a dog was back in the picture, whatever anyone else in the family might say. Whatever we thought about whether my dad could take care of it. We weren’t even sure he was able to change his own underwear at this point. Every time he ventured briefly into the city he was wearing the same clothes, or at least that’s how I remember it.
My mom began to truly get worried. By now we were talking about many thousands of dollars that were being thrown straight out of the window. My sister and I urged her not just to cut him off, but to divorce him. We’d wished she’d done it decades before, but now seemed an opportune time to get rid of the monster while he was distracted by his own delusions.
Mom worried about what he would do if she cut him off. She considered divorce but rejected it as too expensive. And besides, they’d been married for 40 years. It’s hard to end a habit of a lifetime just like that.
But the calls from upstate just kept coming. The plans just got more and more grandiose. Finally, even my mom reluctantly recognized that something needed to be done.
She cut him off.
Mom was the one with all the passwords to the accounts — cash, credit, stocks. My dad was a computer idiot. Another advantage? My mother struck first.
My father called down from the house and asked mom what had happened to the credit cards. He assumed it was something like a stolen card leading to a cancellation. I’m not sure how honest my mom was with him. She often put a good face on things that were ugly.
Finally, we Hillary, my mom, and I decided this had to end and that there was only one way that it could. My dad needed psychiatric care. More than he was getting from either the internist who wrote him all those Valium prescriptions or from the psychiatrist who refused to do anything when we went to him to report what was going on with my father.
That confrontation had been ugly. The shrink refused to believe that my father was a danger to himself, or anyone else and pointed out that he was responsible to my father, not the rest of the family. If my father bankrupted us, it was none of his business.
The calls from the lake house got stranger. My dad began talking about his plan for a huge party that he was going to have at the house for July 4th. The list of people who were invited — all would surely attend! — became more and more fanciful. Old friends, new friends that he’d made down at the paintball shop. Judges from the Queens Supreme Court where both he and my grandfather had tried cases. My father had long since retired.
The mayor might make and appearance. The governor, too. The house was not too far away from the city and close enough to Albany, after all.
Old clients from when he had been a legal recruiter would appear, including the main counsel for the New York Times, who was sure to hire me on the spot and end my job troubles.
“Everyone loves a party,” he said.
It became his mantra.
“Everyone will be in a good mood, so relaxed. You can talk to him. He’ll be happy to help you out,” my father said.
The last time he’d spoken to his former client was more than 25 years before.
Other senior staff at the paper were also invited, as were any friends my sister and I might have. It would be one hell of a party.
It had to stop.
My sister, my mother and I concocted a half-assed plan. We called the cops who referred us to the emergency medical services. They would lie in wait — for a very short time — in case we could get my father into the city.
He certainly wasn’t going to come down for a psych evaluation, but the Great Party in the Sky was fast approaching. He would need hundreds and hundreds of hotdogs, my mom pointed out.
My family had a strange belief about hotdogs. Dating back to my grandfather, the believed that only a Jewish deli had good ones, or at least the right ones. Maybe a million years ago delis had made their own, or gotten them from some secret supplier, but it was pretty clear that they repackaged good old Hebrew National now.
Still, it was nothing but the best for the guests, and Bernstein’s was right across the street from my parents’ apartment. It was an old place and pretty mediocre, no Katz’s or 2nd Avenue Deli, but you couldn’t beat it for convenience.
So, my mom suggested he should place a massive order and then pick her up to help prepare for the grand event. Dad was thrilled that my mom was going to attend and at least as thrilled about the hotdogs. He hopped in the Maserati and made the just-over-an-hour drive down the windy Taconic Parkway, through the Bronx and to the Upper East Side.
My mom suggested he come upstairs to get some things, and at this point the plan almost failed. My dad was in a hurry. He wanted to grab the hotdogs and asked that mom meet him downstairs. But my mom said she wanted to bring along a cooler full of other stuff for the party and that she’d need help carrying it down. Normally the building staff would have brought the cooler down, but I guess my dad wasn’t thinking straight.
He came up in the elevator and let himself in. It was about 4 p.m. We could see he was wearing the same khaki clothes and was still sweating up a storm. My father looked around and a strange look came across his face. He took in the cops and the EMTs and he smiled.
The EMTs asked my father to take a seat, which he did in his favorite dad chair, putting his feet up on the matching green leather ottoman. The police stood quietly nearby, unmoving but a little skeptical. It hadn’t been easy to get them to show up in the first place. It took a few calls to the 19th Precinct, which is a little kinder to the upper middle class than they might be to others.
The EMTs began asking the same questions you see in the movies. It was the female technician who was asking the questions. Who was the president? What day was it? How many children did he have?
My dad almost got away with it. He was so close, answering every question correctly and calmly. But then he fucked up.
He asked his interrogator did she want to come to the party? Her partner and the police officers were invited, too, of course, but my dad clearly had his eye on Flores, as her badge said.
“Everybody loves a party!” he said happily.
It was time to go to the hospital.
My mom got into the ambulance with my father, who was still smiling and chatting happily with his captors. My sister and I were given the chance of a lifetime to ride in the back of the police car that had come with the cops.
It was weird. We passed by landmark after landmark of our childhoods. The bakery we always shopped at, the streets we used to walk with our nanny, Liz, Hillary’s old school — all on the way to Mt. Sinai Hospital, which begins around 100th Street on Fifth Avenue and travels north for a bit. I’d been born there 30-something years before. So had Hillary for that matter. There had been various appointments with doctors there and visits to relatives. Our Great Aunt Annie had been there as a rest stop on the way to an old-age home.
And now we were waiting in the emergency room for a psych consult. And when I say waiting, I mean hours. Hours of listening to my dad profoundly thanking us for the kindness and concern we had shown him by hauling him in for what he took to be a checkup. He was so happy, so cheery that he wasn’t my father at all, not as I’d known him.
Even when he’d been happy before he’d been easily irritated. Just a few minutes of waiting were enough to sour his mood. Now he was stuck for hours with just a few uncomfortable seats, it was getting later, and he wasn’t getting any closer to the lake house.
And that was his only concern: that might not have the time he wanted to get things set. He worried a bit about the hotdogs that were still waiting at the deli with no one to cook them. He worried about the paintball guns that weren’t primed for the fun and games to come at the party. And all the guests. Would they have everything they needed?
“Everyone loves a party,” he said again and again.
As midnight came and went, my mother sent my sister and I home. My dad seemed OK waiting, and she felt there was no point in us sticking around. That was like them. When it came down to it, they were a unit, with Hillary and I extraneous, if nice to have around.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I can’t imagine anyone in the family did. I called my mom immediately and she picked up on the sixth ring. She told me that, indeed, my dad had been voluntarily committed to the psych ward and was being given heavy downers. She suggested we wait a day or so before visiting, though she would be going over later that day.
I took her advice, trying to give my attention to work and to Isaac. But when I was at work I was telling this incredibly weird story to everyone who would listen, and when I was with Isaac, I was distracted and distant.
Finally, three days into my father’s incarceration, I went to visit. I found he’d made some friends among the other patients. There was a brilliant artist that I just had to help, that my father and I would make a fortune by selling his paintings. There were other people in the hospital that he’d invited to the party or to have dinner dates with after they all had gotten out.
I want to say it was strange, or surreal but those words just don’t do justice to stopping by to seeing your father in a mental institution, smiling away and filled with grand plans, seemingly unbowed by his circumstances. This nice man had so little to do with the alligator who’d swum just below the surface of my life. Still, I hadn’t forgotten and a part of me begrudged his new happiness.
I said goodbye with promises to return soon.
And then it was July 4th.
My mother, Hillary and I decided that we needed to go upstate. We would need to direct traffic for all of the people who might arrive at the party and tell them it wasn’t going to happen. We also needed to inspect the house and see what my father had been doing for the last month or so.
We took the Maserati. I insisted.
I love cars. My first word was “car.” I’d bought my first car when I was 18, on a visit to the college I would end up attending. The car I’d started off in belonged to a friend and burned out its engine bearings between exits 8 and 8a on the New Jersey Turnpike. A sane person would have taken the train down to Annapolis, Md. I bought a piece of shit used car instead. An Oldsmobile Firenze Starfire coupe, a true piece of shit without power steering or power brakes. My parents made me get rid of it minutes after I returned to New York.
The first car that I got from my grandfather was a 1982 Dodge Diplomat. It had a V8 engine and I wanted more. It was a piece of crap and constantly needed work, but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to make modifications — make it faster, more like the Gran Fury police cars that it looked so much like. I spent hundreds and hundreds of bar mitzvah dollars on switching out the carburetor on this thing, taking days to cruise around for the parts and then paying Chip the Mechanic with a drug problem to install them.
When I was a junior in college at St. John’s, my grandfather died and I became obsessed with his car — another Toyota Camry — trading my interest in my grandmother’s apartment to my sister to get it. I was insane. I think I wanted a piece of my grandfather to drive around, but more than that, I wanted recompense from the universe for my grandfather, and I wanted it right now.
In my senior year at college, I traded in the Toyota Camry — the twin to my dad’s first Camry — and took on an enormous loan to buy a Porsche 944. I had it for about 24 hours. I didn’t have a job at the time, nor prospects of one. My parents made me bring it back to the dealer and get the Camry back. The dealer took some small amount of money from my parents and undid the deal.
I imagine, like my dad, I was very sweaty at the time. My parents saved my ass.
Now, I was driving the ohmygod Maserati. The 500-horse-power dream with the trident on the front and rear. I was scared for a few minutes, but then I couldn’t help myself, as I got on the highway I opened it up and my head swam with joy. Not only was there limitless, effortless power, but the Taconic’s curves were a joke to this masterful thing.
My mom and sister were less thrilled with my enthusiastic driving.
We didn’t make it upstate in quite record time, but I did pretty well.
When we got there and pulled down into the driveway, it was clear something was wrong. There were plants seemingly placed at random in the front yard and the front door was open. We went inside as if we were the bomb squad, every step slow and measured. What we saw was evidence of dad’s madness.
There were dog beds, dog treats, dog leashes, wee-wee pads, and rawhide bones taking over the big papa-san chair and the couch. There were little electric floats that lit up with a button, ready for a dip in the hot tub that had never come. Dozens and dozens of them. There were paintball masks, paint ball guns and thousands of compressed air cartridges and paintballs lying around on random surfaces.
The grate for the fireplace was open and logs were set to be lit, but they were covered in paint. Dad had found a place to test his non-lethal weapons while sitting on the sofa. There were also what appeared to be bullet holes.
Out back we found more plants, most unplanted, just flats of flowers and trees in pots. The configurations were uneven and strange. Poles had been stuck into the ground at unpleasant intervals, and there were a few tiki torches, too.
Nothing was right, everything was askew.
No one showed up for the party.
We drove back to the city in relative quiet. There was a lot of work ahead just to get the place in some kind of shape. My mom hoped to return as much of the stuff as possible and wondered if there were any receipts. I asked what had happened with the dog and it turned out the woman at the kennel wouldn’t sell one to my father, he just seemed too crazy. He worried the dog wouldn’t be safe.
I dropped my sister off, and my mom, then decided to take a little ride. I was still caught up in Arabella and thought maybe she’d get a kick out of the car and sleep with me.
Arabella was playing pool inside a bar called American Trash, so I went in to say hi and see if I could drag her out. She was drunk and I couldn’t, and my first fantasy of Maserati ownership died.
A day or so later, I drove Isaac to a little league game in the car. He didn’t love it. It beeped a lot as it got close to things, having a very strong sense of self-preservation. No one in the Bronx, where Isaac played, was particularly impressed either. I got a couple of “nice cars,” but that was it.
I decided to take the show on the road. I got in touch with an old college girlfriend who is still one of my closest friends and headed to visit her in Vermont.
Of course, there was traffic for the first hour on the road, allowing me to achieve speeds as high as 15 miles per hour. I was lucky the thing didn’t stall out. We limped through Connecticut on I-95, until I could finally turn north. The Maserati and I picked up speed, but it was clear that it wanted more. The engine thrummed and whispered to my right foot, calling sweetly for more pressure.
Soon we were passing anyone and anything that got in our way. Eighty-five miles an hour, but you need 100 to get through that tight gap? No problem. Hold a curve at 95 mph? Child’s play. I began to hope my father would never leave the mental hospital so the Maserati and I could be one forever, as it was so clearly meant to be.
I blasted opera. What would you do?
I have no idea why I didn’t get a ticket. I should have. I was a menace, but a happy one.
After five hours on the road, I pulled into Syna’s small town in the Green Mountains. The car seemed disappointed. I know I sure was.
The weekend passed in exactly the way I need it to. It was calm, it was warm. There was exactly the right kind of love. How often does that happen?
We drove to Deerfield, Massachusetts for an afternoon. I had the Rollei with me and found a barn that had burned and now was in the process of slowly falling down, completing the job started by the blaze. I knew there was symbolism there, but I was damned if I knew what it was.
Still, it’s a nice picture.
It was later that day that I got a call from my mom. My father was out, on his way back home. Some fucking joker had explained to him that he was only in the hospital voluntarily. The downers they had my father on were finally taking effect. He was no longer in happy, happy la-la land. The ridiculous gratitude he’d felt for us locking him up was gone. He was pissed. And he wanted his fucking car back.
I said goodbye to Syna and sanity both and got in the Maserati. On the drive back, the magic was tainted by the knowledge that I’d soon be giving up the car permanently. My father, when in his sober state, didn’t particularly like the way I drove, he was hardly going to lend it to me.
I took the Merritt Parkway back through Connecticut, enjoying the curves, the narrow road and the trees surrounding it. I avoided traffic and set a new personal best time for the trip, but my foot became lighter and my heart heavier with each mile.
Finally, I was there, pulling down the driveway into the underground garage where the Camry had lived until its space had been usurped. I hit the button and the engine died. I rubbed the steering wheel for luck, climbed out, and closed the door with one last satisfying clunk.
Upstairs my father was a mess. An angry mess. He was drugged to the gills with Depakote and a clonazepam chaser. Every move was snail-like, befuddled and pissed. He wanted his keys, he wanted his car, he wanted to go back to the lake house. Didn’t we know that this was his summer?
It had been his fucking lifetime, the rest of us mere figments of his imagination.
I was ready to start screaming at the old man, who truly did seem old now. Ready to lay into him about my mother’s pain, my pain — a lifetime of shit at his hands.
My mom took the keys from me, put a hand on my chest and ushered me out the door. She would deal with him.
And I guess she did in her own way. Every morning she let him out to buy things that no one needed from the stores nearby — he wasn’t up to anything farther away — and every afternoon, she’d return what he bought.
Fifteen cartons of half and half — delivered, he couldn’t carry them — a dozen mugs with Mets logos for Isaac who was a Yankees fan, tools and washers and parts for sinks. Gracious Home was a hardware store, so dad’s shopping was somewhat limited. He was also limited to a small amount of cash that my mom gave him. She hadn’t restored his accounts.
He began to get more belligerent with my mom. He wanted to go upstate. This sleeping wreck of a sloth wanted the keys to his hundred-thousand-dollar car. NOW.
For a day or so, my mom said no, but it wasn’t her nature. This was the woman who would make me apologize for defending her to my father. This was the woman who seemed unable to remember pain, especially not when my father was the cause. I should have taken the keys myself, but she’d never have let me.
Then, Sunday night, my father decided to boil some eggs on the electric stove. He did it in a plastic up. That was enough for my mother, she handed him the keys, wished him good luck and that was that.
Off he went, piloting a vehicle, effectively more than a couple over the legal limit. And he made it, too. Nobody was injured, the car was OK. Somehow he’d made it through traffic in town and somehow he’d navigated the hills and curves and the narrow pavement of the roads upstate.
We know because he called to tell my mom that he was safe.
But he didn’t have anything to eat up there. Time to go to the store.
He bought some groceries. He bought the paper. He bought an ice cream to eat on the road back.
The police told us that he’d dropped the ice cream and when he instinctively bent over to pick it up, he’d turned the wheel in the same direction. He hit a barricade at more than 50 miles an hour.
And he was fucking fine.
The Maserati wasn’t. It was pretty badly mangled, but my father barely had a bruise.
The police took him the rest of the way back up to the lake house. I’m not sure about the groceries or the paper, but I do know that he called and told me to pick him up in the Camry.
I said he could go fuck himself.
Days later, my father finally figured out that he could take a cab to a train station and he came back home. The Maserati was hauled back to its dealer in New Jersey at enormous expense, where it was determined that it could be fixed.
My dad was sober now. He was back to being angry, and charming and more or less awake. And he was back to being Camry Man. He took his car back
My mom and he had both hoped the car would be totaled and they’d get the money back, but no. The car needed $50,000 worth of work and parts that needed to be custom manufactured in Italy. Even that enormous sum, though, wasn’t enough to total the car. It was less than 50 percent of its value.
My father had to wait for the repairs to be complete to sell it. Because of course he was going to sell it. He was Camry Man, not Maserati Boy. Driving around something of that value now scared the shit out of him. Having that percentage of his wealth on wheels drove him nuts.
So, he waited. And he waited. Every once in a while, he’d call the dealership to see what the deal was and they’d tell him it would be another month. You just can’t rush a thing like this.
Finally, with the winter finally waning, my dad was able to pick up the car. The mechanic told him it would never drive the same. The destruction hadn’t just been cosmetic, there’d been frame damage, too. Everything was just slightly off and would always be.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that had an impact on the sale price of the car. Less than 60 days of driving the car cost my father more than $60,000. One hell of a rental.
My father was back to his Camry, which he kept for maybe 10 years after, never imagining replacing it again, and certainly not for something sportier. By then it was time to sell the lake house. Neither my mom nor dad was strong enough to visit on a regular basis and there was no way to justify the taxes they were paying. They would go on packaged tours and cruises from now on, they said.
Hillary mourned the loss of the house. I mourned not getting a slice of the sale price.
My mom died first and horribly, of a slow pancreatic cancer. My dad got worse, screaming and threatening to cut me out of the will because I couldn’t make it over to his house to fix his stereo one afternoon. I had to pick Isaac up from school, but since that wasn’t about him, he didn’t really get it.
When I was able to get to his house the next day, it turned out the stereo had been unplugged by the maid who had been vacuuming and needed an outlet. My father wasn’t sheepish, but he was magnanimous enough to let me back into the family.
He found a girlfriend months after my mother had died. A miraculous recovery for the man who protested he had lost the love of his life with my mother’s death.
The guns and ammo I’ve already mentioned. During the year that I wasn’t speaking to my father, I began to recover in a way that I hadn’t known I was sick. I was lighter, less anxious, more the man I’d thought I was.
My sister called me a few months later to let me know that my father had a dark spot on his lung. I didn’t know what to say, really. Good? I wasn’t ready to forgive, I wasn’t able to forget. I was having my second child in a matter of weeks. Besides, I haven’t mentioned this, but my father was a terrible hypochondriac with a million conditions, none of which proved fatal.
This one did.
Lung cancer. His doctors believed it had been triggered when he picked up smoking again for those few months at the beginning of the Maserati story.
Days after Graham was born, my sister, who had been living in Santa Fe — as far from my father as possible — told me it was lung cancer and that it wouldn’t necessarily be long. And that I’d been cut out of the will. What did I want to do?
I went to the hospital. For the last month of his life, I helped to care for him. I ate my fury and tried to help, my motives always split between love and greed. My sister became the dutiful daughter to my fallen son.
My father died at home when Graham was just shy of a month old. I had been out to get some food with Hillary’s then-husband when the moment came. My cellphone rang as I had a bite of burger in my mouth. I swallowed and headed back to the apartment.