Accidental Melancholy



My father just told me about Herbie Clapper. Herbie was a neighbor of my dad’s when he was young who was a pilot and would buzz the neighborhood when he was nearby. Herbie was Jewish; this was the thirties and in just a few years would be in the war. Herbie’s sister married a Jewish man from Europe who was able to come to the United States and stay. Apparently, Herbie’s father owned seven stores until the depression, but had managed to save enough money to see them through it. Herbie’s father and my grandfather got along well, Dad said, my grandfather also being a successful businessman right through the depression.

We sat in my parent’s living room at their condo and talked about travel. It’s a video my son shot from where he sat across the room; it was 2013, and Michael and I were about to leave for the trans-Siberian railway trip. Dad pointed out how the only reason his father’s generation traveled to Europe was for World War One, and before that everyone was emigrating from Europe. We talked about how my parents did get the chance to travel to Europe when my brother lived in England, and how our generation has made traveling a habit, and the next generation—my parents’ grandkids—don’t think twice about heading overseas, three of them living there for a few years.

Mom’s in the video as well, laughing and interjecting. When I said in a few more generations people will be beaming themselves around the world, she quipped, “That’s the only way you’ll get me to travel that far again!”

I just found these videos. I was looking for some information about the train for work I’m doing, and I knew Michael had taken some videos while we were there, so naturally I thought this flash drive marked “Siberia. Videos” was it. It isn’t. It’s dad. It’s the first time I have heard his voice in almost four years. I’m still shaking. Sometimes you miss someone too much to hear their voice.

After college I lived in Tucson and my roommate was a dear friend of mine from St. Bonaventure—Tom. At some point after we’d pretty much hiked the hell out of the Sonoran Desert but before I discovered the financial gains of Mexican blankets, Tom moved back east to complete his degree at Bonas and would eventually become a dentist and live on a farm in New Hampshire. We’re still close all these decades later, despite rarely hearing his voice. But back then, I had four pictures in frames. I can’t remember now who was in the pictures, but I specifically remember a conversation about why I only had four when somewhere else in the apartment was a box of hundreds of photos of friends and family. I told him the memories they bring alive for me are so strong, so real and immediate, that I couldn’t handle more than four, that they would occupy my melancholic mind too long and I was too young to look back that long. We laughed because he understood, and before he left I wrote a poem on the back of a painting I had done (the only painting I have ever done) about the four pictures. I don’t remember it, but it seems to me I haven’t changed much since then. Looking around my office here at home I have a picture of Michael and me in front of a church in Spain, another of him and me on the flume ride at Busch Gardens when he was young, one of Dad and me–a black and white–at an outdoor cafe at the beach (my favorite picture of the two of us), a picture of my parents, and one of Dad on my parents’ honeymoon, him in a canoe holding a paddle above his head and laughing, looking young and strong and full of excitement for what would become more than sixty years with the woman taking the picture.

I have others scattered about the house, but mostly I have Michael’s abstract art hanging. I like abstract art, there’s something ethereal about it, though if I’m tired I think about how much fun we have had walking the docks while he takes pictures like that. I have a problem with time; it keeps screwing with me. For instance, watching the video of Dad made me think, just briefly, I might call him tomorrow. When I was young and drove around the country, I could always call Dad at his office on his toll-free number. It was very convenient, and to this day on those rare times I spot a payphone, I think of him.


Those weren’t the videos I was looking for, so I moved a box to find the handful of files from that trip when I spotted a stack of VHS tapes I still haven’t transferred to DVD. There are a few of a colleague and me in Russia, some of us in Norway, but several of Michael when he was young. One in particular I know I’ll never watch: he’s walking around the porch when he was five and had lined up all of his dinosaurs on the rail. In the video he picks up each one, explains what it is and when it lived, and makes some witty joke. Watching that one would be suicidal for me.

I don’t think I’m the only one like this; I’m just glad I am keenly aware of my emotional limitations. Ironically, I don’t live in the past and I am not a hoarder of artifacts of my life by any means.

It’s just sometimes I really miss my dad and hearing his voice tonight was just a little too much. I’ll find those files tomorrow. Tonight, I’m going to watch the Mets instead. They’re amazing right now.


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