Diary of a Sixty-Year-Old Married Man—Part III

“A hundred and eighty-eight,” I read the blue LED scale numerals. 

       Passing the mirror toward the steaming shower, I smiled, admiring my shrinking belly and flanks. The short moment of joy vanished when I looked down and noticed my penis had shrunk too. 

       I try to eat away my emotions, but only indulge in health food. My favorites are stir-fry yam noodles, fried tofu, and fat-free Greek frozen yogurt. At least that stuff is supposed to be healthy. As it turns out, all my lite, lesser-caloried, vegetarian delicacies have rendered me pre-diabetic. When my bloodwork came back, Dr. Razinni sent me to a diabetes dietician, who put me on a new food regimen. 

       “Thirty grams of carbs per meal,” Dr. Woo mandated. That in itself felt like being on the end of another short stick. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she told me to keep a goddamn ruler in the kitchen. “Eat your meals off a nine-inch plate,” she said, “half non-starchy veggies.” She gave me a faded, mimeographed handout that read: “broccoli, cauliflower, green squash, yellow squash, carrots, onions; red, green, or yellow bell peppers; preferably steamed.”

       “The other half,” she instructed me, “is split equally between lean protein such as skinless, boneless white chicken and fish,” she said, “and whole grains.” She told me to refer to the items listed under the vegetables. 

       I looked back at the paper and read them to myself: “Brown rice, millet, quinoa, barley, couscous, buckwheat, cracked wheat, kamut, spelt, teff, farro, and bulgur.” 

       Yuck, and no pasta, I thought.

       My dad loved bulgur. I would have loved to take him to Canter’s before my new dietary development for breakfast. Order lox on a twice-toasted everything bagel with heavy cream cheese, red onions, tomatoes, and capers. Coffee with half-and-half, and a tall glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Dr. Woo says fruit juice, in terms of sugar content, is the dietary antichrist. Those weren’t her exact words, but you get the drift. While sipping that long, last cup of coffee, we could split a Danish, maybe some strudel or chocolate rugelach. Pops would have loved that, but he’s gone now. It’s been twelve years last May. I stopped going to his yahrzeit since my fallout with the canter and rabbi on Sukkot a few years back. My therapist suggested my short fuse was handed down by Dad. 

       Mom’s alcoholism fueled Dad’s rage. Flying chicken potpies were the dinnertime norm, metaphorically speaking, of course. We never ate chicken potpies, or anything from the frozen food section; Mom cooked everything from scratch, and if you forgot that, she’d miserably remind you.

       It wasn’t easy being the middle kid during those explosive meals, stuck between my two overeating siblings. Until my first semester at Hollywood High, my only escape was Hardy Boys books, firecrackers, basketball, and Boy Scouts. I loved blowing shit up, and almost made Eagle Scout, but around the third week of the tenth grade, I left the quad and found salvation in the bleachers. That’s where I learned the ways of self-medication. I started off easy with ten-dollar lids of commercial Mexican pot and malt liquor. I loved smoking joints and chugging forties of Colt 45 and Olde English 800.

       Sometime after Groundhog Day, I advanced to LSD, and the occasional barbiturate. 

       Soon thereafter, my sister Laura moved to Colorado, and whatever false semblance of a family life I thought I was included in vanished, leaving behind a willful, angry stoner dude, who unknowingly craved his father’s love. 

       I sought elsewhere what Dad couldn’t give me. But not without consequence. And on one hot summer night, in a house just off of Mulholland Highway, on a street named Macapa, I fell prey to the darker side of Hollywood. I wanted to say, “NO,” or maybe I didn’t, but either way, Cody wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

       By wintertime, angel dust and quaaludes became a staple. Thank God I didn’t get into speed, nor did I partake in any cocaine or heroin till well after graduation. 

       Dad died in 2006. 

       I was just south of turning twenty years sober. I devoted myself to him during those last several months of his life, taking him to doctor’s appointments and doing his house chores on Saturdays. Changing his diapers and washing his genitals, which I later realized completed an unspoken father-and-son circle-of-life ritual. 

       We never did make it to Canter’s. 

       Dad complained about the meters on Fairfax, and parking in a pay lot or using a valet may as well have been one of the Thou Shalt Not’s.

       On our last drive to St. Joseph’s Oncology Center, Dad told me he was curious what it would be like on the “other side.” 

       Two days later came the phone call from Jerry, the Meals on Wheels dude. “Your father had a fall,” he said. “I found him about an hour ago.” Jerry paused and I worried what words might come next. “The ambulance just left for the hospital. Sorry I didn’t call sooner; I just found his phone with your number. The paramedic thinks he may have broken his hip.” 

       Dad caught pneumonia during his hospital stay. I remember what I feared was one of his last days, sitting on the edge of his bed, stroking his thin, white, oily hair, watching him while he slept. His face was pale, gaunt, and covered in coarse, three-day gray stubble. His sleep appeared deep until his eyeballs began twitching beneath his closed lids. Then his face contorted as though he was having a bad dream. His milky morphine eyes opened, and he looked up at me and said, “You turned out all right, boy.” He reached for my hand and held it tight. His fingernails were in need of trimming, and his knuckles were cracked and dry. “I could sure go for one of those Wienerschnitzel dogs with onions.” He’d forgotten the nurses had him on soft foods only.

       I regret not making that hot dog run. Dad died the next day.

About the Author Jon Epstein: My work can be found in Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, The Coachella Review, New Mexico Writers Project, Poeticdiversity, Foliate Oak, Forge Journal, Sanskrit, Pilcrow & Dagger, and Poetry Super Highway. I am a member of The Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective.