Center of the Universe (30)
Epistle to Kang
Dear Rev. Kang,
I should’ve sent a postcard from Amsterdam, I know. Six weeks was a long time. But my handwriting is terrible and too slow after 30 years typing on the computer and being able to cut, paste, delete, replace, insert and move at will, in an instant. Without a computer, as the kids say, I can’t even. And that whole finding a stamp in a foreign country, finding a mailbox (which don’t look like ours) and sending that physical scrap through their little crazy system and our vast crazy system until it lands in a post office 23 miles from downtown San Francisco, and a ponytailed beardo in half a regulation uniform golf-carts it to your mailbox, three blocks from mine, in Fairfax. I mean, that seems crazy, in the digital age. But I feel the guilt when we get home and you stare at me. Which I know is your resting face, but is so non-judgmental as to be the worst judgment of all.
I mention it because I know you were concerned about us going to Florida — I think to you it feels like we’ve been away a lot, partly because we have been and partly because some of the times you perceive we’re far away, we’re only away the other side of the bay. That, combined with the randomized terrorist attacks and all the friends dying prematurely (never mind the famous people — but that might be part of it, too), creates an uneasy vibe. Makes leaving home — which is something you did to the max, but involuntarily — seem all the more fraught. And though we’ve only been in the Sinkhole State five days, it occurred to me I should’ve sent a postcard from here, too. Or at least an email, with photo. Or posted a photo on your Facebook wall. But that wouldn’t work. Even though me and your blank profile picture have been friends for years, you’ve never been the most avid social media user. Anyway, my mother doesn’t like us to take pictures — afraid they really do steal your soul, or at least make you look almost as old as you are, which is pretty damn — and the Stonecutters-style club she makes us go for Christmas din, or really any photogenic occasion, strenuously does not permit them.
Of course, I could call you, as sometimes you call me. But what you don’t know is that phone calls freak me out. Too often these days, they mean someone died. Other times, they’re just disruptive — and not how a Silicon Valley bloviator would use that word, not disruptive in the supposedly good way. So, even when I see it’s you on Caller ID, sometimes, sorry to say, I click off. Sometimes it’s because I’m in a meeting or running out of the house or in the middle of a thought, a paragraph, a project or even a party, a work one. Sometimes it’s just not the right time. I click, and I feel bad.
But it struck me that I could use this thing to communicate, the blog or book or whatever we’re into here, which is already about your family and your family’s business and, in a large sense, you. And, yes, it’s a public forum, and not very intimate, but there are only about 100 people who even claim they read it regularly and, of those, I’d wager only 20 or 25 actually do. In other words, it only seems public.
You do read the blog, Rev. Kang?
Anyway, when I have a thought these days that might merit dilation, I always like to save it for the blog, which at 1,200/words a week is a hungry beast, as much as I enjoy feeding it. So, here goes:
How’m I doing in Florida? How are we doing?
Well, Rev. Kang, the trip’s made me think a lot — more than usual — about blood and wine. The blood being the complicated relationships among DNA-sharers — as well as the wounds, psychological and occasionally physical, they inflict on each other. The wine being what you drink when you’re in the presence of such blood, to wash it down, kill the taste. Or maybe the wine is what the blood turns into — if you’d prefer an allusion to the devout Catholicism of my youth, the long-fled faith upon which I base my claim, as your amanuensis, to a modicum of understanding of the devout Presbyterianism of your lifetime. Talking about family, Rev. Kang. And not the fake one I’ve extolled in prior posts. Not yours. The other one. The one I’m loathe to discuss further, for fear of abusing the hospitality of a tiny, but patient, readership.
Not to say family isn’t a fine topic (I believe Mr. Tolstoy had something to say about that — at least as far as I read). And, for me, an arrested-development type raised on turbulence, probably essential, the key to it all. And there has been something about this trip in particular that made me feel I was finally getting somewhere in understanding our family — not far, but somewhere. And made me wonder, quite clinically, no self-pity about it, how a child ever learns to put one foot in front of the other living under that. Someday, Rev. Kang, you’ll read all about it in that novel we sometimes talk about. You know, with the surprising title.
Loudmouth? you said when I told you. Is that a good thing?
Hardie’s here. You always ask about him. He drove down from Asheville. Had to rent a car, as the 22-year-old Lexus he bought in high school could no longer be trusted. Another seven to twelve hundred bucks of parts and repairs, the mechanic said, till he could feel relatively confident — relatively — on an eleven-hour road trip. Hardie and I agree the great pinkish-copperish Lexus is officially on its last, if I may, lex. I’m sure he says hello, Rev. Kang, if he says much of anything. You know Hardie. Not much for chitchat, in contrast to his loudmouth father. My brother Lance is here. You always ask about Lance — “Musician!” you say, proud of remembering. You’d be amazed how much he and Hardie look alike these days.
And Jean, Lance’s beloved bride of 30-something years, is here, too. You met her at my birthday party. Did you know her brother Ned and I introduced Jeannie and my baby bro when they were 15? Laura and Charlotte, their grown kids, stopped by, but for various reasons, true and false, unclassified and classified, couldn’t stay long. Charlotte was en route home to Boston from a trip to Peru for a friend’s wedding. Did the whole Machu Picchu hike, but also three days of eco-camping (that’s what they call it) in the Amazon jungle. The other one, Laura, she’s the med student, the double-degree MD/PhD student — which always makes you cluck and say: “Smart…” My daughter Josey may have demonstrated her own smarts by staying home on Russian Hill. Not up to the challenge, after a punishing early December. And my big sister, who you also met at the birthday, is hanging with her burgeoning brood of kids and grandkids, while attending to her husband, who’s having a few problems, as I think we discussed, up in the record-lows of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
My mother — Lance’s mother, I call her, to be funny, in a rueful way — is fine, thank you. You always ask. She’s here, of course — on Earth, for close to a century, and in Florida for half that. Still walking and talking and scheming and squawking. Still insists on being the center of our universe, even as she insists on sabotaging it. But she told a story at Christmas dinner that was almost worth the trip, about the first dead man she saw. She was eight. It was Memphis, where she was raised and longs to return (and where, as a kid, in the dawn of a new racial consciousness, I spent many a confusing day with the old). The dead guy was a Confederate general and father of the headmistress at mother’s school. In full rebel regalia, the gentleman-soldier lay in state at his ancestral home, while grade-school girls trooped by to glimpse the last of the great men from their region’s great losing history.
I went with my black chauffeur, Lance’s mother made a point of adding.
We haven’t really talked about the South, Rev. Kang — South Korea, yes, but not that still-smoldering battlefield below the Mason-Dixon that’s figured prominently in my family dynamic. Well, we must.
In the meantime, please tell your daughters we’ll be there on New Year’s. And while I know it’s not the quietest night for talk, we’ll chat telepathically (which is how we have our best conversations anyway), even as we all come together, the whole sick crew, in the blue light of Wendy and Co. to sweep out an indigo year. So, a most happy Christmas to you and the lovely Maria and the entire Kang-Molloy clan (and, while I’m at it, to the 20 or 25 or three loyal readers of this blog — that is, Nick and Gary and the friendly fella from Ricoh), a merry Hanukkah, and a Nero d’Avola new year to all.
The Duncan-Hoffman clan
cc: Tip Records’ superstar Donnie Finnell