Tuesday, December 17, 2002

This is why I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The day began at 7 when Diana called me on the phone. I gradually awakened from there with the usual washing and preparing, not only to attend my Uncle’s funeral in Suffolk County, but to be in formal attire for the Annual Christmas Party thrown by The Men’s Club of Forest Hills, of which my sister’s grammar school friend and my more recent close friend, Peter Vairo, is president and of which I am one of the Vice Presidents. I piled the tuxedo into the car and picked up some coffee and drove to Diana, warning her of my immanent arrival, as the time neared, well, 8:15… The low coolant light in the car went on and stayed on. I double parked in front of her apartment and rang the bell. Then I phoned and she said I’ll be right down and I said, I’ll be right up. I need gallons of water. When I arrived up there she asked if I knew from where the coolant was leaking. Leaking? I thought it was just low. Down by the car pouring in two gallons of water I noticed the green fluid from the front. I saw dripping after I poured in the water, probably because I missed. It took my eye a while to catch the glint of the steady stream creating the green puddle on the street. Meanwhile a thousand guys, at least, were lined up along the block across the street, not for some parole program, but to take the fireman’s exam. How wonderful. I called Diana to say I was driving to the repair shop, the Three Amigos on Attorney Street. Oh, I called them first. Eduardo accepted my request for an invitation to come right over. When I then called Diana she said she was coming down and coming with me. We loaded her formal wear for later that evening along with mine hanging in the back. We were then driving to the shop, maybe twenty-five blocks away, and the low coolant light went on again and Diana noticed she had forgotten her ring. It was our engagement ring. I was wearing the wedding band her grandmother had worn. Her ring was the engagement ring my grandmother had worn. We would get it later. In fact, I said I didn’t have to take her to the repair shop but she said it was fine. Eduardo, pulling the wire of a plugged-in lantern, immediately located the leak in a hose covered with a plastic slinky wrap. I thought the slinky wrap was the hose and it sure looked terrible. I was about to open the radiator cap to release the pressure and get him started with the repair and he said no and Diana said no and he became emotional about the burn scars he still had on his arm. He went off to work on another car. I opened the radiator cap and left it on the radiator. Then we sat back in the car for coffee and a pecan ring. I called my mother’s portable phone, no answer, and then my sister called me. I just said what was happening and that I’d call them back. I stressed to Eduardo and then began conversing about the details, we are going to a funeral. Yeah, it was my father’s younger brother. He was driving a bus in June and it was lymphoma that made him appear like he had a rapid decline from Alzheimer’s. Two weeks ago I was at the residence where he kept saying “We got the wrong kid.” He must have thought he had a disabled boy who needed to be on another bus in order to get home, but it made sense to me, God, you got the wrong kid. What are you doing to this guy? What is he doing to himself? He retired from being a shoe salesman. His wife and constant companion, Diana, died 10 years ago and he wanted other work, so, until June of his seventy-fifth year, he was driving disabled children to and from school. The night before the funeral at the wake we saw his beautiful picture against the yellow background of his Bus Operator ID card. Talking to Eduardo, I only got up until the lymphoma diagnosis. The pipe was replaced (oh, you don’t wear goggles during welding – no. I close my eyes.). I gave him 60 when he asked for 45 and we were off, to the apartment to pick up the ring.

Through the Midtown Tunnel and off to Suffolk we went. Diana knew Pine Lawn but when I spoke to Monica she said St. Charles, but that’s a part of Pine Lawn. There’s even a Pine Lawn Road which runs through a military cemetery. Over the tracks we made a right. We were there before the funeral procession. They came in, after others came in, got in front of us, we followed and they stopped. My cousin Anthony was in the big white family truck/van in front of us. I walked past him to my parent’s car to say hello after tossing the coffee bag in the trash across the lawn divided roadway. I told him about my engagement to Diana and suggested I get her and he got out instead. We were talking for a minute. They shared Huntington in common. She grew up there; he was raising his family there. They knew the same places. This cemetery was actually nearby. We would put a wreath on her mother’s grave in the St. Pat’s cemetery after the burial. Again, the conversation didn’t get that far. When next we looked the procession was gone. They had just vanished. I called Monica after we followed Anthony around the chapel and she described being at a place exactly where we were. Lots 23 and 23 met as signs at an intersection. Then she said she also saw lots 110 and 43, which made no sense. There were plenty of other processions, some of which were stopped at the chapel and it was possible I could have asked a garden truck if it didn’t accelerate away from us in front of us… Oh, I had many ideas, like ask someone in the chapel when Diana kept saying, the only place to ask is administration. Yes, everyone in the chapels was preoccupied with the newness of the place and what had brought them there. Someone designed the chapels in a circle like slices in a round cake. I ran around the chapel circle. Each time I came to another chapel I thought I’d gone fully around. There must have been seven slices in that chapel cake. There was a big cross on the top. On the phone with Monica it was clear that from where she was, the chapel cross was nowhere in sight. When I got back in the car Diana was on the phone talking to the switchboard operator who was apparently on site in the cemetery. When I got on the phone she put me on hold until a man picked up who had no idea what I was talking about. I said, “Put the operator back on,” she got back on and after a moment I handed the phone back to Diana. I took the turn back to administration so that the operator could actually see us out of the switchboard operator window. We’re the gray Ace Ventura-dented car. She told us by sight what to do. Turn to a completely different section where of course we came upon the lot 23/lot 23 intersection signs, and a scrawled sign hammered in the ground saying this way to lot 110. Come to think of it, the word before the numbers was always “Section,” not “lot.” The burial was done. All they did, they with the casket, after removing it from the black 1960s style Station Wagon, was leave it on wood beams over the open grave. All the flowers are laid around it including the ones Diana had sent from us. We said our Hail Mary over the casket as the rain lightly drizzled and poor cousin Anthony was still in his van, and as the funeral procession left, my parents also remained behind. Then I ran to my parent’s car, which also held Monica in the back seat. Next stop, Miller Ridge Inn. Follow us. OK. Then Anthony who was waiting for us gave us instructions how to get there and bid us “farewell” because he had to return to his wife and children. My father took us out of the cemetery and made a turn into Welbranch or some such horrible Dickensian name for the welfare district of Suffolk. Diana said it was hopeless and had me call them to follow us. She called the Miller Ridge Inn for general instructions and then used her general long Island sense developed over the years to figure out which direction was West on a sunless cloudy rainy day. Eventually we reached 110 and the Long Island Expressway but not without the passage of an inexplicable amount of time. We quickly thereafter arrived at the Inn, Long Island’s Christmas Central. The shops, the tree, the fireplace, the clean food smell -- a lovely luncheon followed during which we heard about what we’d missed. My Uncle, Tony Dizozza’s grandchild, also Diana, chose Revelations Chapter 21 and Psalm 48. Never, said the priest, had he read these at a funeral, and asked who chose the passages. Her parents must have proudly referred the congregation to their daughter, Uncle Tony’s granddaughter. She is only 15 and during her free time participates as an imaginary delegate for India in an after-school Junior UN. Then I read through her father’s, Tony’s son-in-law’s, eulogy. He recalled the barbecue where he met Cathy at their house and of the love between Tony and his wife, Diana. Clichés like All You Need is Love began to be part of larger sentences. You don’t need material things to have a family meeting place, because that’s what their home in far off Brentwood was to us growing up, we’d go there once a month and Tony would barbecue and Diana would be making food in the kitchen. The house was a mirror image to the houses around it, except for those enormous hedges, but to create a place of warmth, welcome and abundance, ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, and they had that magic formula running smoothly throughout our childhood. Then there was Diana’s bout with cancer and by then, we were no longer making those long family trips through the traffic to visit, and I never visited my Aunt Diana. All this came tumbling upon me as I realized how I hadn’t thought of this in years and perhaps never would have. I was grateful to have visited Tony before he died. The whole pointlessness of existence came tumbling down and I cried. I don’t know why, but I did have a good feeling because of the love they had, and it was hard to find other comparisons. Most hosts make for material abundance, and there’s that, too, but first, and another cliché finishes the sentence, THERE MUST BE LOVE. I don’t know where this leaves me, for I have buried love in irony and sarcasm. Diana is willing to go where I have allowed no person to go before, because I was sure the person who went there would just as quickly leave there, and that is no longer my experience.

Next we left the party -- all were delighted by our engagement announcement -- and proceeded to a nursery in Huntington. Diana had an idea for a floral arrangement for my grandmother and the young lady from FIT who worked there and who had created Uncle Tony’s Flower Basket created it precisely to her specifications. She also made a lavender ribbon for the wreath we chose. We picked out a few red and green leaved plants for my mother. That and an eight-foot bead for the Christmas tree amounted to 175. I missed the calculating as I was off getting v stands for the cemetery wreath, also missing the paying of it. We visited Joan’s grave. I thanked Joan for creating such a wonderful person and for having her after already having five children. She had a beautiful lavender grave with an inscription Diana wrote, Let the heavens ring with laughter, an angel is welcomed home… oh, that’s an inaccurate paraphrase… I wondered if we’d find a fully sculpted Celtic cross amidst the old tombstones. Her mother looks out over the entire valley of graves. The darkness was falling rapidly upon us. We drove to my parents because my mother brought my grandmother there for the evening. We call my grandmother Nanny. We presented nanny with the flowers and showed her the beauty of her ring on Diana’s finger. After dressing, we went to the community house where everyone welcomed Diana and we had a lovely time, even though I forgot it was a bring your own bottle affair. Maybe I just thought the idea of drinking was completely unnecessary. They do, after all, serve a constant flow of sparkling wine. Peter Vairo poured us a smooth cabernet. Everything worked out well.

I will continue to confront dormant emotions. I went home to sleep. Dreams of people politely suggesting I not perform as I was searching the world just to get to them, arriving late, unprepared, alone… It was a big school with many locked entrances and exits. There was a tremendous audience laughing raucously at the act performing before me. I was supposed to perform Prepare to Meet Your Maker. The two impresarios took issue with my telling the story of Isis and Osiris suggesting that the conservative administration would not approve. I was a mess. Oh, I was walking around in my bed sheets.