Man in the mirror

World of Wonders

Here’s my latest piece intended for an ongoing book project, a collection of essays on mortality and memory  titled ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death.’

I’m not talking about Michael Jackson’s song. I’m talking about me, and mirrors, and how I just can’t bear to look at myself these days. It’s like I’m looking into a funhouse mirror — except it!s no fun.

This is what I told a friend the other day:
‘I don’t look like me. My face is bloated and red. I had a nice full head of hair. It upsets me -I guess it reminds me that I’m sick… A lot of friends have said they want to meet for lunch or coffee, but I’ve said no, not now, and it’s mostly that I don’t want people to see me like this…so vain, right?

Her reply: First, she completely understood. Second, it was interesting because she’d…

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Man in the mirror

 

Here’s my latest piece intended for an ongoing book project, a collection of essays on mortality and memory  titled ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death.’

I’m not talking about Michael Jackson’s song. I’m talking about me, and mirrors, and how I just can’t bear to look at myself these days. It’s like I’m looking into a funhouse mirror — except it!s no fun.

This is what I told a friend the other day:
‘I don’t look like me. My face is bloated and red. I had a nice full head of hair. It upsets me -I guess it reminds me that I’m sick… A lot of friends have said they want to meet for lunch or coffee, but I’ve said no, not now, and it’s mostly that I don’t want people to see me like this…so vain, right?

Her reply: First, she completely understood. Second, it was interesting because she’d read about the self-image issues faced by women in similar situations, but not about men feeling the same way. Third, she said ‘You look just fine.’

So, yes, that made me feel better. But vanity, thy name is Nick.

Guaranteed, then, if I suddenly encounter a mirror or reflection, I’m still going to cringe and cower like a B-movie vampire.

Tears, idle tears, I know full well their use

OK, so I’m showing off, quoting Tennyson in the title of this essay — the latest intended for a small-press project, started (ironically enough) before my recent health issues: a collection of literary essays on the subjects of mortality and memories titled ‘Man Has Premonition of Own Death, the headline on a 1920s newspaper article about an ancestor’s surreal and terrible demise.

Anyway, here’s the latest essay:

*********

It’s a trait I inherited from my late father. I well up with tears when George Bailey’s brother shows up at the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — and it happens every time, and even though I’ve seen that movie a hundred times, Zuzu’s damned petals still make my lip quiver.

Worse, really dumb and embarrassing things can make me emotional — like once I stumbled upon a TV show called ‘Undercover Boss’ and the CEO of some fast-food chain gave some well-deserving employee a new car, $25,000 and a family vacation, and I nearly bawled and blubbered like some operatic Italian clown.

Today, though, was different. After emergency surgery several months ago, followed by another medical crisis nearly two weeks ago, I resumed treatments this morning – still confident, feeling fine, but bloated, practically bald, and wary about the effects of this latest round of therapy. A very caring and sweet nurse asked me about my latest ‘adventure’ — and I filled up with tears, couldn’t talk for 10 seconds, and accepted a tissue.

I suppose it’s a good thing to acknowledge. Being sick doesn’t just suck — it’s also sad, and something to think about, and significant, so it would be weird and unnatural to not get emotional about it once in a while.
And I’m fine now: watching some TV and reading some old essays by Annie Dillard, catching myself daydreaming about trips I’d like to make (to Alaska, to my grandparents’ village in Italy – and for yet another writing residency at a beloved artists’ colony in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains) – and hoping someone comes along and gives me $25,000 and a vacation and a new car…and a handful of Kleenex, because…well, there’s that thing about me and Zuzu’s petals….

 

 

 

 

The glory that was grease?

I’ve been recuperating and relaxing for the past four days, staying with my mother, and I’ve been letting her pamper me – including cooking meals – as I regain my strength and energy.

So one day she’s making grilled cheese sandwiches on this really old looking flat skillet and says “Your grandfather used to make grilled cheese on this.”

What?! Grandpa Nash! My grandpa died 51 years ago. That’s one old goddamned skillet. That’s a hell of a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. I want that griddle someday!

Wait! There’s more! The next night, Mom was boiling something for dinner. When she was done, and had washed out the pot, she held it up and said, “This pot is more than 60 years old. I bought it when I got engaged.”

My mother is still using a cooking pot that she bought years before I was born! I want that skillet and I want that pot!

I guess there’s no point to this, other than some vague notion that the big and expensive and spacious skillet given to me by my daughter a few months ago is a great skillet, but it now seems like some sort of poseur, some kind of upstart, a kitchen utensil that may never, to really stretch this and allude to one of those fancy old English poets, acquire the glory of my Mom’s old cooking pot nor gain the grandeur of my grandpa’s old skillet.

Give me a head with hair…

OK, this will date me, but I’ll point out that I was just a 13-year-old from Yonkers in my first year at Fordham Preparatory School and, being from Yonkers, I may have been totally out of my element among the boys from Scarsdale and Larchmont and Bronxville, but I was cooler than them all, and somehow found my way very quickly to the Fordham University Bookstore on that campus in The Bronx and bought the first record albums I’d ever owned: Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones, Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, and the album by Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Down by The River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.”

Yes, very cool for a 13-year-old – but I have to confess the identity of the very first record album I purchased at that university bookstore: the original cast recording of the musical “Hair!” I can’t explain why, so don’t ask.

In any event, hair – not the album, the thing that used to be on top of my head – is much on my mind these days. So much so that I’m inspired to spew this poem that badly echoes the Beat poets of San Francisco (I’ve been reading Richard Brautigan lately), Asian poetry, and the prayer poems of my great friend Robert Lax:

Run my/Hand/Over/My head/I am holding/Handful/Of hair.

Chemotherapy, as the doctor promised, does that and did that. I’ve still got some left, but most of the hair is gone from the top of my head, all within the last two weeks, and who knows if I’ll keep any of the rest.

I know it will grow back. And I like the NY Yankees cap I’ve taken to wearing. But I’ve always taken great and vain pleasure from looking in a mirror and knowing that I’ve never gone bald and only in the past few years acquired a touch of grey. It’s a family trait on my mother’s side of the family – the Nash and Crooks side. My Grandpa Nash still had hair on his head when he died, and his son, my Uncle Elwood, had a full head of hair into his late 70s; my mother’s, her other brother – Uncle Ken – likewise kept his hair. And I’ve been so happy with that family inheritance.

There are other things I could write about my hair. How it once cascaded down to my shoulders – and how one time a guy in college saw me from behind, sitting in a chair, and thought I was a “chick.” I could write about fights I had with my father over the length of my hair – it was a threat to him, I understand now, both in terms of American society at the time and his whole image of himself as a second-generation Italian-American “man of the house.” And I could go back a few years before that, when my father would take me to the barbershop of his cousin Carlo, a hell of a nice guy and one terrible barber.

Or I could just end this by saying that, in my own way, I am pondering my vanity…and mourning my hair…and avoiding mirrors, at least for now.