58. I'll be honest with you. This number gives me the willies. It has significance. This was Dad's age when the heart gave in, when the soul was extinguished, when he lay on the floor of his apartment, alone, waiting for one last breath of life he had long before expelled. I've often wondered about those last moments--were they filled with regret and rage, the twin towers of righteousness? Or was he like a broken-winged bird, a large fish washed ashore, panicked and gentle, lost in labored breathing? What words were in darkening mind? Were they "I can't fucking believe this!" or was it "I'm sorry. I love you." We'll never know. By the time they got there, Elvis had left the building. (That was for you, Pop. I know how much Elvis and Nixon bothered you.)
Fifty-eight. This psalm is a wall for me to pass through. On the other side is life. This is my valley. Here is my shadow of death. Fifty-eight. Fifty-eight. Fifty-eight. I know alot of men who live normal lives but their number rings in their head: the number Dad was when he died. Because a son is to exceed his father. Amen. Selah.
David's heroism in part comes from his singular ability to weigh the Jewish male anger on metaphoric scales of his poetic imagination. He'll have you laughing in disbelief at the corruption and the wild reaches of his own heart and soul stretch your own into relief. There is comfort in the ugly picture he paints. It takes a special person to do that. Wickedness astray from the womb. Like the deaf asp that stoppeth the ear. The most cunning binder of spells. Break their teeth O God in their mouth. Let them melt away as water that runneth apace. Let them be a snail. Miscarried babies. He will sweep it away with a whirlwind, the raw and the burning alike. This is a torrent of language so outlandish you can't help but survive. In its broad strokes of genius it both releases and contains. "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in blood of the wicked. And men shall say: 'Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth.' Verily. So I needn't be consumed, to the death, by judging. God's love eased my burden that day. Fifty-eight, fifty-eight, fifty-eight.
59. Dogs. Devouring dogs. What dreadful devouring dogs these must have been! Pursued into the darkness of night by devouring dogs! Those traitors: "They return at evening, they howl like a dog. And go round about the city. Behold they belch out with their mouth; swords are in their lips: 'For who doth hear!'" Dog breath! But God (dog backwards, duh, ha, ha, ha!) laughs: "Thou shalt have all the nations in derision."
Bucky Cantor--good name for a dog--speaks words of derision in Roth's Nemesis. Witnessing the burial of a child during a polio outbreak, the outrageous absence of God in such lost innocence is too much for the novel's tragic hero to bear. "Better by far to honor in prayer one's tangible daily encounter with that ubiquitous eye of gold isolated in the blue body of the sky and its immanent power to incinerate the earth--than to swallow the official lie that God is good and truckle before a cold-blooded murderer of children." By the end, isolated, crippled, and alone, Bucky's truth is revealed as its own self-destructive lie.
"But there's nobody less salvageable than a ruined good boy." This is the book's greatest line. I know this in my heart, because my devouring dog is now sleeping next to me, far from ruined. This week he ate three cockroach traps and one container of mouse poison. He's on a steady diet of Vitamin K for the next three weeks. Saved by a caring mother, who took him to the doctor in a rain storm, nurturing him with love.
60. In the morning, when I get to Shul, I go upstairs to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Usually a couple of folks are in there. One of our loyal and dedicated maintenance staff; a teacher; maybe a parent putting a child's lunchbox in the refrigerator. A nanny (often West Indian) warming up in the microwave a morning meal. Light streams in the window, the oven warms the room, and there is a kind of weighted anticipation of the day. I often think, "We should be feeding people out of this kitchen. Do a quick renovation and partner with a City Meals on Wheels program, get ourselves one of those cool vans (Hybrid, of course), a slick logo, and get on out there, feed the hungry!
"Who will bring me into the fortified city? Who will lead me unto Edom? Hast not Thou, O God, cast us off? And Thou goest not forth, O God, with our hosts. Give us help against the adversary; for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly; for He it is that will tread down our adversaries."
Adversaries like hunger.