Last week I worked a catering job. My first. It took place at Halston's (the famous coke-snorting, Studio 54 dwelling designer from the 1970's) old house. His former home is a black Chrome box which looks an awful lot like a fortress on East 63rd Street and it is sandwiched improbably between stately looking brownstones. The inside of Halston's old digs are a throwback to 70's hedonism all straight lines and plush surfaces that speak to nights without end and walking through it with it's pictures of Liza splayed out on the floor and Andy holding court in the living room one couldn't help but think "if only these walls could talk". The house had been rented out for a corporate event, the new owners apparently want to make a little money off of living in this historic (?) home. The thinking in this must be since it was once a destination point for Manhattan's glitteratti why shouldn't it be again?
This particular party was to, no joke, promote luxury leathers made out of horse and the entire catering staff was dressed up in equasterian garb - jodhupers, straight-legged black boots, crisp white shirts. We were told to be "loose", "to flirt," to, in the words of the German ex-patriot and former supermodel hostess purring instructions, "to have fun, ganou?" and to "work our zuper sex appeal". The crowd I was serving cosmos to (or rather "pink martinis" as I was instructed to say because cosmos, as everyone who is anyone who reads any publication put out by Conde Nast knows, are hopelessly "over") was much more staid than the crowd of folks who wiled away the hours in Halston's house in the 70's. The only white powder I saw was the salt in the kitchen being sprinkled over the seared asparagus that was being cut up and served as an hors d'oeurve.
Still the money for grinning in too tight horse-riding pants whilst making sure that everyone got a slice of lemon in their Pelligrino was good, nay, it was great. Two hundred dollars for pouring and stirring while serving conquetishly ain't bad and I left the evening with my friend, Nate feeling flush. Almost immeaditely I started an internal debate on if I should spend this money on a long desired i-pod or if I should tuck it into the bank for my most recent travel dream of going to Peru sometime in the next year on a South American jaunt or if I should use it to pay for a check-up which, being uninsured, I haven't had in a long time. Momentarily interrupting my money fantasy to check my cellphone (because it had been several hours and who know who could have called!) I got a rather vague but anxious sounding phone call from my mother telling me to call her. I knew something odd was happenning because there are only certain days in which she calls usually the end of the week and the beginning of the week, rarely the middle of the week. It was late but the call made me nervous and I knew my anxiety over why she was breaking with habit and calling me on a Wednesday rather than our usual Monday or Friday would bother me all night so I decided to call right away. She picked up after the first couple of rings. My father was in the hospital.
Immeaditely upon hearing the words "chest pain" and "hospital" and "heart surgery" my own heart starts to beat with the fury of, yes, ten thousand horses (it was, afterall, an equesterian themed evening) and I try not to panic or immeaditely succumb to my own theatrically-trained (over)dramatic nature. Instead I ask a flurry of questions in what I think is a very calm and measured voice which my mother tries to answer back in her own calm, measured, voice. My father is an older man and though I am not overly morbid I am also not deluded and the older I have gotten I have had thoughts (that, admittedly, come with increasing frequency) that there might be a day when... well, you know what the end of that thought is, right? That there might be a day when he will not be with me and I will have to face the realities of life's terrors (Hamlet called 'em "slings and arrows") without him. And, yes, that terrifies me but I also tend not to dwell and, generally, don't like to project into the future (mine or anyone else's the exception being George W. Bush who I often imagine leaving office to protests and rioting). Too much crytal-ball gazing about one's own life in my experience either results in a pity party (starring yourself) or a romantic comedy (starring yourself). As my brother wisely told me, "try and live in the present as much as possible because there is only one absolute certaintity about the future: death."
My father had the presence of mind to realize that something odd was happening to his heart and that it wasn't just idigestion from an especially flavorful meal the night before. My mother, ever the optomist, thought it was just a case of heartburn but my father realized something was awry and went to the hospital. He was right and though he did not have a heart attack he was definitely headed in that direction so, two days later the surgeon cut open his chest and worked on replacing the valves in his heart - he had a quadruple bypass surgery. I, because of work and travel, did not make it home and the day he had the surgery was one of the most nervous and humbling of my life so far. Bypass surgery is increasingly common, in fact, when I told my friends of my familial news almost everyone had an anecdote about some aunt or grandfather that had had multiple bypasses and was "still kickin." Whether or not Auntie or Grandpa did actually get quadruple bypass surgery or my friends were just telling me so to put my mind at ease I do not know. Nonetheless, I was comforted by the thought that every family has to deal with major heart surgery. The hours my father lay in the operating room, I tried to distract myself from thinking, about really contemplating, that there was a remote chance that I might not see him ever...again.
I don't really think about death too often perhaps because up until this point I have not had to face too much of it in my own life. Of course I have known people who have died but they have either been aquintances or distant relatives. It's odd to realize that other than the occassional philosophical pondering of "the great mystery of the universe" i.e. "what the fuck am I doing here?" or reading about deaths so great you cannot help be struck by the utter senselessness of tragedy, I don't think about death that often. Does anyone other than tenured philosophy professors and priests? It's odd to realize that you have gone through your life thus far relatively untouched by life's only certaintity. Is this just unique to me? Or is it common in a culture that obscures and ignores and, frankly, reviles mortality and it's bedfellow - aging? I once read about a student who studied under Margaret Mead and said that before his first anthropoligical expedition she asked him if he had ever witnessed a child being born or if he had ever seen another person die? He said no and she said of course not because in western culture both events are hidden from us, and, condsidered, ironically, wholly unnatural.
My father is recovering. I am greatly relieved at this news and his progress is steady. My mother tells me he is very weak, sleeping a great deal, has no apetite except, oddly enough, for milk. Apparently, he asked her for some ice-cream. It is difficult for me to hear these details and bluntly put, it scares me to think of my father being infantilized. Especially when I still feel like such a child myself. I think about this when I take the "L" train to Never-never land, my tragically hip neighborhood in Brooklyn, and watch all the lost boys and girls sulk and pose. Each one more beatiful than the next, their oufits, their i-pods, their haircuts, a testament to their purchase power and agonizingly cool tastes. I study them and think of my father who never wanted to be anything but an adult and I wonder how they will grow old? How will they deal with the betrayal of their bodies? How will I?
How will we react when we can no longer count on our vanity to distract us?