I really don’t know how to feel, so I’m doing the only thing I ever learned to do. I’ll write. Badly, maybe. Thoughtfully, possibly. With futility, definitely.
Today the closest I ever had to a father figure left this mortal coil. A true mensch, a sensitive soul, my uncle Ron died today.
I thought about writing a euphemism for died, but for all the poets, madman and philosophers seeking the truth, I couldn’t do it. Ron was the first person I ever met who talked about the Beats, Ginsburg, Kerouac, Burroughs. For all of them, the word is death, and today it’s Ron’s word, too.
The first thing I remember about Ron is that he was the first grown up that spoke to me like an adult. I remember real conversations, or rather they were very real to me. Given that I was about 6 years old and he was in his 20s, his mileage no doubt varied on what he got from the dialogs.
I dogeared and wore thin the pages of a picture book he gave me way back when.
That mean man, who shared his chicken pox but never his jelly beans, deserved his score of mean children who made him live unhappily ever after.
It was its non-treacly story and non-kiddie flavor that made it long a favorite after I was past picture books. The book traveled to college and crisscrossed various moves and apartments. I regret not knowing where it landed.
When I came home tonight, I pulled open drawers and scanned shelves to find a tiny gift I never gave Ron over the couple of Christmases we didn’t return east. I meant to give him a small badge from the Beat Museum, an earnest little storefront in the heart of North Beach.
Long before I ever moved near the San Francisco Bay, walked down Grant Ave. to Columbus and by Jack Kerouac Alley, North Beach existed in my imagination. Ron’s love for books and the Beats taught me where City Lights Bookstore and the Condor club are, and I hoped that someday he’d come out here on a visit and see for himself.
As a placeholder for that visit, I picked up the pins from the museum. “Holy! Holy! Holy!” and “Starving Hysterical Naked.” Now they will hold a place of remembrance on the bookshelf by my desk.
I want to say so much more. Ron was the adult who extolled the virtues of “Exile on Main Street” above all other Stones albums. He was jazz records and quoting postmodern analysis of just about anything. He was the babysitter not knowing how to handle an unruly brood of five letting my brothers smoke a novelty cigar. He was nerdy passion for books, art and music in equal measure to a passion for sports, even though a natural athlete he was not.
Coincidentally, my aunt, his wife, told me a story about my father and his influence on her as a kid that I thought I could have said about Ron. My father to Nancy was someone who tried the new, bringing gadgets and food and whatever to her Dorchester, a neighborhood not known for exploration. Ron was that to me in my suburban world.
He listened to rock and jazz and read books that raised eyebrows. He spoke to me and my siblings and his high school students like a real person, including innuendo and jokes. He admitted to having inhaled way before it was asked of presidential candidates.
Ron and my aunt Nancy were Newbury Street in the 60s, urban life and walks in the Public Garden to feed the ducks after reading “Make Way for Ducklings.” I met my first hippies and interracial couples and a gay man through them. I tried new foods, like the exotic pita bread suddenly appearing on store shelves next to the Wonder Bread.
I got to take a sip of wine and beer, and instead of soda was allowed sophisticated drink mixers like Squirt from the corner store.
Every perception I had as a kid in the sixties and early seventies was influenced by what seemed at the time a Ron and Nancy’s counterculture lifestyle to my mom’s post-war mainstream self.
Ron was also after school adventures and schemes with Pat, my mother, as they both used their school teacher afternoons pretty well.
There is a part of the non-conformist me that I think I owe to both of them back in those afternoons. I learned about shy adults with passions bubbling under the surface. Early on I talked about writing with Ron, a closet writer who said his stuff wasn’t good enough to see the light of day. I am sure that he was wrong.
Perhaps most of all, Ron taunted a kind of affection and sensitivity in me, giving me the hugs that were not second nature in my family and speaking out loud about feelings. I modeled behavior that he showed and eventually I’ve gotten better. Ron and Nancy were the most couple-y couple in my world as a kid.
Now, I use his “take care” as a goodbye (which actually works pretty well in California.)
That’s all I have right now, and it’s not nearly enough. Maybe instead, I’ll just re-read Ginsberg. Ron and everything are Holy! Holy! Holy!