The scrapbook I found after my father died was wedged into a row of books in the living room, where books were shelved two deep in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Some of the shelves had books crammed in horizontally too, and it was in one of those stacks that I found it as I went about my business—what I somehow thought was my business—of pulling out the books my mother had no interest in, the ones that had been only Dad’s (history, Presidential biographies, detective stories, gangster stories) and the ones they should have gotten rid of years ago, like the complete Encyclopedia Britannica from the 1960s. When I took hold of the scrapbook, bits of it crumbled in my hands.
I didn’t know my father had kept a scrapbook of this kind, although I should have. I knew that he was someone who held on to things (his junior high school autograph book, the sign that had hung above his maternal grandfather’s tailor shop in Keene, New Hampshire, the Bulova Excellency watch that was a gift from his father to the beloved tailor-grandfather, my grandfather’s father-in-law). I even knew he was a scrapbook-maker: I’d long had in my possession one that commemorated his and my mother’s early relationship. He’d left it with her when he joined the army in 1948, and he’d kept sending her photographs of himself in training at Fort Hood and postcards from Texas to add to it, even though my then fifteen-year-old mother had broken up with him before he left. The postcards all say variations of “Another souvenir for our scrapbook, darling—that is, if you haven’t thrown it away by now.” She hadn’t—she didn’t. When he got home, she took him back, and the final items in that scrapbook include the printed menu for their wedding in 1952 and a handwritten list, with cross-outs and edits, of the friends, siblings, and cousins in their wedding party.
It wasn’t until after he died that I learned that he’d kept everything, not just souvenirs and mementos and things that were meaningful in one way or another. He kept things that had no meaning, sentimental or otherwise. He kept junk mail, advertising circulars, brochures. I’d never paused to wonder what the towers of papers in the room in their apartment that he called “the office” were. They turned out to be printouts of what might have been every email he’d ever written or received, every monthly statement his bank had ever sent him, and all manner of other not-meant-to-be-kept-forever paper. I had to go through all of it to find the things that were important, which were mixed in with the rest.
But that was okay. I was already going through everything. In those first days, weeks, after he died—in May 2014, after a grueling six months spent mostly in the hospital—I was in constant motion. I couldn’t stop. My mother stood and watched, or sat and watched, wringing her hands. Even now I cannot say exactly why I felt I had to put my hands on everything—everything he’d ever touched, everything he’d kept. The story I told myself was that I wanted to make my mother’s place her place. My father’s things were everywhere, piled every which way, teetering, collapsing, bursting out of drawers and cabinets, filling the closets. How could she live like this?
But she was already living “like this.” She’d been living like this, in this apartment, for nearly four decades.
Even after I was done, the apartment was still full of stuff. Which I should understand. The house I live in is crammed full of stuff too. I too keep things. Not junk mail or printed out emails or old bank statements—I tell myself, I am not as bad as my father!—but even so every surface in every room in my house is covered. Recovered, I should say, because years ago I had a crisis over how much stuff was filling up my house and I got rid of most of it. And then slowly it refilled, and I emptied the house again—after my father’s death, when I came home and thought about how my daughter would someday have to do what I had just done.
And now, nine years later, it is all filled up again.
I am not as bad as my father, but then I am not as good as he was, either, in so many ways.
The scrapbook was—is—filled with newspaper clippings: photographs of fires and crime scenes, apprehended criminals, cops and car crashes and other calamities; news stories and human- interest stories and sports stories and editorials and features and reviews—there is a review of the Mona Lisa, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for three weeks in 1963 (Dad thought it was good). All the clippings are from 1962 and 1963. They’re from the Brooklyn Daily and the New York and Brooklyn Daily and the Brooklyn Eagle and the Daily Mirror. New York City was a city then with many daily papers.
Perhaps that’s why he was able to get this sort of work—that, and his sheer determination, his chutzpah. How hard he was willing to work for almost no money. He was a high school dropout (too stubborn, my mother says, to take the one course he needed to pass, which would have required a semester of summer school after his friends had graduated). His parents owned a hardware store, where he had been working resentfully after school and on weekends for years. The day he met my mother, when he was seventeen and she was fourteen, he was on a lunch break from the store, a block away from where she lived. His parents expected him to work there full time once he was through with school—they expected it to become his life, the way it was their life.
This is an old story, an immigrant family’s story. Except that my father’s parents, unlike my mother’s, weren’t immigrants. They were first-generation Americans. My paternal grandmother was born in New Hampshire, the daughter of German Jews who’d settled there. My paternal grandfather’s family is a mystery to me—I have only their names to go by, not a single story about them. My father never spoke of them, and my relationship with his parents was at best polite (at worst it was chilly, angry—bitter). My mother thinks my father’s Herman grandparents came from Russia, but she isn’t sure; the family name he wrote down on the homemade “family tree” he created when he was in his seventies, when he briefly became interested in such things, is one I cannot trace: Herzikov, which was changed to Herman (but by whom, and when?).
There are so many questions I should have asked him.
One always feels this way, I suppose, when someone is gone. I feel this way too about my grandmother—my mother’s mother, with whom I was close. I asked her plenty of questions while I had the chance to, just as I asked my father (I was a relentless asker of questions, from childhood on)—and they both were natural storytellers too, eager to tell me about their lives even without my prompting. Even so, there is still so much I don’t know.
What I want is to know everything.
During the last weeks of my father’s life, and especially during his last days, it seemed as if this might happen. There was plenty of time for questions and answers, plenty of time for stories. He wasn’t sleeping, and when I was at the hospital with him I’d stay all night and we would talk. We’d talk all night long. During the day, when it was easier for him to rest, to at least close his eyes for a few minutes, I would nap sometimes. But mostly we talked all day too.
Mostly he talked—that was always how it was with him. And I am a talker! But I cannot hold a candle to my father.
Four days before he died, during the last days of the period when we were telling each other things we’d never told each other before, he confessed that he had joined the army at eighteen only to get out of working in his father’s store, that he couldn’t conceive of any other way to escape that fate. But when his stint in the army was done—when he came home and showed up at my mother’s door “in his uniform and so slim, looking so handsome” (my mother’s words) and they started dating again and soon became engaged—he was back at the store again. What else was he qualified to do?
But it was around this time that he also started taking pictures for which he was paid. Not enough to live on, but something. How did this happen? I wish I had asked him that too. My mother has no memory of when he might first have wanted to be a photographer and newspaper reporter. She remembers that he had a camera, that he was always taking pictures (I have hundreds of pictures of her, taken by him; there are pictures of his family, too, taken when he was a teenager, perhaps even before he met my mother; and there are many, many professional-looking portraits of me from my earliest years). Later—but before the newspapers—he took pictures of weddings and portraits of other people’s children. He won a contest at Fort Hood for a photograph he’d taken of my mother before she broke up with him, before he enlisted. The prize was a check for a dollar (the check itself is in the dating scrapbook: he never cashed it). In 1953—my parents had been married for a year by then—he took a photo that won honorable mention in a “print of the year” contest judged by the curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum: a picture of a very small girl reaching up high into the card catalog at the Brighton Beach branch of the public library, a photograph he’d titled “Higher Education.”
And somehow, eventually, he started selling pictures to the daily newspapers. He would leave the hardware store in the middle of the workday, chasing firetrucks and police cars with their sirens screaming. (His parents, my mother remembers, were infuriated by this.) Or we would be out somewhere as a family—or in the car, on the way to somewhere—and we would all go to the fire, to the scene of a fresh murder. “Stay in the car,” he’d say, and we would, while he got out and took some pictures.
But he couldn’t earn a living at this, or by writing for these newspapers either, which by then he had also begun to do. By the time I am able to remember anything clearly, he had swapped the hardware store for good for a job selling life insurance. That was what supported us from 1957 onwards—his job “in the city.” I can’t figure out how he kept it and still wrote so many news stories as a “stringer,” took so many photographs. I remember how excited he would get, running off to cover a story. I knew the difference even then—age five, six, seven—between this work and his other work, his boring job in the city, the job that paid our rent. The job he’d gotten—so I always saw it (did somebody tell me that? did I just figure it out?)—to take care of me.
Of course I have kept the scrapbook, even though I threw away so much of what he kept. I’ve kept everything that means something (my great grandfather the tailor’s Bulova, which I wear, and the key-chain viewers with their tiny photographs of my parents locked inside them) and I’ve kept everything he made: the manuscripts of the many books he wrote—novels and a memoir—and never published, in those years after the newspaper years; a screenplay neither my mother nor I had even known he’d written; boxes full of the two- and three-panel comic strips he made in the seventies with a “partner,” a college kid, who drew what my father asked him to, after he wrote the “stories.” (The strip was called “Person” and featured low-key gags like its protagonist sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch declaring that he’s had it, he’s done, he just wants to die (panel 1), the shrink offering a cup of tea for comfort (2), and Person taking a sip and crying out (3), “It’s too hot!”)
I kept copies of the digest-sized magazines, Pageant and Coronet, in which Dad published short comic pieces—both magazines to some extent low-rent versions of Reader’s Digest (Pageant, the prestige item from a publisher of true confessions, tilted toward glamour photos; Coronet, owned by Esquire, ran poetry and advice along with condensed books—but both also published light, humorous essays, which my father started writing in the late sixties and early seventies). I kept an album—a much nicer album, with a soft leather cover and plastic sleeves for all the pages—filled with all the feature stories he wrote and published later, for Pictorial Living Magazine and Parade and a German magazine called Quick. I remembered those stories. One was about talent agents who represented child actors—a story I remembered particularly well because I wanted to be a child actor, and because I tagged along on some of the interviews, and one of the agents offered to hear me out after Dad had bragged about my talents and stage presence (and, in truth, I was a supremely confident, not half-bad singer and actor as a child—the only arenas in which I can remember having any confidence at all). He declined the offer (that was “no kind of life” for me, Dad said, and I thought I’d never forgive him). Another story was about the wonders of airline food (the article describes Pan Am’s fleet as “gourmet restaurants in the sky”). And there was a strange, I guess funny-at-the-time first-person piece about a life-sized inflatable doll dressed in a bikini: Dad brought “her” everywhere with him for a few days and took note of people’s reactions. Once he was done with it, he gave the doll to me, and I loved it beyond reason. As far as I was concerned, it was a five-foot-tall Barbie, beautifully made up, with great hair and a polka dot bikini. But my mother was unnerved by the life-sized Barbie, unhappy that he’d kept it for me. Of course, as I look back, I don’t blame her one bit. But I remember my fury over her wanting to get rid of it. I remember telling her that this was none of her business. (I was famously a “fresh kid.” I had a “smart mouth.”) I came home from school one day to find that the doll was gone.
During those last days—weeks, months—when my father was slowly dying, it wasn’t as if we had to “make up for lost time,” as people say, or trade regrets or make peace with each other. We’d made peace with each other many years before. We’d had a rough stretch when I was in my teens and twenties, but for years, decades, we had been best friends—a team—once more, the way we’d been in my childhood. Still, we hadn’t had this much time together since my childhood. I remember that the very first night I was with him in the hospital, after I’d arranged for him and my mother to be air-ambulanced back to New York from their vacation, where he’d come down with what the doctors in Belize City thought was pneumonia—as I sat up talking with him all night long, holding his hand—it struck me that this was more hours in a row than we had spent together in forty-five years. And for the following six months, that was how it went. I traveled back and forth between my home in Columbus, Ohio, and Manhattan, where my parents had lived since the late 1970s (they fled Brooklyn soon after I did: I to Greenwich Village, Mom and Dad to Yorkville, on the far Upper East Side). Some weeks, during those terrible six months, I would spend forty-eight hours in New York, then forty-eight hours in Columbus, then turn around and head right back to New York.
Every time I left the city—every time I left my father—I was anxious, tearful, filled with guilt. And frightened too. I couldn’t bear the thought that he might die without me there beside him. “But he’s not dying,” my brother told me over the phone one night as I sobbed, back in Columbus. I was being so dramatic—as usual, he said. I was driving him crazy.
Why did I have to be so negative? my brother demanded. What made me think I knew more than the doctors did? The doctors didn’t think he was dying! Our mother felt certain he’d get better, he’d be going home soon.
I didn’t tell my mother. How could I tell my mother?
My father knew, though. And, some days, I caught myself thinking: It’s the same old story—my father and me together over here; my mother and my brother over there.
Not enemies, by any means. Just separate. Living in two different worlds.
Dad and I talked and talked, he in his bed in the ICU, I in the recliner I convinced an orderly to drag into the room for me. We talked our way through the eventual diagnosis of Legionnaires’ Disease and the treatment for it, and then the discovery that his lungs would not recover from the long assault of Legionnaires. We kept talking through multiple hospitalizations, one long stay on the rehab floor of a nursing home, and a heart attack. Through an attempt, during his third hospitalization, to put a stent into one of his coronary arteries—which was not a solution to the multiple problems that had been found since the ordeal began, I was told, but something that “might help” (and the cardiologist didn’t answer when I said might help how?might help with what?)— an attempt that failed because his arteries, they learned when they “opened him up,” were “entirely calcified—like cement.” There was nothing to be done, either for his heart or for his lungs. And while I didn’t know more than the doctors, I knew that it was possible to live with a good heart and bad lungs, or good lungs and a bad heart, but that one of the two was necessary.
Meanwhile, Dad and I kept talking. And when he couldn’t talk—when he was on the BiPap machine that helped him breathe, but which prevented him from talking—he wrote me notes. Sometimes he scribbled furiously, filling page after page of one of his yellow legal pads. He had a lot to say. He had always had a lot to say.
We had our last real conversation four days before he died, on the Saturday morning before I made the trip up to the Bronx to look at Calvary Hospital—the only residential hospice in the city for patients with less than six months to live. (There are, I discovered, a number of small programs for people who have two or three weeks left, as testified to by their doctors, which my father’s doctors wouldn’t do—it had been hard enough to get them to admit that he had less than six months.) That morning he had woken up early, convinced that this was the day of his death. It scared my brother—who still believed he wasn’t dying, that he would get better (the doctors had told him just the day before that “all the numbers” were good, my brother reminded me)—even though Dad told him, in a five AM phone call, that it was okay, he was at peace, he was ready to go. But my father had never been at peace, not for a moment of his life. It’s possible that his saying this was what scared my brother more than the possibility that it was a true premonition.
My father told him to tell my mother and me that he loved us and that he was ready, he was done. He had tried to call me too, but—I saw this later—he had accidentally deleted the final two digits of my cell number on his phone. He would have called my mother, I’m sure, but I could see that he’d deleted his and my mother’s home phone number too, and all but one digit of my mother’s cell number—he’d been fighting with his phone for weeks. My brother’s was one of the few numbers left intact.
I arrived at seven—it was one of the rare nights when I hadn’t stayed with him all night when I was in town; I was running out of steam and had hired an aide to sit with him on Friday night so that I could get some sleep—and he was lucid. Not as much at peace as he had claimed to be two hours before, on the phone with Scott, my brother, but not agitated, either. I took his hand and told him that I wasn’t going to argue with him or dismiss his intuition, but that my own intuition was different. “I think it’s a false premonition,” I said. “I don’t think it’s going to be today.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said.
Later that morning, in between fitful naps, in and out of lucidity, he pointed at the clock on the wall across from his bed and said, “They’re adding a minute to every hour. I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they’d take it away. I don’t need an extra minute. I’m wasting it.”
I promised him I’d arrange to have the minute taken away and he fell asleep again. The next time he woke up he remembered that I was heading to the Bronx that afternoon, and he asked me the address of the hospital and what it was called. When I told him, he began to cry. “I know that place!” he said. “I lived around the corner from it. I remember it perfectly.” He had me take out my notebook and write down his address—both of his addresses in the Bronx, the apartment building his parents had been living in when he was born and the one they’d moved to when he was four years old. And then he dictated the address of my grandfather’s first store. I hadn’t even known there’d been another store. “That’s why we moved to Brooklyn,” he said. “Because he opened the new store there.”
He had me write down the address of his elementary school, and then the names of his favorite teachers. He talked about a teacher who’d encouraged him to draw; he talked about how much he had loved drawing as a child. “Why did I give it up?” he wondered aloud. I asked him if he remembered teaching me to draw, and the drawings he had made, to demonstrate, then had me copy—a three-dimensional-looking box, a park bench, a road reaching to a vanishing point—and he did. He used his yellow legal pad to make those drawings again, to show me. Then he drew some other things—a telephone, a table. “I used to draw airplanes all the time,” he said. He turned to a fresh page and drew some airplanes now. He filled a whole legal page with airplanes.
After that—all day Sunday and half of Monday—he was fretful, scared, his thoughts confused. He’d forgotten about his premonition and the fact that he’d been wrong. He wasn’t always sure where he was. He’d forgotten about hospice. He kept asking me if he was “safe” and if he was “making good progress.” He was safe, I told him. He was making excellent progress.
By Monday afternoon he’d stopped asking me anything. He’d stopped talking at all.
We were going to move him to hospice on Tuesday afternoon, but by then he was too sick to move.
I’d been with him since six in the morning on Tuesday—I’d once again had an aide come to sit with him for several hours while I went to my mother’s apartment and tried to get some sleep—and my mother had been there too since eleven. At nine PM she went home to sleep. By now she and my brother understood as well as I did—it was almost over.
I sat alone with my father then, talking to him, singing to him. I sang all his favorite songs—songs his all-time favorite singer, Al Jolson, had sung, and songs that had been hits when he and my mother were young, and the lugubrious songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley of which he was so inexplicably fond. “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “April Showers” and “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)” and “You Made Me Love You” and “Time After Time” and “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?”
Could he hear me? I don’t know. Maybe.
I retold him the stories he’d been telling me for months. I told him all the same things I’d been telling him for days, for weeks: how much I loved him, how much we all loved him, what a good job he had done raising my brother and me. How much I admired him, how proud I was of him. How generous he’d been, how much help he had been to so many people. It was all true. I told him there was nothing in his life he needed to regret, reminded him how much he’d accomplished, how much good he’d done. And I promised him that my brother and I would take care of our mother—our mother who couldn’t remember life before she’d met our father. They’d known each other for sixty-seven years. I told him we’d take care of each other, too, told him he’d taught us how to do that.
And then I told him it was all right to go. I held his hand. I watched him take a breath and then not take another—watched him let go. Through the trees, I thought. Into the forest.
I tore out all the pages he wrote on, the pages he made drawings on. I took his pens, his glasses, his wallet, his phone. I put everything in my shoulder bag and walked home to the apartment, my mother’s apartment now, in the dark, in the silence.
It turns out that at four in the morning, the Upper East Side of Manhattan between Lenox Hill Hospital and Yorkville is deathly silent.
I was lucky, I remember thinking that night as I walked up Lex, then across Eightieth. There was nothing that I’d left unsaid, nothing left to wish that I could tell him. This wouldn’t last forever, but that did not occur to me then—that things would happen, to me or in the world, that I would have new thoughts or questions for him as time passed, that I would sometimes remember things I had not remembered while he was alive and I would want to talk to him about them.
Still, I was lucky. We both were. How many people get to feel this way? I asked myself. I might have asked it angrily. Honestly, I’m not sure. It seems an angry thought when I remember it. Not many, I said to myself.
I kept repeating it as I went up in the elevator, let myself into the apartment, undressed, climbed into my parents’ bed beside my mother, who only half woke up. How many people get to feel this way? Not many.
It’s over, I told my mother. He’s gone.
Gone? He’s gone? she said. She wasn’t awake, I knew that. I knew she had taken an Ativan when she got home—it was the only way she could sleep at all during those months. Still, she sounded as if she had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe I was angry, after all.
What do you mean gone? Who’s gone? Nobody’s gone.
She didn’t say this. It was only what I thought.
All the newspapers that the clippings in my father’s scrapbook are from shut down for good in late 1963, after the Great Newspaper Strike of that year. I remember the strike, how worried he was. I remember when the newspapers shut down, one after another. When The Mirror shut down in October and my father cried. I was eight and a half; I’d never seen him cry before. But after that he wrote for other papers—the New York Journal-American and the New York Knickerbocker and others that remained, on their last rickety legs, or that bravely started up (or that multiple collapsed newspapers merged into). And then, by 1969, when I was fourteen, all of them were gone, too. Every newspaper he’d ever sold a story or a picture to was gone.
And I was gone too, sort of. I had been his best friend, and he mine, my whole life until then. I was his sidekick. He took me with him when he went out on assignment. While Scott, my little brother, was left with my mother, at home, I rode in a police helicopter (it had no doors; I was terrified). I accompanied him as he covered one of the glamorous Mayor Lindsay’s famous neighborhood walks (the mayor bought me a Charlotte Russe, my favorite pastry—a thin layer of sponge cake topped by an enormous mound of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry, packed in a cardboard push-up cup). At home, I would sit and watch him shave while we talked. He taught me to draw—taught me about perspective (where did he learn about it? I wonder). And then overnight I turned into a teenager and suddenly I had no use for him.
I have always assumed that the period of estrangement between us, which lasted for years, was the result of my miserable adolescence and his inability to handle it. Certainly he was baffled by me. He had no idea how to relate to me once I no longer hung on his every word, once I turned angry and sad. I alternated between disdaining and ignoring him. He disdained and ignored me right back, and he sulked too, as if he were the child. I know he felt rejected—I knew it even then. But I think now that the loss of his life in newspapers must have been part of his anger and sadness. That my being lost to him too was too much to bear. He’d lost—he must have felt he’d lost—the two parts of his life he loved most.
My father was in his early thirties—less than half the age I am now—when he put that scrapbook together. He was just short of his eighty-fourth birthday when he filled those legal pads with the pages of writing and drawings I keep in a file folder in a desk drawer in my study. I take them out sometimes and look at them, and I’m amazed that I was able to make sense of what he wrote at the time. Now I can read only some of the pages—the questions he asked (Is Scott up to speed on what’s happening? or What time is Mom coming today?) and the complaints about one of the nurses, the only one who wasn’t kind, and the demands for ice chips or the sudden longing for some particular thing to eat or drink, which he would have lost his taste for by the time I fetched it. On the pages he filled later—with thoughts he wanted to communicate, ideas he’d had while lying in that bed for so long, stories he had just remembered and wanted to be sure he told me before it was too late (oh, and his dreams! On the rare occasions that he slept, he had terrible, complicated dreams, and he’d wake up wanting to tell them to me right away, and if he couldn’t speak he’d gesture impatiently for his legal pad and pen and write them down)—I can now read only groups of words, a sentence here and there. And yet, at the time, I know I understood it all. His handwriting had deteriorated as the months went by, but I suppose because it happened slowly, from one day to the next it didn’t seem so different, and I had no trouble deciphering it then.
I didn’t read the clippings when I found the scrapbook right after his death. But unlike the fancier album filled with the feature and humor stories he wrote later, the book-length manuscripts, the screenplay, the boxes of “Person” comic strips—all of which I left with my mother in New York—I took the scrapbook home with me when, finally, I felt I could go home, when I’d wrestled her apartment into shape. I’d hauled out twenty giant-sized trash bags full of recycling; I’d filled a huge cardboard box with papers to be shredded; I had culled the books and given away clothes and office furniture and rearranged the things I deemed worth saving. It had taken weeks.
After that, I came back to the city every few weeks to check on my mother. I did this for years, first at two-week intervals and then at four, and then at eight. I visited every eight weeks for years. In fact I had just decided it was time to stretch the visits out—my mother was doing fine; she had figured out exactly how to live her life without my father, filling it with friends with whom she sat and worked crossword puzzles in front of the Starbuck’s that had opened right across the street, and yoga-for-seniors classes and books and TV and Broadway plays and concerts—and in November 2019 I returned to Columbus with a plan to stay put this time until March. It was to be the longest stretch of time I’d stayed away since December 2013, when Dad first got sick while they were on a cruise.
And then, days before the flight I’d booked for March, the world shut down.
On the day I took the scrapbook from the shelf in my study where I’d put it, a year and a half had passed since I’d last seen my mother. It was May 14, 2021—the seventh anniversary of the day my father died. I sat down to read all the clippings in it, to look at all the newsprint photographs, to consider fully what my father’s working life was like back then. What he was like. What he was thinking, what he was doing, in 1962 and 1963.
There was an editorial from the Brooklyn Daily, published on December 12, 1962, arguing for the abolition of the death penalty (it ends with the line, “Only then can we look at ourselves in the mirror of life and be pleased”). A news story about the looting of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fluorescent light bulbs belonging to the City of New York—the word “fluorescent” spelled wrong every place that it appears, spelled the way my undergraduates are forever spelling it (spellcheck be damned), with the “u” and “o” transposed. (Was my dad, not much of a speller, ever, and not worried in the least about it—indeed, I remember him assuring me when I was aggrieved because I’d gotten a word wrong on a weekly spelling test*, despite being a good speller myself, “Forget about it, that’s what editors are for”—expected to do his own copyediting?) There were lots of news stories about CORE and the NAACP, about sit-ins and other peaceful demonstrations, picketing at schools and restaurants, the Board of Education, City Hall. There were human interest stories about heroic rescues, often by civilians, and many stories about cops who went beyond the call of duty—and, reading these, I remembered something I had not thought of in decades: that my father hung around with the policemen he met while on that beat—Irish-Catholic Brooklyn cops with six or seven kids apiece—and that I was sometimes taken to their houses for above-ground swimming pool dates or picnics or barbecues, and that this was a big deal for me, because we lived in a third-floor apartment on a busy street, with a chain-link fenced-in concrete “play area,” and the very concept of a backyard was foreign to me.
And a feature story, from February 1963, about a “new phenomenon”—hair styling for men—made me remember something, someone, else. Dominic Zuccaro, a “Paris-trained entrepreneur,” had just opened the Look-Well salon for men, in which, my dad reports, he used a straight razor instead of “the expected scissors and clippers” to cut his clients’ hair, then wrapped it in a hairnet (“much the way my wife’s beautician does hers”) before sending them to sit under a hair dryer, after which he spritzed them with hair spray. I remember Mr. Dominic, who after that had cut my father’s hair for years.
The nine years that have passed since the day my father died amount to nothing, really, in the scheme of things: the sixty-eight years I have been alive, the ninety-three since he was born.
The seventy-six years since the day he met my mother, on his seventeenth birthday, when he smiled at her in the luncheonette on Brighton Fifth Street and she smiled back, assuming that she knew him.
The sixty years since the last clipping in the scrapbook appeared in the Daily Mirror.
I read all the clippings, holding them carefully with two hands—they were so fragile, pieces of the newsprint broke free as I picked them up, and when I turned the scrapbook’s pages yellow crumbs fell from them, littering the floor where I sat, scrapbook on my lap.
At one time all the clippings must have been glued down, but they’d all come unattached—hundreds of them, loose, tucked between the brittle yellow pages. And the pages, tied together with a braid of yarn that looped through the cover—every one of them was empty. ■
Michelle Herman’s latest book is the novel Close-Up. “Daily Papers” is part of a new collection of essays in progress. Her previous essay collections are The Middle of Everything, Stories We Tell Ourselves, and Like A Song. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, happily retired from teaching after a thirty-four-year career at the Ohio State University, where she was a founder of the MFA Program in Creative Writing.