Friday, December 23, 2011

Mr. Exstein helped my brother and I learn to play tennis when we were kids. Mineral Point. Summers in the late eighties. He would stand in the middle of the court with an old wooden racket. He didn't have to move, and couldn't really anyway because he was old and frail, and I'm not sure what we actually learned from the handfull of hours we spent with him, but I remember the drool that would fall out of his mouth when he would talk. A string of it with a bright wad at the end. He'd wipe his mouth with the back of his hand. A couple years later my dad took us to see him in the hospital. I don't remember what was wrong, but my dad thought it was important to visit an old man who didn't have much family or hardly any other visitors coming through. I asked a few questions about tennis, not that I really cared, and we sat there for fifteen minutes in the glow of a television, and left.

I think my dad wanted me to experience the ambience of the hospital, and demonstrate a kind of ethic. There were others. Florence, who lived in Dodgeville, was another old person that us kids had nothing to say to, or do with. Yet he made a point of all of us going to dinner once a week during the summers. Either Pizza Hut or Hardee's or possibly Narvey's, it didn't make sense to me why we were spending time with these people who we didn't know and really couldn't wait to get away from, to get home and get back to video games.

Yesterday I went up to visit him at Clearview, where he's been for the last six or seven years. They just openend a new building, much more modern than the fifties insitututional architechture of the old one. Juneau, Wisconsin. He was slumped over in a wheel chair and drooling. Like a baby, his back muscles are too weak to support his body after the many years inactivity. Mentally it's a wash and has been for a long time, but physically his body gets weaker and weaker. I wiped his mouth a few times and tried to get him to sit up straight. Some nurses came over and wheeled him into his room, and he went right to sleep as soon they got him into bed. After all that, I thought. After all that here he is, surrounded by strangers. I don't know what this means. It's been 12 years since he was diagnosed, and there's not much left to visit. After all that. I left him the clothes my sister ordered, some sweatpants and a shirt, kissed him on the forehead and drove back to Madison.