Life is slowly having your power stripped from you.
My father will be going into assisted living soon, his last life scenes will be much like The Irishman Frank Sheeran. His mind is still somewhat able, but his body…and the cancer within it…has said “go fuck yourself.” The last time I saw him he was still in denial about this predicament. This time he can’t even make it from his bed to the couch like he could 2 weeks ago. “I’ll never landscape again,” he finally told my brother (also a landscaper) during that first visit. This time he only peps up when my brother comes to do his work invoices and tells him it’s time to deposit checks. He desperately wants to feel useful. His body will not allow it.
I’m not sure what spiritual force nudged me to vegetate through 209 minutes of the The Irishman again. Perhaps Martin Scorsese is just my “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Perhaps it is the hilariously awesome fact that this $250 million dollar lark is one of the things that has nearly bankrupted Netflix. Or maybe it was simply the recent passing of Ray Liotta which got my Scorsese antenna up again (Ray’s not in The Irishman, but the damaged soul of Goodfellas lurks over this movie like a smirking poltergeist).
Many have decried the “De-aging” process used in this film. If I’m being totally honest, I kind of can’t understand why they didn’t use younger actors for some of the flashback scenes a la Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. My god, how gloriously ornery and cool do the geriatric DeNiro and Pesci look during the “road trip” with their wives though? The call back to Goodfellas flying by the white lines on the highway: I. Heard. You. Paint. Houses. But then they reminisce about how they met and we are forced back into a place that no longer exists. Except it kind of does because it’s the actual Pesci and DeNiro and not younger actors. You don’t just see that the era has passed by, you actually FEEL it in their weary bones. Why are these guys so goddamned old?
Maybe memories exist just to fuck with us. They trick us into keeping our bodies going long past our true expiration dates. A guy that works for me was telling me about going to play softball with another one of our coworkers who’s in his twenties. “Prepare to feel like death tomorrow”, I said when he told me he hadn’t swung a bat in 3 years. We both played a lot of baseball as younger humans. A few years ago I played on the company softball team. Hadn’t stepped on a baseball diamond in about 10 years. My mind was as willing as ever. Experience told me exactly what to do and when to do it. Guess what my body said? “Go fuck yourself.” Playing the outfield is not optimal for someone in their mid 40s who rarely exercises. Hey at least I could still hit a few line drives. Unfortunately legging out an infield single was akin to a 75 year old DeNiro trying to stomp a guy in the streets. When I heard Liotta died the first thing I thought of was how much cocaine he did in Goodfellas (“you gonna bake a cake? buh-bye dickhead”). The 2nd thing I thought of was how he helped Kevin Costner have that last catch with his father in Field of Dreams.
I almost beat the ball as it skipped past the first baseman, but my legs didn’t come with me. Hamstring went out about two feet from the bag and I went face first in a heap to the dirt. This after making fun of one of my coworkers who took his first mighty swing at the plate and promptly tripped over home plate as he turned to run towards first base. We were both sore for days. My buddy who played with the 25 year olds looked like someone shot out his kneecaps when I saw him the next day (and this is a guy who runs on a treadmill daily).
There is an eerie combination of love and despondency in The Irishman when you see DeNiro trying to menace a guy with a gun like in Goodfellas. His voice is exactly the same and his face is a haze of digitally enhanced spryness. The nostalgia rushes in like a needle full of adrenaline…but his body is all stiff with age making us sigh with sadness when he “springs” into action. When you get old you look stupid doing menial tasks. You are no longer capable of looking badass or menacing when doing anything remotely physical. Look, I’m not saying Scorsese started off wanting to make this a bad acid trip of DeNiro and Pesci blundering through their old gangster moves looking like embalmed corpses… but perhaps he just saw the dailies and leaned into it? Isn’t that what life is about? Leaning into something you love until it is eventually taken away from you?
My sister came to town a few days ago. I picked her up from the airport and drove her down to stay with my dad. When I saw him this time he wasn’t on the couch, this time he was in the bed the whole time. He looked confused and perhaps a bit irritated by his condition. However, he still recognized me and said hi in the same voice he always has my whole life.
I was sent to his old house…the house I grew up in. It was now in complete shambles and filled with mouse turds. One of my other brothers was in North Dakota on a fishing trip, firing back photos of the miniscule town my dad grew up in. He sent me a picture of my grave – Andrew Swart. Well actually it was the Andrew Swart who lived from 1896 to 1958. My great grandfather. The guy I was named after. In the ramshackle shit box of my youth, I’ve been tasked with picking up this man’s desk and steam trunk. A man that I never met. A man that I missed being on the same planet with by nearly 20 years. A man that lived in a town with a population of 45 his whole life.
Power lines hover over the characters in The Irishman, I’ve noticed this and wrote about it previously. However, I’m now noticing other things hovering at the edges of the cinematic frame, things like tree branches. Tree branches that are stripped bare and lonely. I can’t help but think about all the times you are slowly stripped of your power in this world. Much of this is the normal “coming of age” moments, some of it is delightful, some of it drenched in melancholy. Ultimately life is a beautiful erosion. You are stripped of your power when you enter the work force, when you get married, when you have kids, when your kids grow up, when your kids have kids, when you leave the work force, and then finally when your body begins to fail.
I was mad about the walker. I acted like a dick when my mother-in-law handed it to me at my daughter’s dance recital. “Bring this to your dad’s and just set it there,” she said. “He will probably try to throw it at me,” I said. A proud man. The proudest. Most Boomers are. When I got to his apartment I was not met with laughter or anger. My brother Marc said he probably needs it now. Earlier in the week he couldn’t make it down to the apartment office to deliver his rent check. My brother and his wife had to help carry him back to his room. He was depressed for a whole day after that and wouldn’t do anything. I am now wondering if the time for the walker has already passed.
2 thoughts on “It’s What it is”
Andy, as usual this is great. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with the end stages of your father’s decline. This is going on all around me right now and it really leaves me in an existential funk. My son and I have been talking about watching goodfellas for about a year, but we never get to it (I’m more interested in reading and writing than watching tv and movies). With Ray’s death, we planned on watching it last weekend but then the Bob’s Burgers movie came out so we had to see that instead (don’t bother). I haven’t seen the Irishman but if it’s half as good as goodfellas, it’s probably worth watching.
It’s been really difficult. Hard to want to write or do anything. I remember my dad letting my brother and I rent Goodfellas on VHS and then we all watched it and couldn’t stop laughing at the dialogue. Irishman will probably make you sad, but the good kind of sad.