Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Say Good-Bye To Hollywood

He came into my studio and asked, “Are you ready?  It’s time to go.”  I said “Not quite yet.”  He said “Hurry up please. It’s getting time for me to go.”

The planning that went into my wife Karen and I having our first child surpassed the planning of most space flights. One New Year’s Eve when we could not go to Louisiana we spent it at the home of some close friends, Cheri and Robert.  Karen was so tired she went to bed before midnight which seemed very strange to me.  I was in the kitchen helping Cheri get champagne together for the countdown. She said very nonchalantly, “Are you that clueless?  She hasn’t had a drink all night.  She is very tired. Did it not ever occur to you she thinks she might be pregnant.”  It didn’t because sometimes I’m an idiot.  Cheri was right though and as we found out in the week ahead we were indeed going to have a child.

“How much more do you have to do?  Will you be ready soon?”  I said “I have just a couple of more things to do.”

The night when the water broke I was packing for a trip to a conference.  It was six weeks earlier than expected.  Karen called her best friend and maid-of-honors and said “I’m not sure what’s going on.”  Linda said, “What’s going on is that you’re about to have a baby.  Call your doctor.”   At that time my brother-in-law was living in the garden apartment of our house.  While Karen called the doctor he and I essentially reenacted a classic episode of “I Love Lucy,” running around like chickens without heads. We tried to pack for her.   Karen went with nothing of value except for twelve pairs of underwear.  When I drove into Lincoln Park to the hospital, I suddenly lost my ability to parallel park.  At one point the car was perpendicular to the curb.  She said, “If you lose it on me now, I am going to kill you.”

“I really need for us to go. Will you be ready soon?”

Ben came quickly. He was flipped over in the womb and so had to be adjusted before he could be delivered.  When he was he was very, very small and had a head that looked like the monster in the “Alien’ movies.  I must have had an expression on my face because the nurse said, “Don’t worry he hit his head a lot on his way out.  That will go away soon.”   When he was still in his mother’s belly I used to talk to him a lot and sing to him.  When he was born and after they had cleaned him up, he had not opened his eyes yet, but he was crying loudly.  I went to where they were weighing him on the scale and I said, “Shhh…it’s OK, buddy.”   He stopped crying and started moving his head around and looking for where the sound of my voice had come from.  It was a beautiful moment.

“Can you not go? Do I need to ask someone else to take me?” I said “No I just have to finish this up.”

In the early years we had a lot of fun.  When he was six weeks old my wife went shopping with her aunt, who had come up from Louisiana to see the new baby, the first grandchild.  She took Karen shopping.  I got a little bored so I loaded up a diaper bag, put Ben in my chest carrier, and took the bus to the Cubs game.  In those days you could get bleacher seats cheap after the fifth inning.  All the other fans around us were really nice.  They brought us drinks and fetched his bottle when he dropped it. We sat under the scoreboard out of the sun for the last part of the game.  When my wife called me on my cell phone to ask me where I was and I told her, I thought it might be the first incident of telephonic homicide. Later she and Lisa came and joined us.  It was a fun afternoon. Ben still likes going to Cubs games.

“Maybe Mom should take me.” I didn’t look up. “No, it’s OK, I will. I’ll clean up in a minute and we’ll go. ”

As he grew he became very precocious.  One day we picked up my grandmother from the train and had her come to lunch at our house before she went out to stay with my sister, Melissa. She sat next to my son in his table-attached high chair.  After we had finished eating, he said, “I’m done.” I lifted him out.   My grandmother said, “When I was young you said, ‘May I be excused?’  Without a beat he looked at her and said, “Well I don’t.”  He was always a kind of unique and confident individual.  He liked me to wrap him Christmas tree lights and to read him old programs from the circus. 

The years went by very fast.  We did a lot together when he was younger. We did Indian Guides and father-son weekends, but as I got more wrapped up in work I missed a lot of birthdays, Halloweens and games.  Things you are supposed to do with your son.  I called him from Pittsburgh on his sixteenth birthday.

It wasn’t until just several, but not many, years ago, when I stepped back from work that we developed a close relationship and I got to know him.  He played lacrosse on the varsity team since he was freshman. He told me that some day he might want to get into filmmaking, so I started calling him Hollywood.  He started borrowing books, watching classic movies and coming to talk to me about them. He was there for me when my grandmother died, and he was with me during the whole time when I lost my father.  I was there for him when he was disappointed or lost certain things or people.

He came out and laughed “Really, when will you be ready to go?" I went up to shave and clean up, and I thought to myself, “I’ll never be ready.”

When he first went off to college, and I was still working in the city, Ben, and I would have long lunches at least once a week.  When I started working out of the house and he got his first student apartment, made friends and got a pretty serious girlfriend from California, we started only visiting each other if I went to see him, or he came home to visit alone or with friends.  I started missing him sorely.

When I finished cleaning up, I went downstairs and said, “OK, Hollywood, I’m as ready as I’m going to be. Let’s go.”

We had a party for Ben on the night before his 21st birthday. At midnight we drank champagne and all toasted him. Even Meredith at nearly sixteen was allowed to have a sip. His best friends were there with him and some called on the phone from far off places like Los Angeles.  Meredith bought him a book of interviews called Hitchcock on Hitchcock and I could see by the look in his eyes how happy it made him that she had taken her own money and found that for him.  It was a wonderful affair.

In the car Ben said to me, “Are you OK, Dad? You seem awfully serious. “I replied “I’m fine, Hollywood, I’m just thinking about some things.”

We drove to the DMV.  He took his social security card and his old license out of his wallet.  We walked up to the clerk and I said, “He needs to update his license.”  Ben said, “Dad, I can talk for myself now.”  We found a seat in the waiting area and I said “Maybe I should just go walk around and do some things.” Ben said, “Please don’t." There is nothing worse than sitting by yourself in the DMV, so I stayed.  He told me about the summer film internship he had just completed, and the next one he had just obtained.  He told me excitingly about some other projects he was working on, and about how he was looking forward to getting back to the city because Kayla was going to take him out to a “fancy” dinner.  We went and had a short beer at the bar next door, so he could break in his ID, talked a bit, went home, had lunch with his friends from school, and then they got ready to go back to the city. 

Karen came out into the studio with Ben. He hugged me and kissed me good-bye on the cheek. He got into a car and left.  Karen and Meredith went shopping and I did what I always do when Ben leaves. I went into the studio, I played a certain song by Billy Joel, “Say Good-Bye to Hollywood,” and I cried.  I cried a little harder this time.  

Ben is 24 now and lives in LA and I don't see him very much but love his visits and try to talk to him as much as I can. I sometimes connect with Kayla more. He is doing very well for himself with various projects.  I still listen to that song.all of the time because it has been hard to accept that he is now a grown-up and it reminds me of him....the little boy I love. I knew he would leave one day but just as I was unprepared for his birth I was not prepared for him leaving the nest.  This is our joy and curse as being parents.