February 15, 2004

Uncle Bud

I’d always been attracted to the notion of profligate waste, the more profligate the better. Waste appealed not only because of my parsimonious ways but because it mirrored the profligacy of the natural world. A million fireflys and butterflys die on arrival, long-lasting as fireworks.

Eccentric characters and underachievers held my affection. I saved newspaper and magazine clippings of plumbers or mailmen who could quote long sections of Moby Dick or who’d read 10,000 books. “Dropping out” was attractive in all its delicious permutations. A pretty nun was a figure of wonderment; here was untapped potential in all its inconceivableness. The sum total of happiness she could give a man over a lifetime could not be calculated by the adolescent mind.

Keeping a low profile as a child was a survival tactic but redeeming in its own way. I read May Sarton devotionally, growing terrariums and tending aquariums while naively missing clues of her sexual orientation. I looked covetously upon the shores of Walden Pond as depicted on my copy of Thoreau’s work. He was Robinson Crusoe come to life, acting like it were actually possible, laying out the cost for seeds and wood but then he quit and went back to Boston and it felt hollow. A year and a half out of fifty? He called it an experiment but it seemed a failed experiment, else he wouldn’t have high-tailed it back to civilization. Only the permanent is romantic.

Uncle Bud used to take me fishing. He had the leather, reptilian skin of someone who’d been out in the sun every day of his life and didn’t know SPF from the ATF. A born fisherman, he’d look out over the water and after ten or twenty minutes I’d be getting ants in my pants but he’d sit there like Mount Rushmore. I’d walk around the lake and grab at the cattails and look for dead fish near the bank and inhale the intoxicating dank smell, and then come back around and see if Uncle Bud caught anything. There weren’t near enough action. I’d bait my bamboo pole and put it in the water and pull out a wormless hook.

But I'd sit and stare at the water and wonder if there really were any fish under all that water. They said it was stocked but maybe the other fisherman already caught all the fish. The water looked the same as soil, only with relentless ripples. Uncle Bud was my great uncle, my uncle's father, so he was getting on in years. Always a bachelor, he lived by his own rules and died by his own rules. Got cancer but wouldn't have anything to do with doctors. Holed himself up in his house like an outlaw with the law outside yellin’ for him to come out, so the hunter shot himself. There was shock in the horrible coupling, good uncle Bud and Judas’s last sin.

I ache for him to be in heaven because the thrill of waste ends at Hell’s gate.

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