In Sickness and in Death

 
I wonder if Japanese people look around American streets and get a kick
at the number of import cars. Do they take a certain pride knowing that
their people built all these things and, now, they dominate our
culture? I know I would. I’d be thinking Ho-ho. Got you round-eye. You
firebombed my grandmother, several times. Then you nuked her. Then you
raped her for 50 years. Ho-ho, indeed, motherfucker.

My grandfather fought the Japanese, but he didn’t get the chance to
firebomb anyone. He wishes he did, but it just didn’t work out that
way. They did torpedo his ship, though, and he’ll rant about that. In
fact, all you need do is use the word “torpedo” or “Japanese” in a
sentence and he’ll launch into his “dirty yellow bastards” monologue
which, strangely, is quite amusing. You know – five dollar hookers,
machine gunning Japanese submariners, torpedoes, planes with prop
engines, the world at war. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen anymore,
so the stories are rather quaint.

Grandfather: And then we machine gunned 47 defenseless people and
everyone pissed into the water. Then old Shanks jumped in and started
collecting ears! Har-har-har-har!

Me: Jesus! Fuck! Holy God!

The world before the media rampage is what it was. That’s why the
British Empire held on as long as it did – no CNN and no home video
footage of little boys being cut in half with a sharpened spoon.

My grandfather blames his bad hearing on that torpedo. He was deaf for
two weeks after the thing went off. After spending some time in the
ocean, as well, he holds a fear of swimming in large bodies of water.
“Sharks” he’ll mutter, staring down at an indoor Olympic-sized swimming
pool. He also blames his cancer on the secret work he did for the first
nuclear sub, shortly after the war. Apparently, it was a common joke to
leave Uranium in people’s lunch boxes.

I should mention that he doesn’t have cancer. He says he has it, but
it’s dormant. It’s waiting for “just the right moment.” He’ll be 80
next fall, so I’m not sure when the right moment will be. He says it’ll
strike him whenever he’s “in the middle of something that finally makes
me happy.” As a consequence, he’s kind of like the Angel
character of our family – he must avoid a moment of pure happiness in
order to keep the cancer away. Further, he’s advised us all that cancer
is contagious and we, too, should avoid happiness and success.

Not a new idea. My entire family believes that everything is
contagious. When I was growing up, if any of my friends had something
wrong with them, they’d be taken off the board right away. I was
forbidden to socialize with them. Anyone who had a health defect had to
be removed from the equation. My mom would even try to whittle out
health details when talking to other parents.

“So, I saw little Johnny take a pill the other day. He took them during the sleepover, too.”

“Oh, yes, well… Johnny has a congenital heart condition.”

“Really? I see, I see… And is it a threat to the other children?”

“Well, it’s…it’s hereditary…”

“Really?”

And, of course, I would never be allowed to interact with little Johnny again.

In high school, when my friend’s father died from an unexpected stroke,
I was forbidden to visit my friend for six months lest I “catch the
stroke.” I wasn’t at risk, of course, but I might become a “stroke
carrier.” It was believed that, if I were exposed, I would put
everybody over the age of 50 at risk. Shake their hand and – bang! —
stroked out. Typhoid Mary, meet Stroke Nacho.

Nobody in my family fears death – in fact, we welcome it as, finally,
an end to the meaningless nightmare of life. Jesus Christ, it’ll all be
over, then. And fuck having to worry about money or working or anything
else. FUCK YOU IRS! That’s the general attitude throughout my family.
The trouble is, death should come naturally. Death caused by someone or
something else is unacceptable. Stroke, cancer, murder, car accident,
heart attack… These are all things that represent weakness and we, by
God, are not weak. Dying like that is for the poor, the unfortunate,
the heathens, the lower classes. The dirty, yellow bastards can all die
like that, writhing in radiation misery while their skin sloughs off.
But someone in my clan? Oh, no, no. We’re going to live till we’re 112,
possibly pull off various criminal acts involving lots of money and
flawless escape plans, force our 20 year old nurse to strip down for us
then get killed in a machine gun duel with a dirty, child-raping
Republican.

Grandfather: And they’re all child-rapers and deviants because, you
know, they freed the slaves and all. If there’s one thing worse than
dirty yellow bastards running around, it’s having nigras think they’re
free. Goddamnit, I can’t believe… Would you pass the mashed potatoes?
Thanks. I can’t believe they let them nigras get away with all this
shit today! Is that cranberry sauce? Right, I’ll have some. And the
Krauts. Well, I liked those fucking bastards. They had panache! A noble
army! Powerful! They wouldn’t have swallowed all this shit that the
Nips and the nigras are shoveling out! What’s for desert? Pumpkin pie?

Everyone else at the table: (Horrified silence)


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