Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails
A Memoir
Anthony Swofford
Anthony and his father have decided that it is time to do a little bonding. Since father, here referred to as the Old Man, mostly communicated before by means of swats and yellings, Anthony feels that he was not the best of fathers. Dad had multiple affairs, scorned his wife, spent most of his waking hours when he wasn't working boozing at the local tavern with his drinking pals.

Now that he is approaching death --- COPD (forty-five years of Marlboros) --- the two of them determine to take trips in the old Winnebago to repair a life-long love/hate. During their time together, Dad calls Anthony "Bubba" and "Old Tone" which, for this reader, may have been a contributing factor in their mutual antagonism. It certainly would have pulled my strings if my father had managed to dig up two such ugly names for me.

When Dad wasn't boozing it up with his pals down at the local dive ("Cats," a strip joint next to Travis Air Force Base) he was bragging to Anthony and his friends about his "pussy magnet" --- a 1956 Thunderbird that he owned back then. This is the way Dad reports on his fun life while he was married but shacking up with Margarita.

    I said, "So you cheated on Mom with a married woman."

    "Her old man was an asshole. He never fucked her. And what your mom never knew never hurt her."

    I thought of my young mother: a woman who gave up college for life as a military wife. I see her drying dishes at the sink, apron tied in a bow at her waist. My father's poison, his lies and martial misdeeds, piles up in her bloodstream as she goes about the house.

At this point, a reader with better things to do might be asking why we are going to obliged to spend any time at all with Dear Old Dad and his decidedly crabby son, especially when we are forced to spend a prodigious amount of time with the old bastard as he cleans out his respiratory system at the back of the Winnebago, scenes which the author gives full loving treatment.

The usual cliché about intergenerational war being supported by a strong similarity of character might apply to this father-son team here in spades. When the author isn't boozing it up, he is twitching, sic, with his New York City doctor girlfriend who seems to have no compunction about lacing him with prescription-and-sex fun-fests: "The doctor had loaded me up on pills and I was totally twitched out of my mind."

Anthony then confides to the reader the story of a weekend where he had one lady in his bed with another waiting for him upstairs while there was yet a third that he was carrying on with on the other side of town. He pulled it all off with none being the wiser. This kind of revelation may leave some of us wondering why he bothers. Or better, why we bother.

It reaches a climax (of sorts) with the tale of brother Jeff. Jeff an all-around athlete --- apparently a straight-shooter --- yet he's dying of cancer. Near the end, Anthony helps him to the bathroom, stands him "in front of the bowl and helped him shimmy the elastic-waistband sweats down his bony hips."

    "I am happy to piss on my own," he said. "I need to keep pissing on my own. When I can no longer piss standing up I want this to end."

Anthony sets brother back in bed and heads out to get his current love Iris. He brings her back to Jeff's bedroom, where "a reading light at the side of his bed lit his wan face." Anthony pulls Iris down to the floor. "Iris giggled. 'What are you doing?'

    I took her shirt off. And her bra.

    "Jesus," she said.

    "Yes, Jesus," I thought. I kissed her and took her breasts in my mouth.

    "Jesus," she said.

    She slid down my body and took me out of my pants. I looked at my brother. I thought his eyes were open but I couldn't tell. I wanted him to watch.

    I pulled her on top of me. I had never had sex in front of someone else before and here I was inside a woman in front of my dying brother.

§   §   §

Dear reader: I want to be faithful and true, to work hard at my job here, to give you the good and the bad, to be faithful to the cause of great reviewers of all time, those who preceded me in this noble profession: Virginia Woolf, H. L. Mencken, E. B. White, Larry McMurtry, James Agee, John Updike, Martin Amis, Harold Bloom, John Leonard, Jenny Diski, Anthony Lane (back when he was doing book reviews for The Independent). It's my work, no? One I have volunteered to do for the last thirty or so years ... to lead those who love books up the hills and down the dales into the rich literary forest that awaits us out there.

And here I am going to have to let you down ... here on page 92. I am going to have to abandon my noble calling: The old man with his seedy malfeasances and noisy drunkenness (not to say his noisy nasal passage), the good brother dying in bed alone; and our author rewarding his brother with the only gift he can come up with --- a randy fuck on the floor before his dying eyes with the all-too-willing Iris .

At this point I'll have to part company with you. And with Swofford's latest. Take a hike, take a breather, take a raincheck ... anything to get out from under this big trashy pot of fat and bodily fluids.

--- Lolita Lark
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