Got to Maintain

As he reached the top of the stairs leading up from the subway station, the old man felt a familiar tightness in his chest, and called out to his son to wait. After a few seconds, he was ready to start moving again but the son, unconvinced, made him take his heart spray and wait a little longer. The sensation subsided, and he was fine the rest of the day. On the way back, he wondered how he could play with the band in a four hour Italian procession without incident, but something like a flight of stairs could give him pause. For what felt like the hundredth time, the boy explained to his father how stairs required more of an exertion than strolling on level ground at a slow pace with frequent stops.

Sunday’s procession was a bit rough for my dad, at least getting there. For many reasons, public transportation is infinitely preferable to driving into Manhattan, between traffic and parking. While the gig itself wasn’t bad, the stairs took a lot out of him. From the station to the church I took his instrument, and though he insisted that it “didn’t look right” for me to carry two while he carried nothing, he didn’t put up as much of a fight as I would have expected, betraying genuine concern and common sense on his part. Like anything else in life, from houses to cars to yards, we need to maintain our health. While he’s never smoked nor drank alcohol, food was my father’s downfall and led to his clogged arteries. Changing his diet radically halted further blockage, but he’ll never reverse the damage and, at the age of 79, he can’t push himself as far as he did 20 or 30 years ago, though he thinks otherwise. I think it hurts his pride when he needs to rest, but I expect he’s more active than most guys his age.

It was a busy weekend for us both, between a gig on Saturday evening and the one in the city that took most of our day when travel time was factored in. I need to use somewhere between 8 to 12 vacation days before the end of the year, and since the last two times I took off it was to play with my band, it was nice to take off this Monday to just relax and recover from playing with the band. I find the occasional “mental health day” more and more essential to keeping my stress levels down as I get older. I exercise regularly, and try to eat as healthy as possible, occasionally caving to the lure of snacks though less frequently than in the past. If I still want to be playing music when I’m close to 80, now’s the time to change some of my bad habits and learn from my father’s experience.

Sunday night I overheard my dad talking to my mom about going over to his lot to box some weeds. She insisted he rest after a long weekend, especially one that included a little angina, but the same stubbornness that gets my dad in trouble is what keeps him moving. No way was I going to let him go off by himself when I was home for a change to help out, and no way was he going to wait for me to sleep in, not when he was trying to put the boxes out before the garbage pickup. Since his lot in his old home town happens to be the town I now work in, I found myself driving my regular commute on a Monday morning at the same time I normally do, perhaps even a few minutes earlier. Two people raked up leaves faster than one, though the garbage men came by sooner than expected and we missed them. I also mowed the lawn while I was there, something I’ve neglected over the Summer.

Summer tends to be a time of major neglect for me. Most people my age maintain homes and yards while working full time jobs and raising kids of their own. I tend to crash when my side work and my day job collide, and I let things go. Junk mail piles up in the hall while empty water bottles accumulate around the chair in front of my computer. I manage to get the lawn at my parents’ house cut every other week, if not every week, but it could be months before I cut the one at our lot. Maintenance a matter of not just energy, but the discipline to press forward even when we don’t have the energy. It’s a big part of being an adult.

When we got home, I realized I had another lawn that had been neglected for a few weeks, but after some major rain last week the gutters were more of a priority. With a flat roof and only four points where water escapes to drainpipes, leaves and twigs often accumulate. If my dad can’t walk up stairs, he definitely shouldn’t be carrying a ladder up from the basement and then climbing that. I’m not a fan of heights, but I find duty can overrule fear. I do what I have to do. With the gutters clear, I could finally cut the lawn. It was then I thought I could relax, but I noticed my dad boxing up some branches and vines he’d cut last week. He insisted I go inside and enjoy my vacation day, but I knew the job would go faster with both of us working. By midday, I could finally settle down.

As long as we’re alive, there are things that need to be maintained. Grass grows. Gutters clog. Even our electricity is acting up now. My parents keep losing power in their room at the outlets controlling the television, VCR, DVD player, answering machine, and an oscillating fan. Jiggling the switch downstairs usually restores power, but for some reason the breaker isn’t flipping off completely, just enough to break the connection. A major clue came from my mom, when she told us that the fan doesn’t turn on right away and takes a few minutes before it starts spinning. That means the electricity encounters resistance, “flows” back along the circuit along the path of least resistance, and when the box downstairs heats up the switch moves as a safety precaution. After comparing notes with some of our fellow musicians, we determined that the box might be in need of an upgrade, especially considering its age of more than 30 years. My dad convinced my mom to let him call an electrician. She’s wary of the expense, but I’m more wary of fire. Our basement is chock full of old wooden furniture she rescued from her parents’ house when her brother moved to an apartment, and our upstairs has plenty of wood and paper to burn as well. I look around at all my books, comics, notebooks, drawings, and more, and I know we can’t risk it. The circuit breaker is working for now, but it’s better to do some preventative maintenance before the worst happens. We might not want to spend a lot of money, eat healthy, or work on a day we’d rather relax. When the choice is maintain or decline, there’s no choice at all.


Anonymous Lisa said...

As he reached the top of the stairs leading up from the subway station, the old man felt a familiar tightness in his chest, and called out to his son to wait. After a few seconds, he was ready to start moving again but the son, unconvinced, made him take his heart spray and wait a little longer.

8/19/2008 7:43 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

Those first sentences scared me... This was an excellent read and you are a good "kid." Get that box upgraded ASAP.

8/19/2008 10:28 AM  

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