November 12, 2019

"I tried to divert myself... from pondering what it would be like if my father died while I was sitting next to his bed, in a sleeper chair, wearing drawstring pajama bottoms and an 'Illmatic' T-shirt..."

"... with my stocking feet up on the extendable footrest and my iPad, in its keyboard case, open in my lap, writing a short film about Mr. Spock’s first day on the job. I wondered if I would see or otherwise sense the instant when the hundred billion neurons in my father’s brain abandoned the eighty-year feat of electrochemical legerdemain known as Robert Chabon, and the father I had loved so imperfectly, and by whom I had been so imperfectly loved, pulled off one last vanishing act. I can give you the exact date of the first time I ever saw Mr. Spock on TV, I said. September 15, 1967. Hmm, I had just started my fellowship at Albert Einstein. We were living in Flushing. So you would have been . . . ? Four. I must have sneaked out of bed, or come to ask for a glass of water. I didn’t know that it was Mr. Spock, or that you were watching 'Star Trek.' There was just this scary-looking guy with the ears and the eyebrows. A pointy-eared woman, too, with enormous hair. Super-scary music, two guys fighting in a place made out of rocks. One of them got his shirt slashed open... 'Amok Time' might not be the best, but I think it’s the most important, I said. How so? My father endured my disquisition with unusual forbearance. Like all our conversations from then on, this one was doomed to take place on my terms...."

From "The Final Frontier/I love Mr. Spock because he reminds me of you, I told my father. For the first time that night, I considered the possibility that he was going to survive it" by Michael Chabon (in The New Yorker).

56 comments:

tim maguire said...

Did he really wonder what it would be like if his father died while he was wearing draw string pajamas? Did he wonder how it would be different if he were wearing jeans?

Even in the face of his father's death, all he can do is pose with his dishonest pretentious twaddle.

madAsHell said...

It's as if a 14-year-old girl left her diary open to a random page......

gilbar said...

Okay, i finished reading the assignment; can someone tell me what it was about?

gilbar said...

oh! asked and answered; just like that!
Thanx madAsHell!

buwaya said...

My father loved me perfectly, and my mother and sisters likewise, and we all loved him perfectly, imperfect as we were.
It’s difficult to relate to such as Chabon from the secure fortress of a happy childhood.

My father went, as far as we could tell, into that heaven promised by our religion. Too young by our modern standards but after a life well lived.

chuck said...

What was that all about? Guess I would need to read the whole thing to (maybe) find out.

>>if his father died while he was wearing draw string pajamas?<<

At ~$0.08 per word, every word counts.

LordSomber said...

Some great battle music...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dnZHea_TI0

Anthony said...

"Fascinating."

eric said...

I think that's the scene replayed in the cable guy.

So funny.

Lurker21 said...

Michael Chabon is one of the "Jonathans" - Franzen, Lethem, Safran Foer - and not the best or the brightest.

Or maybe he is the best and the brightest. They aren't exactly Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald.

He should have saved this for the New Yorker's annual science fiction issue, in which there would be so many other fine articles to not read.

Yancey Ward said...

I guess you have know that Chabon's father left when he was 12 years old (buwaya alludes to this above). I found the article quite moving, perhaps because I also have a life-long love with all things Star Trek, but mainly because my own father's death isn't that far in the past and that I had some similar sounding thoughts about what that moment when he actually died would feel like. Also, I happen to be big fan of one of Chabon's books and the movie into which it was adapted- Wonder Boys.

loudogblog said...

I can relate to this. I'm one of those Star Trek geeks who grew up on Star Trek. Star Trek wasn't a perfect show, but it's themes tended to create a distinct sense of community among its fans. It pointed out the human, and non-human, things that unite us. Also, Spock has a great mic drop line at the end of Amok Time. "Stonn, she is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."

narciso said...

I liked moontime, for its picaresque nature but hes generally pretty tedious.

Sebastian said...

"My father endured my disquisition with unusual forbearance. Like all our conversations from then on, this one was doomed to take place on my terms.... I considered the possibility that he was going to survive it"

A few more of such "disquisitions," and I'd be tempted to give up the ghost, on my terms.

Rick.T. said...

“ disquisition”

Another writer who doesn’t like quid pro quo?

Skippy Tisdale said...

"Michael Chabon is one of the "Jonathans" - Franzen, Lethem, Safran Foer - and not the best or the brightest."

As Yancey Ward said, Wonder Boys is a great read. The movie is just okay, but the book is wonderful.

Howard said...

Over examined life seems at least to me shallow sophomoric and pretentious. However the subject matter can be very difficult for most people. Relationship between Fathers and sons is strained so it's hard to totally slam the guy 4 having a adolescent grief experience. The only thing I could say to him is okay Boomer

tim maguire said...

Skippy Tisdale said...As Yancey Ward said, Wonder Boys is a great read. The movie is just okay, but the book is wonderful.

The only book if his I’ve read is “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” which I really enjoyed. Doesn’t change the fact that this essay is, as MadAsHell astutely observed, like reading the diary of a 14-year-old girl.

Ann Althouse said...

Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?

buwaya said...

"Fathers and sons is strained "

Sometimes. This probably shows up more prominently than is warranted, through the squeaky wheel syndrome.

Unhappy childhoods are not normal. They are just more dramatic than simple happiness, and so they are disproportionately written about. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

gilbar said...

Ann Althouse said...
Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?


Yes, Let's!
The blade was convex
Kirk's chest is convex
The blade was sharp enough to cut the shirt, without effort
The blade cut the shirt open, from nipple to nipple
The cut on Kirk's chest was Slight, and Superficial... From nipple to nipple
Try to imagine a stroke, that would do that?
Hint, it should have been two inches deep on his sternum

Wince said...

Ann Althouse said...
Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?

"What do you say, you and me get nipple to nipple?"

Darrell said...

Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?

They teach that move in Starfleet Academy. Was it because SA was always co-ed? That's only speculation. No one on Star Trek ever "milked" a space walrus from a gland between its legs, though. That's modern Star Wars.

Rory said...

The girl in the clip is Arlene Martel, who was one of the legions of actresses who made the rounds of 1960s "guy shows" like Star Trek, Bonanza, Hogan's Heroes, and Man from UNCLE. In addition to Vulcanettes, she played witches, French, Italian, Russian, and any other nationality you could throw at her.

roadgeek said...

Wow. This made me tear up. My own father died a little more than two weeks ago, and I felt, and still feel, many of the emotions Chabon is feeling. My father was also 80. There are so many similarities between the death of Chabon's father and that of my own father. My father and I also enjoyed watching "Star Trek"; we spent many an hour in the den along with the crew of the Enterprise; TOS only, please. He enjoyed other science fiction as well. He didn't read much, except his technical manuals as Scotty would say, but he enjoyed movies. I recall grabbing him during the chest-bursting scene in "Alien", and liking "Star Wars" so much that we went back and watched it again the following weekend. He would go to the theatre and watch Chuck Heston in just about anything; I saw "Soylent Green", "The Omega Man" and, of course, "Planet of the Apes" in a theatre in my hometown with Dad. My father had trouble connecting with his children, but we really bonded watching science fiction, either at the movies or in the den.

Dad died in hospice, alone, just as Chabon's father died, in the low hours just before dawn. Like Chabon's father he'd lived a full and productive life. He was tired, and sick, and ready to claim his reward in Heaven.

This is a stunning piece of writing. Thank you for posting this. It meant a lot. I haven't really cried yet, and it's been nearly two weeks now, but I think this piece of writing is going to help. Thank you again.

Nonapod said...

I've been a fan of Star Trek since I was a kid, watching TOS in syndication. It's often been mixed in terms of quality, with some shows resonating a bit more than others.

I liked the original series.

I liked a lot of the Next Generation even with all its faults. I found the earlier seasons (before Roddenberry passed) a bit weak. I thought they were dragged down Roddenberry's dull utopian characters. Basically the only interesting characters were Data and Worf. Ironically they felt the most human despite being nonhuman.

I loved Deep Space 9. I consider it to be one of the finest pieces of SciFi TV ever produced. It blended a great mixes of utopianism with dystopianism, light with dark, idealism with cynicism. Great characters, great acting, great writing. I really can't say enough good things about it.

Voyager and Enterprise were the weakest of the lot. Like TNG, Voyager was plagued with some dull characters (Chakotay). But depsite that, both those shows had their strong moments and episodes too.

I have yet to watch Discovery. I've heard horrible things. I like The Orville, which is a Star Trek show in all but name.

Tom T. said...

"Okay, i finished reading the assignment; can someone tell me what it was about?"

It was about Michael Chabon, and nothing else. His father was a bystander on his own deathbed.

donald said...

Speaking of posts on death, my wife, the beautiful and awesome Becky Lea Wyatt-Bulloch died 8 years ago today. Can’t get too much right ever since.

Howard said...

Buwaya Puti: strained father-son relationships are common following happy normal childhoods within the world dominant white male patriarchy. It's a natural externality of cultural independence, freedom and autonomy.

buwaya said...

"Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?"

Of course - it was a bit of fan service to those back-of-the-mind perverse fantasies of the female audience. Theodore Sturgeon would not have missed this. He had form, as the English say.

Kirk Parker said...

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Well, Tolstoy certainly had little experience of happy families, so we can cut him a little bit of slack for this nonsense, I guess.

Tina Trent said...

This essay killed me. I forgive Michael Chabon for all the bullshit he's written. My father paid our bills working a thankless job wearing a pistachio green plaid Montgomery Wards polyester suit for 30 years.

I could never thank him enough.

We expressed the only and all our emotions towards each other in the last 12 hours of his life. Don't miss it.

rosebud said...

Very sorry Donald. My wife passed away 19 months ago; I'm sure I will still be missing her until I join her.

buwaya said...

"Well, Tolstoy certainly had little experience of happy families"

He was an orphan, both his parents died while he was a child.
A wealthy, aristocratic orphan, but still.

gerry said...

Vulcans: supremely logical and, apparently, periodically crazy. You'd think that they'd have come up with a medication, like Midol, to address those periods.

Did Vulcan women ever run amok?

narciso said...

Its striking because roddenberry based spock on his former boss la chief william parker,

Nonapod said...

Unhappy childhoods are not normal.

It's odd. I had a wonderful childhood thanks to fantastic parents. It seems like most of my peers seemed to also have had pretty great childhoods. And a fair number also had childhhoods that I would consider, maybe not great, but certainly not awful (like maybe their was a divorce or whatever, but nothing really bad, no abuse ect.). As I got older I eventually met people who had some very bad childhoods, but they weren't the norm.

But there seems to be such a focus on horrible childhoods in popular culture. I guess in a way it makes sense, bad childhoods make for great drama.

J. Farmer said...

Well, folks, it was fun while it lasted ;)

narciso said...

his uncle was imterior minister, the real life version of a key character in belys Petersburg.

Howard said...

J.Farmer: remember the first and second rules of Blogger club

0_0 said...

Amok Time is one of the top Star Trek episodes.

Ann Althouse said...

"Try to imagine a stroke, that would do that?"

I know! I keep imagining and it's disturbing me.

Ann Althouse said...

@roadgeek

You're very welcome.

I'm sorry you lost your father. Thanks for sharing that.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for memorializing your wife here, Donald.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm sorry to hear about your wife, rosebud.

Maillard Reactionary said...

My sincere condolences to donald and roadgeek above.

I have no opinion about Chabon; he sounds like he might have been a bit self-absorbed, but many of us are and I have no room to talk in that connection.

The loss of an intimate loved one is a life changing experience for all of us. It was years after my mother died that I was listening one evening to Bernstein's concert suite from "West Side Story". That work had special meaning for her since it had first been produced as a film, for reasons that had been obscure to me at the time. In a moment of clarity I was suddenly able to see her as she had been, an imperfect human struggling against impossible odds to do her best, which she did, and then much more.

The tears had finally come, and there was some peace after that.

narciso said...

condolescences all.

Josephbleau said...

My only recollection from a Chabon novel is his characterization of "The World's Strongest Jew." This was in his (half read by me but I did good on the test) book about comic book guys.

DavidUW said...

I’m not going to bother to read it given that snippet. I hope that assuming I’m at my fathers sick bed and he’s not burying me like my brother, I’ll be thinking about him and not what I’m wearing.

cubanbob said...

I enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I prefer not to be disillusioned with vanity.

Nichevo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nichevo said...

Althouse said...
Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?


Oh, sure, Ann, go ahead. Did you want to lick him from left to right, or from right to left?

Lurker21 said...

Ann Althouse said...
Can we talk about the way Spock slits Kirk’s shirt open from nipple to nipple?


That's what fan fiction is for. There are supposed to be hundreds of stories out there about Kirk and Spock and how they finally consummate their relationship. Sexually.

Why these two? What was it about Kirk and Spock that made people think that they were attracted to and in love with each other?

Anonymous said...

Michael Chabon, you will probably never read this but I am sorry for your loss. Grief is real. The loss never goes away completely.

Within one year my wife and I attended two funerals of family members a generation older--an uncle on my side of the family and an uncle on my wife's side. In thinking about the experience I was glad we went because there was a resettling of the family as one member was missing. That was an important experience for us both. It strenghtened the bonds of those of us who remain. One thought that comes back to me regularly is that the future nevers looks like the past and making the adjustments is hard but necessary. Changes just keep on coming.

Michael, I hope sharing your thoughts helped you in the process of settling into the new pattern of life after your father's death.

loudogblog said...

"Did Vulcan women ever run amok?"

Yes. In the Star Trek Enterprise episode, Bounty, T'Pol gets Tucker to help her with her Pon Farr.

Mike said...

I went to high school with Chabon. Our senior year, we did the musical "Pajama Game." Shortly before opening night, the husband of our play director died. Before the first show, she brought out her husband's hat and gave it to Chabon for his character to wear.