Dear Michael and Caroline,
One day we mapped out the site for the project, in the corner near the door to the basement. He had some measuring to do, and needed another body.
He had to line up spots on the ceiling with corresponding locales on the floor. So he held over my head a string with a metal weight on the end that stretched down to the floor. He jotted a dot on the ceiling with his pencil and I, following his instructions, did the same below.
I remember feeling a deep sense of satisfaction at this modest mission, even though my apprenticeship turned out to be short-lived and my father, intent as ever, took it from there.
In the end, the bar curved in a semi-circle from wall to wall, complete with a runner for your feet and a flip-top entrance-exit, the surface a bright white Formica, quite a handsome number all in all.
He built the bar, come to think of it, more to express himself, and probably for social reasons, than because he drank much. In fact, my father once told me, apropos of who knows what, that he never really liked liquor. “I might have one drink,” he said. “But alcohol leaves me depressed. My first drink is usually my last.”
Maybe he sought, in so saying, to warn me about booze. But certainly he played bartender, serving drinks to friends at parties my parents gave, just as my grandfather, his father, had made a living as a bartender, in a bar he owned in Newark.
So much else happened in this house, of course – my parents arguing at the kitchen table, the arguments audible from my bedroom; bringing a girlfriend to my bedroom for a makeout session; my grandfather Sheft visiting on those long-ago Friday afternoons, primarily to reassure my mother with promises and cash; playing my four-piece Ludwig drum set in the basement, making believe I was in a band and really cool; my sister bringing over her girlfriends for sleepovers, arousing my early curiosity about girls.
If I realize anything at all, it’s that a house is more than rooms and a roof. It’s an organism pulsing with life, and now, all these years later, it pulses still, pulses in memory.
Here in this house I came to love the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, to marvel at the movies “King Kong” and “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” to read Mailer and Roth and Updike and Vidal, to forge my friendships with Don and Larry and Bob, to admire my extensive collection of Playboy issues, to perform with solid mediocrity as a student, to recognize, however dimly, that my parents so often seemed at odds with each other, with my sister and I strictly secondary players in the family drama.
So much started there.
So much ended there, too.
And so much, at least in my memory, goes on still.