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Jim Palmer

February 6, 2018

Jim Palmer

My brother met me at the Asheville airport three Saturdays ago and told me our dad wasn’t going to wake up. We were standing at the back of his running car, breathing in the exhaust. I cried for about as long as it takes to sneeze and my brother put his arm around me and I stopped crying and I haven’t cried since. It was late. We drove to the hospital in the dark and walked past an ER waiting room packed with people coughing into surgical masks and we looked at him on a bed in a brightly lit room full of machinery and tubes. I touched his hand and his leg moved. It was an involuntary thing. The stroke had wiped his magnificent mind clean in the time it takes to sneeze. He was moved to intensive care that night and in the morning a doctor met with us and assured us that the clear choice now was to “move toward comfort.” Maybe I’ll write more about the rest of it later, the last hours, the last breaths snoring out of him, his thin chest rising and falling. I don’t want to get into it right now. The next days, in a kind of trance, I cleaned his room like someone possessed, clearing out the clutter and litter and straightening up his beloved books and excavating diplomas and papers and military records and several pairs of his glasses, which I laid out on his shelves as if to make them available for him should he come back and need to see something more clearly. After a week I flew home, walked into my house and was dazzled by the beauty of my wife and young children, but still I didn’t cry. I went back to work and for a few days it was like carrying a backpack jammed with broken chunks of concrete but gradually the weight seemed to go away, which is somehow worse. So now every night when I’m done with work and the kids are in bed I look at the Jim Palmer card on the top of the stack of cards that I pulled from my box of cards at the beginning of 2018. My intention was to make my way through the year one card at a time. I’m stumped now: can’t cry, can’t write, can’t make it past Jim Palmer. Jim Palmer! When Jim Palmer was born in 1945, my dad was already a man, at least according to the U.S. Navy, which had him among its ranks by that time. Jim Palmer was born in New York City, same as my father, and was adopted at birth by a wealthy Jewish man named Moe Wiesen and his wife, Polly. Moe died when Jim was 9, and Polly remarried a man named Max Palmer. My father was working in advertising by then, in research. His crowning achievement in that field, which he left not long after a young Jim Wiesen, beginning to distinguish himself as an athlete in youth ball, decided he wanted to have the same last name as his stepfather, was an interview-based analysis of the brassiere market. I found it in his belongings. It had the interview questions he asked the subjects about brassiere fit and comfort and appeal, along with statistical analyses of the data. Jim Palmer also had a sojourn in the land of undergarments during his career. That was in the 1970s, when Palmer was considered the best pitcher in the American League as well as the most handsome and became a model of Jockey underwear. By then my father was on his own after a short stint as a man dazzled by the beauty of his wife and young children. After that stint, perhaps the happiest days of his life, his family moved to Vermont and he moved into a small studio apartment in New York City. My father didn’t wear Jockey underwear. When my brother and I visited him in New York City in the summers in the 1970s we would all sleep together on foam mats on the floor of his apartment, and at bedtime our father would lurch around in his boxer shorts. My brother and I didn’t wear boxer shorts. Jim Palmer didn’t wear boxer shorts. But our father the sociologist wore boxer shorts, more evidence somehow that he was beyond our understanding.  Eventually he would turn out the light on his desk and the apartment would go dark except for the lights of the city seeping in through the one window. The sounds of the city would also drift up to us six stories high, the traffic, the sirens, the kinds of sounds that are presented in movies as a signifier of loneliness and vulnerability in the big city, but to me those sounds have always felt like safety. I hear those sounds and I am lying in the dark near my unfathomable father, and I’m so close I can hear him breathing.

7 comments

  1. Your grace and depth at this time in your life is remarkable, Josh.


  2. Sorry to hear the news, Josh. Two connections: After buying our house ten years ago, I had dreams of a “garden room,” like you see when you go to someone’s house who’s in their 60s, eccentric, and into “the arts.” The centerpiece of this dream would be an exotic palm tree. All I ever got was the palm tree. It lasted only a few years, but while it was alive, it went by the name of Jim Palmer. To have this “Oriole” named “Jim” turned out to be a dual-tribute to my wife’s father, Jim, who died before I met her, and her other father-figure, an Orioles fan she befriended after her father died. Something about Jim Palmers and fathers… The other connection is that I too had that NYC “safe” feeling as a kid. Besides field trips, my only experience with the city before I grew up was visiting my parents’ friends and sleeping over at their Manhattan apartment. I loved those sounds out the window. We’d bring along our neighbor/babysitter (my favorite person of all time, who died too young) to hang out with my sister and I while the adults went out, and I’ll never forget him–knowing that we might be frightened by siren sounds and that we’d need comforting–saying, “the ice cream man!” every time an ambulance would go by. So there we were in the early ’80s in this little funhouse, oblivious to the murders that were surely taking place outside the building. I’d already learned not to go past the Werdegars’ mailbox on our rural street in the Connecticut woods, so the thought of leaving that apartment, let alone the building, without my parents, never would have crossed my mind. Between that and the endless parade of ice cream trucks, I felt completely safe under my neighbor and older sister’s care.


  3. Thanks, Jon.

    Thanks for the great connections, gedmaniac.


  4. Much like when discussing my own father’s passing, I can’t quite find the words, but this is just beautiful, Josh.


  5. It is absolutely touching and frightening, while also comforting, to those of us in your age range with older parents whose unknown life spans are certainly much nearer to closing than opening. I’m sure your words will help many others when they go through this life experience. You’re really doing a service to your readers opening up on deep, painful issues. I hope you are also doing a service to yourself and finding some comfort and peace from sharing.


  6. Thanks for writing that. I just finished cleaning out my mother-in-law’s apt, a workmanlike, useful thing I could offer to the whole Rifkin-Glicksman-Bass mishpuchah after she welcomed me into the family more than a quarter-century ago. Yes, her eyeglasses. Yes, it’s just like that.


  7. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing and I am sorry for your loss.



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