Saturday, April 23, 2005

An Epilogue

'So, what about the damn radio?', mutters nobody, remembering mention of said radio in November.

What indeed. It's near the end of April, and my wife is pregnant (January's surprising, but very welcome announcement) and time gets away, but from time to time, my mind returns to the radio.

Read back a few months. An old Cathedral-style radio, (called Tiffany Radio on the box), impressive from a distance, with a faux stained glass (since 'fake stained glass' sounds so unappetizing) rendition of the classic Coca-Cola logo. To wit:

Example

Upon closer examination, the cabinet is cheap particleboard shaped into a dome, with an almost-still-sticky layer of stain, the knobs barely attached, the faux stained glass is pretty damn faux, being brittle plastic cast or molded with a quivery hand someplace outside of Hong Kong.

And all that said, there's a nice glow from the cheap bulb inside. And I've collected old radios on and off over the years, I've always liked the a classic tube radios in the old Cathedral cases. And most of those were cheap veneer, rickety wood, a cheap bulb behind Bakelite. But there's something reassuring about the fact that tubes or transistors, a cheap radio is still a cheap radio.

Why all the fuss?

Pre-Christmas, and my father is still dead and my uncle is, to me at least, frighteningly frail. The drugstore underneath my office tower is stocking lots of pre-Christmas nostalgia presents, Coca-Cola merchandise being a big seller. There's a place to discuss the merits of Coca-Cola as a foodstuff and their South American policies and the corrupted palate of the world, but this ain't it. It's just an old fashioned, mid 20's, early 30's style radio (early 20's tended to be boxes), with the Coca-Cola logo. My uncle would have loved it at one time.

But not this time. Too old. Too ill. He sleeps 12-14hrs a day and does he need another gadget, a radio that I would have loved to give him at 10, 20, 30 years old? It's the last thing he needs, so up to a few weeks before Christmas I decided against it. For reasons of practicality.

The eternal practicality.

This epilogue stems out of a sudden change of direction. I mentioned the radio to my mother in one of our uncomfortable 'what's Christmas' phone calls, maybe the both of us realizing that the momentum after my father's death is over, we can't sail through Christmas this year as part of another event's collateral damage. I mention the radio, and how I talked myself out of it. She says to keep it in the back of my mind, maybe my mother and sister and I could go in together for it.

So I do. But. I see it. I actually dreamed about it. And avoided it, for want of not objectifying everything I feel about my ill uncle, or my lost father, or the sheer painful nature of Christmas this year. I don't need a single object to wrap it all up in, but in that lies the problem. The more I try NOT to let that radio represent everything, the more it does. It feels like the Coca-Cola glasses that I found one year as a present for my uncle, or like the tiny bottle set he kept as chachka on his desk, it's pointless and plastic and is somewhere, an image. A quiet one.

So by buying it, I'm giving into sentiment. By not, I'm gettting depressed. By wasting time debating the issue I'm wasting time debating the issue.

Example

What...to do?

In the end, expediency. I have bought books and bath salts and dishes for my aunt, not because I need to get something on short notice but because they FEEL like the right thing for her. And my uncle was getting a book and not a radio not a radio not giving into the cheap radio until my mother calls and says she couldn't find the right thing for him, could I still pick up that radio?

And I do. For the record, $35.00, PharmaPlus, who has picked up product from the US Rexall chain, thus all the weirdly American ephemera. I buy it sheepishly, wondering about all the fuss, but feeling something...uncoupling...is the only way I can put it. And when we drive north a few days later and hand it over, he's having a good day. He's not sliding into sleep mid-conversation, and when he opens the box he looks amused. So many other items pass has hands, appreciated and put onto a side table, opened carefully with a pocket knife, the characteristic of men on my dad's side of the family. A pocket knife, comb, transistor radio, essential tools of all of them. My father had them on his bedside table to the end.

And the big Coca-Cola radio. He unwraps it, comments it's too big, too expensive. And looks at it. He'll place it later, with my aunt's help. But he pokes at the box, reads the back, fusses a little. I unpack it and put it in the kitchen, realizing how cheap the construction is, carefully turning on the light and the radio, finding the same station (CBC) that their old clock-radio has, and simply leaving it, glowing, muttering the local news, under the overhanging cupboard in the kitchen in the grey of a December afternoon.

"It sounds nice," he says, "the wood cabinet. Sounds warm."

And the epilogue ends not with the rest of the Christmas account, but with a simple, vaguely selfish response. The local shops still carry that radio. But after half a month of seeing it on shelves, thinking that purchasing it or not purchasing it would result in the same impotent sadness around the holiday, I see it now and get a rush of something like relief. Buying it didn't buy into the maudlin, and the damn radios don't look like something lost, anymore. They made my uncle smile, and played music through wood, something rare, with a faint colourful glow on a grey day.

Simple and warm and now, 4 months later, still playing. To all, a good night.

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