“I was thinking about my father the other day, today…” his father says on the phone. The job at the corn oil plant, the insufficiency, the boredom, the drink, and “other problems.” “It wasn’t my mother’s fault. It might have seemed so but it wasn’t.” It is amazing, nearly uncanny, how well his father seems to know him, despite it all.
He has a strange sense, a dawning sense, that his father thinks that he is just like his grandfather, more like his grandfather than his father is himself, which opens in him unanswerable problems but also a well of strange delight. After all the fear, after the implicitly potential violence and the hard hurt of soft disappointment, now he is his father’s father, all of a sudden, just right now. It is an odd think to feel, given the place that his grandfather has always played in the whispered familial mythology. “He was incredibly intelligent. His brother told me that he was twice as smart as him. And then janitorial work, and drink…” But he doesn’t know who this brother was – didn’t even know that his grandfather had a brother.
More than a decade ago, some hobbyist wrote a book about the Canadian RAF (later RCAF) pilots of Lancaster bombers during the second world war. His grandfather featured as a sort of Everypilot in the last chapter. “On the ground, he was Buck and he was good times. But in the air, he was always and only Captain xxxxx. All business in the air….”
His daughter is going on a fieldtrip to the RAF museum north of Brent Cross on Monday. He very much wanted to go, cannot go because he has to teach Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year. What would it be to tell his own daughter that yes, this is the plane that your great-grandfather flew. He bombed bridges and cities while seated in the cockpit of just this. He knows that she would be fascinated by this; he is tempted to cancel his fucking seminar.
When he was a boy, and his father parlayed a job interview in London into a family vacation, the two of them visited the museum, way the fuck up the Northern Line, while his mother writhed with food poisoning that came of eating egg salad at the cafe in Hyde Park. They saw a Lancaster Bomber, his grandfather’s plane, and when they came back to the borrowed flat in Knightsbridge, cricket was on the TV.
He suspects, yes, that he would have made an excellent pilot of a Lancaster bomber. His youthful hesitancy has blossomed into an adult nihilism and rage, and he has never cared about himself in the sense that would make fear of death in the air a problem.
Tomorrow he will co-teach an MA seminar, and his co-teaching partner will leave thinking “Christ, he is one thing at the pub, another thing when the game is on….”
The insufficiency of the comparison is not lost on him.