I saw my dad on the Red Line subway train. He looked like I remember him, only a little younger, hipper, with a bit of an attitude I’d never seen. Not an attitude of superiority─more like a look of knowledge, of wisdom, of things learned from experiences he probably wouldn’t want to do over again.
Maybe he was traveling uptown to
North Hollywood where he’d be at home with the poets and actors and people who would share his love of words and books.
He shows up sometimes, mostly a feeling that maybe he’s close by, or maybe he knows the chords and melodies I like and he waits inside there for a moment to add a note or pluck a string, to ring up a memory or a vision of some grand place to suggest. I think of him waving and smiling at me from that perch inside a Miles Davis trumpet solo, sitting on one of those half notes, or weaving in and out of the piano solo in Variations On A Theme. He adds a shimmer, or a muted note, just to let me know he’s around again.
But I almost never see him, and in the subway train, he kept his distance, disappearing back among the cars and passengers. I could imagine him giving up his seat to an older person, now that he’d regained that youth they say you get back.
There are other places where I know he lingers, places I don’t get to very often. But when I’m there his presence is so strong and emotional we must both feel stripped of any pretense. The Disney Concert Hall, with a full symphony, I know he hears it. And he lets me in on musical secrets even before the conductor lifts the baton. PacBell Park, on a Saturday afternoon with the wind blowing softly on the flag straight out in center field, he sits in one of those empty seats and he smiles and nods to me when the shortstop makes a smooth throw to first from deep in the hole or the pitcher freezes the batter looking at a perfect curveball for strike three.
Flags Of Our Fathers, he just walked in and wrapped his arms around me and hugged me and I cried and he just held me. He saw a lot of shit over there he never wanted me to know about. It’s over, Dad. That’s all over now.
So, sometimes he’ll step out from inside those notes and chords and melodies, and take a seat next to me on a drive along the beach. He never says anything, letting me see and feel for myself, like he always did. But he knows I’ll notice him when there’s something of a spiritual quality or a moment of unusual beauty, touching me softly on the shoulder, pointing out the magic that’s around us all the time.
There’s still plenty of magic left in the world. He taught me that. And he’d remember to remind me to always keep looking for those mysterious moments. Those moments of quiet beauty and unusual quality that define our lives.
Keep looking, he’d say. Even on a subway ride through LA.