Материалы к занятию
I sometimes think to myself that I’m the last of my kind.
My name is Ira Levinson. I’m a southerner and a Jew, and equally proud to have been called both at one time or another. I’m also an old man. I was born in 1920, the year that alcohol was outlawed and women were given the right to vote, and I often wondered if that was the reason my life turned out the way it did. I’ve never been a drinker, after all, and the woman I married stood in line to cast a ballot for Roosevelt as soon as she reached the appropriate age, so it would be easy to imagine that the year of my birth somehow ordained it all.
My father would have scoffed at the notion. He was a man who believed in rules. “Ira,” he would say to me when I was young and working with him in the haberdashery, “let me tell you something you should never do,” and then he would tell me. His Rules for Life, he called them, and I grew up hearing my father’s rules on just about everything. Some of what he told me was moral in nature, rooted in the teachings of the Talmud; and they were probably the same things most parents said to their children. I was told that I should never lie or cheat or steal, for instance, but my father — a sometimes Jew, he called himself back then — was far more likely to focus on the practical. Never go out in the rain without a hat, he would tell me. Never touch a stove burner, on the off chance it still might be hot. I was warned that I should never count the money in my wallet in public, or buy jewelry from a man on the street, no matter how good the deal might seem. On and on they went, these nevers, but despite their random nature, I found myself following almost every one, perhaps because I wanted never to disappoint my father. His voice, even now, follows me everywhere on this longest of rides, this thing called life.
Similarly, I was often told what I should do. He expected honesty and integrity in all aspects of life, but I was also told to hold doors for women and children, to shake hands with a firm grip, to remember people’s names, and to always give the customer a little more than expected. His rules, I came to realize, not only were the basis of a philosophy that had served him well, but said everything about who he was. Because he believed in honesty and integrity, my father believed that others did as well. He believed in human decency and assumed others were just like him. He believed that most people, when given the choice, would do what was right, even when it was hard, and he believed that good almost always triumphed over evil. He wasn’t naive, though. “Trust people,” he would tell me, “until they give you a reason not to. And then never turn your back.”
More than anyone, my father shaped me into the man I am today.
But the war changed him. Or rather, the Holocaust changed him. Not his intelligence — my father could finish the New York Times crossword puzzle in less than ten minutes — but his beliefs about people. The world he thought he knew no longer made sense to him, and he began to change. By then he was in his late fifties, and after making me a partner in the business, he spent little time in the shop. Instead, he became a full-time Jew. He began to attend synagogue regularly with my mother — I’ll get to her later — and offered financial support to numerous Jewish causes. He refused to work on the Sabbath. He followed with interest the news regarding the founding of Israel — and the Arab-Israeli War in its aftermath — and he began to visit Jerusalem at least once a year, as if looking for something he’d never known he’d been missing. As he grew older, I began to worry more about those overseas trips, but he assured me that he could take care of himself, and for many years he did. Despite his advancing age, his mind remained as sharp as ever, but unfortunately his body wasn’t quite so accommodating. He had a heart attack when he was ninety, and though he recovered, a stroke seven months later greatly weakened the right side of his body. Even then, he insisted on taking care of himself. He refused to move to a nursing home, even though he had to use a walker to get around, and he continued to drive despite my pleas that he forfeit his license. It’s dangerous, I would tell him, to which he would shrug.
What can I do? He would answer. How else would I get to the store?
My father finally died a month before he turned 101, his license still in his wallet and a completed crossword puzzle on the bed-stand beside him. It had been a long life, an interesting life, and I’ve found myself thinking about him often of late. It makes sense, I suppose, because I’ve been following in his footsteps all along. I carried with me his Rules for Life every morning as I opened the shop and in the way I’ve dealt with people. I remembered names and gave more than was expected, and to this day I take my hat with me when I think there’s a chance of rain. Like my father, I had a heart attack and now use a walker, and though I never liked crossword puzzles, my mind seems as sharp as ever. And, like my father, I was too stubborn to give up my license. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. If I had, I wouldn’t be in this predicament: my car off the highway and halfway down the steep embankment, the hood crumpled from impact with a tree. And I wouldn’t be fantasizing about someone coming by with a thermos full of coffee and a blanket and one of those movable thrones that carried the pharaoh from one spot to the next. Because as far as I can tell, that’s just about the only way I’m ever going to make it out of here alive.
I’m in trouble. Beyond the cracked windshield, the snow continues to fall, blurry and disorienting. My head is bleeding, and dizziness comes in waves; I’m almost certain my right arm is broken. Collarbone, too. My shoulder throbs, and the slightest twitch is agonizing. Despite my jacket, I’m already so cold that I’m shivering.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t afraid. I don’t want to die, and thanks to my parents — my mother lived to ninety-six — I long assumed that I was genetically capable of growing even older than I already am. Until a few months ago, I fully believed I had half a dozen good years left. Well, maybe not good years. That’s not the way it works at my age. I’ve been disintegrating for a while now — heart, joints, kidneys, bits and pieces of my body beginning to give up the ghost — but recently something else has been added to the mix. Growths in my lungs, the doctor said. Tumors. Cancer. My time is measured in months now, not years… but even so, I’m not ready to die just yet. Not today. There is something I have to do, something I have done every year since 1956. A grand tradition is coming to an end, and more than anything, I wanted one last chance to say good-bye.
Still, it’s funny what a man thinks about when he believes death to be imminent. One thing I know for sure is that if my time is up, I’d rather not go out this way — body trembling, dentures rattling, until finally, inevitably, my heart just gives out completely. I know what happens when people die — at my age, I’ve been to too many funerals to count. If I had the choice, I’d rather go in my sleep, back home in a comfortable bed. People who die like that look good at the viewing, which is why, if I feel the Grim Reaper tapping my shoulder, I’ve already decided to try to make my way to the backseat. The last thing I want is for someone to find me out here, frozen solid in a sitting position like some bizarre ice sculpture. How would they ever get my body out? The way I’m wedged behind the wheel, it would be like trying to get a piano out of the bathroom. I can imagine some fireman chipping away at the ice and wobbling my body back and forth, saying things like “Swing the head this way, Steve,” or “Wiggle the old guy’s arms that way, Joe,” while they try to manhandle my frozen body out of the car. Bumping and clunking, pushing and pulling, until, with one last big heave, my body thumps to the ground. Not for me, thanks. I still have my pride. So like I said, if it comes to that, I’ll try my best to make my way to the backseat and just close my eyes. That way they can slide me out like a fish stick.
But maybe it won’t come to that. Maybe someone will spot the tire tracks on the road, the ones heading straight over the embankment. Maybe someone will stop and call down, maybe shine a flashlight and realize there’s a car down here. It isn’t inconceivable; it could happen. It’s snowing and people are already driving slowly. Surely someone’s going to find me. They have to find me.