The Bill from My Father: A Memoir

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9780743249638: The Bill from My Father: A Memoir

Edward Cooper is a hard man to know.Dour and exuberant by turns, his moods dictate the always uncertain climate of the Cooper household. Balding, octogenarian, and partial to a polyester jumpsuit, Edward Cooper makes an unlikely literary muse. But to his son he looms larger than life, an overwhelming and baffling presence.

Edward's ambivalent regard for his son is the springboard from which this deeply intelligent memoir takes flight. By the time the author receives his inheritance (which includes a message his father taped to the underside of a safe deposit box), and sees the surprising epitaph inscribed on his father's headstone, The Bill from My Father has become a penetrating meditation on both monetary and emotional indebtedness, and on the mysterious nature of memory and love.

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About the Author:

Bernard Cooper has won numerous awards and prizes, among them the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, an O. Henry Prize, and literature fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and The National Endowment of the Arts.

He has published two memoirs, Maps to Anywhere and Truth Serum, as well as a novel, A Year of Rhymes, and a collection of short stories, Guess Again. His work has appeared in Harper's Magazine, Gentleman's Quarterly, and The Paris Review and in several volumes of The Best American Essays. He lives in Los Angeles and is the art critic for Los Angeles Magazine.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A week later, my father sat beside me in the east wing of Saint Joseph's Hospital, in Oxnard, waiting for an appointment with a geriatric specialist, less than pleased to be there. He wouldn't have come at all if Brian hadn't known Dr. Montrose personally and vouched for her reputation. Despite Dad's mistrust for people in the medical profession, and whatever his misgivings about two men living together, he was proud that his son had snagged himself a doctor. Brian had a degree in psychology, not medicine, but a doctor was a doctor in my father's book, and he couldn't care less if an M. or Ph. preceded the D.

He turned to face me, his glasses flashing. "I don't want you to watch me grow old."

"Believe me," I said, "there are plenty of things worse than growing old."

"Such as?"

"Such as not growing old."

For a moment we were allied in silence, remembering Bob and Gary and Ron. Their deaths were done, but their dying survived them.

"Look at it this way," I said. "We're growing old together."

"It's happening faster to me."

"No, Dad. You and I are aging at the same rate."

"Time goes faster when you're older."

"It only seems to go faster. It can't go faster for you than it does for me." No sooner had I said this than I realized that Einstein had, in fact, proven time's relativity. I forged ahead anyway. "I know this is hard for you, but there may be a medical reason for your confusion..."

"Who's confused?"

"Well, I am, for one. I've been confused by several things you've done recently. Especially your trip into the city last week. Things I've chalked up to...your temperament."

"I got news for you: having a temperament doesn't make me a bad person."

A bedraggled man in a wheelchair rolled himself into the waiting room. A thin blue tube snaked from his nostrils to a portable oxygen tank.

"Your behavior may have a physiological cause," I continued. "It could be treatable. There's no harm in talking to Dr. Montrose."

"She sure as hell won't tell me anything I couldn't tell myself."

"She might be able to suggest a new medication or changes in your regimen." I didn't mention Alzheimer's or geriatric dementia, though these possibilities must have occurred to my father, too.

He leaned close. "Let me ask you something."

I wanted to be as frank as possible. If there was a medical ordeal ahead, maybe we'd have a last chance at attachment. I looked into his eyes. "Ask me anything you want."

"Why...," he said, then hesitated.

"Go on." I urged him.

"Why are you reading the Ladies' Home Journal?"

"What?"

"Why did you pick that magazine out of all the magazines in the waiting room? There must be I don't know how many others to chose from and you picked that."

The March issue had been lying on my lap, opened to a double-page photo of the creamiest seafood bisque I've ever seen, a kind of culinary centerfold. I thought I'd cook it for Brian and was about to rip out the recipe. Even in a time of crisis, Dad found a way to goad me like a pro. "Nobody here cares if I'm reading a men's magazine or a women's magazine!" I glanced around the waiting room to see if I could spot a man reading Today's Bride or a woman reading Popular Mechanics, but where is proof when you really need it? "Ideas about masculinity and femininity are different now than they were in your day." I thought back to the hot afternoon I'd been cinched into my father's jumpsuit, drunk on rum punch and basted in my own perspiration, staggering through a backyard filled with dykes disguised as housewives who were really machines. "People today are more...flexible."

"I'll bet," he said.

The man in the wheelchair wasn't even pretending not to listen. His eyes met mine and glistened with interest. His posture improved.

I said, "You were trying to change the subject is what you were trying to do. Then we wouldn't have to talk about why you're here. Well, it's not going to work." But it had, of course, worked like a charm. Conversation between us ceased. We folded our arms and glowered straight ahead.

"Dad," I said, "I hate that one of us always has to be right."

"I'm not the one who always has to be right. You are."

A nurse hurried into the waiting room and glanced at a clipboard. People shifted in their seats and listened. She had to call for Mr. Hahn -- the man in the wheelchair -- twice before he managed to release the handbrake and propel himself forward.

Dad said, "You gotta hand it to the old bastard for getting himself to the hospital." Translation: A son should release his father's handbrake and stand aside.

"I'm sure someone brought him."

"You don't know that for a fact."

I tossed the Ladies' Home Journal onto a table heaped with magazines and fished a copy of Men's Fitness from the pile, a publication my father was pleased to see me "read." Looking at pictures of half-dressed men triggered one lustful detonation after another, and I was grateful they didn't make noise. An article about elderly athletes showed a group of fleet and happy geriatrics dashing through an obstacle course. Great, I thought, now old people can't just sit back, relax, and fall apart, they have to jump hurdles into perpetuity.

My father countered with faint snoring. He slumped in his chair, mouth hanging open, stomach rising and falling beneath his indestructible jumpsuit. I noticed that the collar had frayed, insofar as synthetic resin can fray. Here and there, the fabric was stained with a spotty chronicle of former meals. He hadn't given up on personal grooming entirely -- he'd doused himself with Old Spice -- but his long campaign of vanity had come to an end, both its failures and triumphs behind him.

When the nurse called, "Mr. Cooper," I thought for a second she meant me, and I wondered who would watch over my father when I was gone. His eyelids fluttered at the sound of her voice. I could almost see our family name sinking inside him like a pebble in a well, its ripples disrupting the waters of sleep, triggering his limbs to shift and his flesh and bones to unwillingly wake in the form of an aching, groggy old man.

"My apologies," said Dr. Montrose. "I'm running a little late." A fleshy, energetic brunette, she escorted us into her office and took a seat behind her desk.

My father landed heavily in the chair facing her and I sat off to the side. "The wait wasn't too bad," I said. Dad glared at me because he couldn't understand why I didn't protest what he thought was an unreasonably long delay for an appointment he wasn't keen on in the first place.

"What did you and your son do in the waiting room?" Dr. Montrose asked. She locked him into eye contact. And so the evaluation began.

"My son read the Ladies' Home Journal and I made the mistake of noticing out loud, for which I got my head chewed off."

She turned to me. "Were you reading the Ladies' Home Journal?"

I looked at my father when I answered. "It's not like I subscribe," I said.

Dr. Montrose took this as a yes.

"And do you recall what magazine you were reading, Mr. Cooper?"

"No."

I thought of intervening because I knew my father meant he hadn't read a magazine, not that he couldn't recall which one.

She leaned forward, elbows on her desk. "Have you been having any difficulty remembering things recently?"

"I'm fine."

"I'm sure you are. But if we test you today, we'll have a baseline to compare against future tests."

"Future tests?" He looked as if he'd tasted something sour.

"What about that upsets you?"

"What about what?"

"About what I just said."

My father went pale. "What was it you said?"

Dr. Montrose jotted a note. "I'm going to ask you several questions," she continued, "and I'd like you to answer them one at a time."

"How else would I?"

"How else would you what?"

"Answer them, for Christ's sake!"

"Calm down, Dad."

"I'll calm down when I'm good and ready."

"We'll be working from what's called the Mini-Mental State Examination," said Dr. Montrose, "and I'll score your answers as we go along."

Dad adjusted his Miracle-Ear. "So test me, already."

The doctor retrieved a sheet of paper from her desk drawer and began to read aloud. First, she asked my father to tell her the date. He got it right, whereas I'd silently answered along and was off by a couple of days. Was my lapse symptomatic of a larger cognitive problem? I scooted my chair closer. Now I had to prove to myself that there was nothing wrong with me by answering every subsequent question correctly. I also had to face the fact that I felt competitive with my father, as though we were opponents on a quiz show hosted by Dr. Montrose. She held the sheet of questions in such a way that light streaming through her office window turned the paper translucent, and I wondered if my father could read the correct answers from the other side. Then I realized there were no correct answers to this kind of test, only variable replies. Was there any way to cheat on a mental competency exam? None that I could think of, which may or may not have been a good sign.

"What country are we in?...State?...City?...Hospital?...Floor?"

Not until Dr. Montrose whispered, "Bernard," did I realize I'd been muttering answers under my breath. There was no way my father could have heard me from where he was sitting, so it wasn't as if I was prompting him. And anyway, I got them right. Dad, on the other hand, didn't know what floor we were on, but if he had been the one to push the elevator button instead of me, he probably would have known it was the third. The mechanics of recall are delicate, so iffy and contingent.

As for calling this hospital "Saint Sinai," if Dr. Montrose had thought about it for a minute, she would have realized that his answer combined the names of two major medical facilities, Saint Joseph's and Cedars-Sinai. His guess was as logical as it was wrong, but since the testee wasn't given credit for near misses or whimsical hybrids, why explain his error's fine points? Besides, I'd already been caught talking to myself, and Dr. Montrose must not have thought me the most reliable advocate for a man who's ra...

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Descripción SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Edward Cooper is a hard man to know.Dour and exuberant by turns, his moods dictate the always uncertain climate of the Cooper household. Balding, octogenarian, and partial to a polyester jumpsuit, Edward Cooper makes an unlikely literary muse. But to his son he looms larger than life, an overwhelming and baffling presence. Edward s ambivalent regard for his son is the springboard from which this deeply intelligent memoir takes flight. By the time the author receives his inheritance (which includes a message his father taped to the underside of a safe deposit box), and sees the surprising epitaph inscribed on his father s headstone, The Bill from My Father has become a penetrating meditation on both monetary and emotional indebtedness, and on the mysterious nature of memory and love. Nº de ref. de la librería BZV9780743249638

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Descripción SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Edward Cooper is a hard man to know.Dour and exuberant by turns, his moods dictate the always uncertain climate of the Cooper household. Balding, octogenarian, and partial to a polyester jumpsuit, Edward Cooper makes an unlikely literary muse. But to his son he looms larger than life, an overwhelming and baffling presence. Edward s ambivalent regard for his son is the springboard from which this deeply intelligent memoir takes flight. By the time the author receives his inheritance (which includes a message his father taped to the underside of a safe deposit box), and sees the surprising epitaph inscribed on his father s headstone, The Bill from My Father has become a penetrating meditation on both monetary and emotional indebtedness, and on the mysterious nature of memory and love. Nº de ref. de la librería BZV9780743249638

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