In Lieu of Donations

SFFf-1989091.0B 050

Uncle Jerry lied to us every time we saw him. That was when we saw him. The old dust mite would flutter into town on a wing and a whim like a wood nymph with warrants out, he’d stay on our couch for a night or two and then move on to wherever it was that would have him.

Naturally, we were all in love with the bastard.

He’d tell us stories in the den that made it feel like a campfire had erupted in the middle of the couch, devouring the lime green pop art that mom thought was a coffee table. Melting it down into snot slime that ran through rivers in the carpet and replacing it with something that smelled like hickory and forgotten countries. His was the real vibrancy. His was the real rose perfume of life that suburbia had managed to suck out of the air. One month he was on the run from a Latvian business partner who was rigging horse races. One month he was training snakes for a roadside attraction in Arizona. For a whole year, once, he claimed that he was living on a commune in Nguyễn Việt Khái, Vietnam, but I always knew he’d gotten behind on rent and had to tuck tail to a KOA.

We never understood the long-haired tornado or half the things that poured out of a mouth that had signed a lifetime contract with Crush and Pall Mall. Uncle Jerry was just a wall without pretense, and that was an oddity for us kids. All the other adults in our world were fake in one way or another, or in all of the ways, and we could feel it; no matter how much we respected dad’s belt or loved mom’s apron, their perfection proved to be their flaw. Jerry was different, and it was because he didn’t command any respect from grown-ups that made him a dirt-felt force for truth and tobacco in our world.

To say he was a product of his generation is to be unfair to the 1960s. And it doesn’t need any help smearing itself with mud. He was as tuned in and turned on as anyone else, but Jerry was the rare brand of hippie that stood for something while laying down for almost anything with an open mind. To say that he used drugs is to say that Smokin’ Joe knocked a few fools out. I’m convinced that those final days Uncle Jerry spent puttering around our house were a result of some sort of chemical zombification which kept an already-dead body up and about, trying to have one last hallucination before closing its eyes.

To say he was lost in this generation is to curse and to ridicule modernity’s faults. He’s the man that fueled his rambles with diesel and the kindness of others. He’s the man who quoted a Beatles song at my father’s funeral, and again, how he outlived a God-neighboring cleanliness like that can only be explained through the miracle of a stockroom inside the body full of pills and puffs that glued his skin to his bones. Maybe Saratoga Medical College can tell us how he pulled it off once they receive his final donation.

He’s the man who lived life unabashedly. Even as we watch the numbers, there’s something silently wondrous about that.

Uncle Jerry lied to us every time we saw him. As we look upon him now for the last time, reflecting on the old bobcat’s own rusty nirvana, we should ask ourselves two important questions. One, how can we be more like him? and two, does anyone know who sent the bouquet of lotuses with the mess of Vietnamese writing on the card?

I want to thank all of you for coming, especially Nan who came all the way from Tucson. It would mean the world to Uncle Jerry to see such a lively crowd, even though he always kept sentiment buried somewhere in his backyard. Channeling him now, and I think I can, I’d like to tell all of you to start drinking or get the hell out.

Thanks again, everyone. We’ll miss you, pal.


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