When you got nothin’
Well, it’s finally happened.
After eight years and change, with some 425 columns under my belt, today is the day I sat down to file my weekly dispatch and realized that I’ve got nothing to write about.
I haven’t done any reporting, haven’t spent any time in contemplation of a great idea triggered by an everyday occurrence, haven’t seen one of the kids do something that inspired 800 words or so, haven’t hit any milestones, went to any story-worthy events — at least not with my notebook in tow — or remembered a compelling episode from my checkered past.
I got nothin’. And while it’s a little embarrassing to hit the wall in public like this, I will say that it’s not entirely my fault.
My sister moved to town last week, after a two-week drive across the country with three dogs and my 70-year-old father in tow.
Suffice it to say that, had I been along on that ride, I certainly would have had a great column this week. The territory surrounding aging parents and their adult children is its own literary genre, as fertile ground as any in human experience. But I wasn’t there, and nobody took any notes I can trust. All I know is that when they pulled into town they looked like they had spent a week in an airport, frazzled and shellshocked. Neither one of them wanted to talk about it much, either, save for a few gripes apiece about the other’s personal habits. The dogs, I’m sure, have their own version of events, but I am not on those kinds of terms with the animals of yet.
They seem to have settled in — the dogs, I mean — without too much trauma, taking over the spacious backyard of the little house off Wendover Avenue, pawing the earth beneath the deck and sniffing out the boundaries, liberally marking the territory with furtive glances over their shoulders.
My father seems to be enacting a similar ritual. He’ll be moving to Greensboro this summer with my mother, truly a new beginning or the two of them. He’s been scouting apartment complexes around the city, noting the amenities of the various developments, pacing off the square footage of the model units, scribbling notes in the margins of the marketing material. He makes his nightly report to my mother, who he as not laid eyes on in almost six weeks, the longest stretch they’ve ever been part, by far. She fires questions like an inquisitor and he does his best to answer. He makes these nightly reports from my phone because his kicked out the exact day he rolled into town.
While I’ve been escorting him around town, I’ve been struck by just how much I enjoy living here. Surely I could spin a quick 800 words about that, file it and be done with it, But I’m pretty sure I did that last week.
I could also likely fill the space with ruminations about my father’s daily rituals, which remain unchanged no matter where he lays his head at night: the morning breakfast, unchanged since the 1970s, of coffee and Cheerios and orange juice, followed by a lengthy grooming session; the prodigious consumption of newspapers, which he buys mainly for the crosswords, and candy, easily a 1,000-calorie-a-day habit, by my sister’s reckoning; the afternoon popcorn session, non-negotiable; the regular naps on the recliner, which run longer now that his hearing is starting to go.
But I don’t necessarily want to be one of those writers who’s always making fun of his parents — and besides, they’re moving here soon so there will be plenty of time for that kind of thing I the near future, if I really want to mine that lode.
Over the weekend, I took my 70-yearold father to the Blind Tiger, where the world-famous Rebirth Brass Band of New Orleans held court on Saturday night. He’s never seen anything like it: a crew of trumpets and trombones, with a single sousaphone, snare and bass drums raising the level of energy in the room like they were controlling the flow of oxygen.
I myself have seen Rebirth at least a hundred times — their Tuesday night residency at the Maple Leaf, also worldfamous, was a regular stop for me when I lived down there. Hard to believe, but the first time I saw that band I was just an 18-year-old kid, to whom nothing of consequence had ever happened.
But had you asked me, back then, if I had 800 words or so to offer the world, I would have jumped at the chance to shed a little of my own light on the page.
Now I sit here after a few decades of existence that has been absolutely packed with meaningful development, hard-won lessons, events that will resonate for the rest of my life, and I freely admit that I got nothing’ worth setting down on paper.
And yet here I am, writing something anyway.