“Why the F--- Do I want to see
The last time I hung out with my Uncle Dan is when I dragged him to Gatorland to do something touristic. He flew down from NYC to Orlando, FL to visit me for about a week. Time flies as they say and he was going to fly back the next day. He was a recent widower and had just had a lobectomy for lung cancer. I felt bad, I was working a lot and all he wanted to do was hang out in a bar restaurant. Uncle Dan was a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart.
He was my father’s mother’s brother. My father was very close to him. Uncle Dan and his wife, Aunt Nellie (for Immaculata), were my brother’s Godparents. Uncle Dan was in the Navy, like my dad and my brother. Uncle Dan served in WWII. For a social studies project in junior high, I interviewed him and his brother, Pat (Pasquale) who was in the Army, about their WWII service. Uncle Dan was a gunner’s mate on the Navy cruiser USS Canberra, which was torpedoed during the aerial battle of Taiwan-Okinawa. The ship took on water from a blast in the hull and he had to drag dead sailors who were sleeping in their barracks out. I guess he was a bit shell-shocked, but nothing alcohol and tobacco and F-bombs couldn’t soothe or smooth over.
I didn’t realize while living out-of-state so long how much I missed him. His wife was an editor for Fairchild publications and she typed poems and the story I wrote in elementary school about my duck. She died of lung cancer. I still have the pieces she typed for me.
Uncle Dan was debonair. He always looked good, was usually clean-shaven, and smelled like Old English cologne. He certainly cursed like a sailor—that’s how I learned to. He knew how to dress. He looked like one of the Rat Pack, wearing designer dress shirts and ties with sports coats or double-breasted jackets. He wore a fedora, a driver’s cap or, when he was really casual, a baseball cap. You couldn’t miss his sparkling diamond and gold pinkie ring. He’d slowly inhale on his cigarette and then release the smoke in ringlets and sinewy fingerlike tendrils. He always had his prescription glasses and his prescription dark shades and his L and M pack of cigarettes. A lot of times, I remember him carrying around the Telegraph horse racing form. He could bet on everything but mainly on the flats. He always had that smoky-brown glass bottle of nasal saline in his pocket. He often squirted it in each nostril, sniffed, and blew his nose with his cloth handkerchief.
Now at Gatorland, in the mighty strong light of day, I really saw Uncle Dan. He was thin. Although he always was fit, he was a lot thinner, his body seeming shriveled and wasted. He looked pissed or in pain. I hadn’t seen it before. I assumed he had post-op pain and opiates for his pain. I didn’t assume the lobectomy wasn’t a cure and that the cancer was eating into his ribs or that he was miserable in the 93 degrees at a hot and humid swampy park filled with alligators. I hated working all the time and not being able to take off a lot. I was in a new medical group practice job after learning the perfect HMO family medicine job had closed up shop when the healthcare company decided to leave the whole state.
Relatives don’t visit me, I live too far away. I had a bad feeling about all of it. I didn’t want Uncle Danny to die. So many relatives have died. It seemed like all the relatives of his generation were falling like dominos. He came to visit me since I mattered to him. Just the thought brings tears to my eyes. I tried to instill the virtues of a Gatorland visit to Uncle Dan. It really was a place he’d get a kick out of if he was feeling his usual, comedic sarcastic self. He didn’t want to pose for a photo sitting on an alligator with its mouth taped closed. I did; it made a great photo for my office desk. He did pose for photos elsewhere, like the photo-op wooden alligator form with a circle to peek one’s head out of the top of the alligator body. Sadly, I think I had more fun than he did. I couldn’t believe how many curse words he could spew in a smoker’s cough single breath as chicken carcasses hung from a clothesline and people jeered, waiting patiently to see various alligators jump out of the swamp’s lagoon to devour the raw chickens. Looking back, I think it was lucky for all the commotion since parents with children probably didn’t hear the string of profanities spoken as only an authentic Native New Yorker could.
One of the last photos of Uncle Dan is probably the one with him with the lagoon behind him and he has his thumb up and index finger pointed my way, pointing to me like a gun. My dad said he was a bartender and probably knew a lot of mafioso. The photo seems so à propos. They called him ‘Dapper Dan,’ since he was sharp and handsome.
After Gatorland, we went to a fine place to dine. He looked uncomfortable and had a few shots. We talked about old times. He mentioned my pet ducks and rabbits. He spoke about the poodle, Pepe, his wife was very fond of. I never knew why they couldn’t have a dog in their apartment—I wouldn’t live in a place I couldn’t have a pet. Uncle Dan spoke about my grandmother, who was his sister, and said she was born a hypochondriac. He acted out how she wrapped a rag around her head with BENGAY and moaned and complained about aches and pains. I still have the Polaroid photo his wife took of us on my parents’ patio. Uncle Dan in his sleeveless undershirt, shorts, slippers and dark glasses, Grandma, then me dressed up like Grandma, with a plastic bouffant wig, a large purse, a fake fur stole draped around my shoulders and toy heels, and prancing around imitating Grandma, “Oh, my arm hurts, oh my head hurts….”
Uncle Dan always called me “Kid Morbid” or “Morbid” for short. He laughed about that as I had another margarita and he had another Cutty Sark Scotch and water with a twist of lemon peel. He took a swig and let out a sigh of relief. He gave me that signature pensive, squinty-eyed lateral gaze as if he was scheming up something. I always hated that he and his wife smoked like chimneys. They spent most of the big holiday weekends sleeping in my parents’ guest room or in my room. They came from the Bronx with pastries, bread, sausages, and
Uncle Dan’s eyes watered. It was getting late and he had a limo to the airport the next morning. He stepped closer to me and hugged me, “Hey, Morbid, you always said I’d die of lung cancer, and I am.”
I wanted to cry. The hug and kiss made me cringe. That wasn’t right. I wanted to scream and shake him or even curse him in Italian saying, “Jadrool, you dumb ass, I never said it like that,” but I was choked up. Instead, I hugged his skeletal form and patted his back. His clothes were so loose. “Uncle Dan, I love you and all my life, this is what I was trying to prevent from happening. But I failed. I’m a failure. I couldn’t get you to stop smoking, I couldn’t reach you. I never wanted this day to come.”
Bio: Lina Sophia Rossi is a proud member of Horror Writer's Association, lover of horror, and a creative writer and photographer since childhood. She was