Sample text for Everyman / Philip Roth.


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Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former
advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality
and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.
There were also people who"d driven up from Starfish Beach, the residential
retirement village at the Jersey Shore where he"d been living since
Thanksgiving of 2001--the elderly to whom only recently he"d been giving art
classes. And there were his two sons, Randy and Lonny, middle-aged men
from his turbulent first marriage, very much their mother"s children, who as a
consequence knew little of him that was praiseworthy and much that was
beastly and who were present out of duty and nothing more. His older
brother, Howie, and his sister-in-law were there, having flown in from
California the night before, and there was one of his three ex-wives, the
middle one, Nancy"s mother, Phoebe, a tall, very thin whitehaired woman
whose right arm hung limply at her side. When asked by Nancy if she
wanted to say anything, Phoebe shyly shook her head but then went ahead
to speak in a soft voice, her speech faintly slurred. "It"s just so hard to
believe. I keep thinking of him swimming the bay--that"s all. I just keep
seeing him swimming the bay." And then Nancy, who had made her father"s
funeral arrangements and placed the phone calls to those who"d showed up
so that the mourners wouldn"t consist of just her mother, herself, and his
brother and sister-in-law. There was only one person whose presence hadn"t
to do with having been invited, a heavyset woman with a pleasant round face
and dyed red hair who had simply appeared at the cemetery and introduced
herself as Maureen, the private duty nurse who had looked after him following
his heart surgery years back. Howie remembered her and went up to kiss her
cheek.
Nancy told everyone, "I can begin by saying something to you
about this cemetery, because I"ve discovered that my father"s grandfather,
my greatgrandfather, is not only buried in the original few acres alongside my
great-grandmother but was one of its founders in 1888. The association that
first financed and erected the cemetery was composed of the burial societies
of Jewish benevolent organizations and congregations scattered across
Union and Essex counties. My great-grandfather owned and ran a boarding
house in Elizabeth that catered especially to newly arrived immigrants, and
he was concerned with their well-being as more than a mere landlord. That"s
why he was among the original members who purchased the open field that
was here and who themselves graded and landscaped it, and why he served
as the first cemetery chairman. He was relatively young then but in his full
vigor, and it"s his name alone that is signed to the document specifying that
the cemetery was for "burying deceased members in accordance with Jewish
law and ritual." As is all too obvious, the maintenance of individual plots and
of the fencing and the gates is no longer what it should be. Things have rotted
and toppled over, the gates are rusted, the locks are gone, there"s been
vandalism. By now the place has become the butt end of the airport and what
you"re hearing from a few miles away is the steady din of the New Jersey
Turnpike. Of course I thought first of the truly beautiful places where my
father might be buried, the places where he and my mother used to swim
together when they were young, and the places where he loved to swim at
the shore. Yet despite the fact that looking around at the deterioration here
breaks my heart--as it probably does yours, and perhaps even makes you
wonder why we"re assembled on grounds so badly scarred by time --I
wanted him to lie close to those who loved him and from whom he
descended. My father loved his parents and he should be near them. I didn"t
want him to be somewhere alone." She was silent for a moment to collect
herself. A gentle-faced woman in her mid-thirties, plainly pretty as her mother
had been, she looked all at once in no way authoritative or even brave but like
a ten-year-old overwhelmed. Turning toward the coffin, she picked up a clod
of dirt and, before dropping it onto the lid, said lightly, with the air still of a
bewildered young girl, "Well, this is how it turns out. There"s nothing more we
can do, Dad." Then she remembered his own stoical maxim from decades
back and began to cry. "There"s no remaking reality," she told him. "Just take
it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes."
The next to throw dirt onto the lid of the coffin was Howie, who"d
been the object of his worship when they were children and in return had
always treated him with gentleness and affection, patiently teaching him to
ride a bike and to swim and to play all the sports in which Howie himself
excelled. It still appeared as if he could run a football through the middle of
the line, and he was seventy-seven years old. He"d never been hospitalized
for anything and, though a sibling bred of the same stock, had remained
triumphantly healthy all his life.
His voice was husky with emotion when he whispered to his
wife, "My kid brother. It makes no sense." Then he too addressed
everyone. "Let"s see if I can do it. Now let"s get to this guy. About my
brother . . ." He paused to compose his thoughts so that he could speak
sensibly. His way of talking and the pleasant pitch of his voice were so like
his brother"s that Phoebe began to cry, and, quickly, Nancy took her by the
arm. "His last few years," he said, gazing toward the grave, "he had health
problems, and there was also loneliness--no less a problem. We spoke on
the phone whenever we could, though near the end of his life he cut himself
off from me for reasons that were never clear. From the time he was in high
school he had an irresistible urge to paint, and after he retired from
advertising, where he"d made a considerable success first as an art director
and then when he was promoted to be a creative director--after a life in
advertising he painted practically every day of every year that was left to him.
We can say of him what has doubtless been said by their loved ones about
nearly everyone who is buried here: he should have lived longer. He should
have indeed." Here, after a moment"s silence, the resigned look of gloom on
his face gave way to a sorrowful smile. "When I started high school and had
team practice in the afternoons, he took over the errands that I used to run for
my father after school. He loved being only nine years old and carrying the
diamonds in an envelope in his jacket pocket onto the bus to Newark, where
the setter and the sizer and the polisher and the watch repairman our father
used each sat in a cubbyhole of his own, tucked away on Frelinghuysen
Avenue. Those trips gave that kid enormous pleasure. I think watching these
artisans doing their lonely work in those tight little places gave him the idea
for using his hands to make art. I think looking at the facets of the diamonds
through my father"s jewelry loupe is something else that fostered his desire
to make art." A laugh suddenly got the upper hand with Howie, a little flurry of
relief from his task, and he said, "I was the conventional brother. In me
diamonds fostered a desire to make money." Then he resumed where he"d
left off, looking through the large sunny window of their boyhood years. "Our
father took a small ad in the Elizabeth Journal once a month. During the
holiday season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he took the ad once a
week. "Trade in your old watch for a new one." All these old watches that he
accumulated--most of them beyond repair--were dumped in a drawer in the
back of the store. My little brother could sit there for hours, spinning the
hands and listening to the watches tick, if they still did, and studying what
each face and what each case looked like. That"s what made that boy tick. A
hundred, two hundred tradein watches, the entire drawerful probably worth no
more than ten bucks, but to his budding artist"s eye, that backroom watch
drawer was a treasure chest. He used to take them and wear them--he
always had a watch that was out of that drawer. One of the ones that worked.
And the ones he tried to make work, whose looks he liked, he"d fiddle around
with but to no avail--generally he"d only make them worse. Still, that was the
beginning of his using his hands to perform meticulous tasks. My father
always had two girls just out of high school, in their late teens or early
twenties, helping him behind the counter in the store. Nice, sweet Elizabeth
girls, well-mannered, clean-cut girls, always Christian, mainly Irish Catholic,
whose fathers and brothers and uncles worked for Singer Sewing Machine or
for the biscuit company or down at the port. He figured nice Christian girls
would make the customers feel more at home. If asked to, the girls would try
on the jewelry for the customers, model it for them, and if we were lucky, the
women would wind up buying. As my father told us, when a pretty young
woman wears a piece of jewelry, other women think that when they wear the
piece of jewelry they"ll look like that too. The guys off the docks at the port
who came in looking for engagement rings and wedding rings for their
girlfriends would sometimes have the temerity to take the salesgirl"s hand in
order to examine the stone up close. My brother liked to be around the girls
too, and that was long before he could even begin to understand what it was
he was enjoying so much. He would help the girls empty the window and the
showcases at the end of the day. He"d do anything at all to help them.
They"d empty the windows and cases of everything but the cheapest stuff,
and just before closing time this little kid would open the big safe in the
backroom with the combination my father had entrusted to him. I"d done all
these jobs before him, including getting as close as I could to the girls,
especially to two blond sisters named Harriet and May. Over the years there
was Harriet, May, Annmarie, Jean, there was Myra, Mary, Patty, there was
Kathleen and Corine, and every one of them took a shine to that kid. Corine,
the great beauty, would sit at the workbench in the backroom in early
November and she and my kid brother would address the catalogues the
store printed up and sent to all the customers for the holiday buying season,
when my father was open six nights a week and everybody worked like a
dog. If you gave my brother a box of envelopes, he could count them faster
than anybody because his fingers were so dexterous and because he
counted the envelopes by fives. I"d look in and, sure enough, that"s what he"d
be doing--showing off with the envelopes for Corine. How that boy loved
doing everything that went along with being the jeweler"s reliable son! That
was our father"s favorite accolade --"reliable." Over the years our father sold
wedding rings to Elizabeth"s Irish and Germans and Slovaks and Italians and
Poles, most of them young working-class stiffs. Half the time, after he"d
made the sale, we"d be invited, the whole family, to the wedding. People liked
him--he had a sense of humor and he kept his prices low and he extended
credit to everyone, so we"d go--first to the church, then on to the noisy
festivities. There was the Depression, there was the war, but there were also
the weddings, there were our salesgirls, there were the trips to Newark on the
bus with hundreds of dollars" worth of diamonds stashed away in envelopes in
the pockets of our mackinaws. On the outside of each envelope were the
instructions for the setter or the sizer written by our father. There was the five-
foot-high Mosley safe slotted for all the jewelry trays that we carefully put
away every night and removed every morning . . . and all of this constituted
the core of my brother"s life as a good little boy." Howie"s eyes rested on the
coffin again. "And now what?" he asked. "I think this had better be all there is.
Going on and on, remembering still more . . . but why not remember? What"s
another gallon of tears between family and friends? When our father died my
brother asked me if I minded if he took our father"s watch. It was a Hamilton,
made in Lancaster, P-A, and according to the expert, the boss, the best
watch this country ever produced. Whenever he sold one, our father never
failed to assure the customer that he"d made no mistake. "See, I wear one
myself. A very, very highly respected watch, the Hamilton. To my mind," he"d
say, "the premier American-made watch, bar none." Seventy-nine fifty, if I
remember correctly. Everything for sale in those days had to end in fifty.
Hamilton had a great reputation. It was a classy watch, my dad did love his,
and when my brother said he"d like to own it, I couldn"t have been happier. He
could have taken the jeweler"s loupe and our father"s diamond carrying case.
That was the worn old leather case that he would always carry with him in his
coat pocket whenever he went to do business outside the store: with the
tweezers in it, and the tiny screwdrivers and the little ring of sizers that gauge
the size of a round stone and the folded white papers for holding the loose
diamonds. The beautiful, cherished little things he worked with, which he held
in his hands and next to his heart, yet we decided to bury the loupe and the
case and all its contents in his grave. He always kept the loupe in one
pocket and his cigarettes in the other, so we stuck the loupe inside his
shroud. I remember my brother saying, "By all rights we should put it in his
eye." That"s what grief can do to you. That"s how thrown we were. We didn"t
know what else to do. Rightly or wrongly, there didn"t seem to us anything
but that to do. Because they were not just his--they were him . . . To finish
up about the Hamilton, my father"s old Hamilton with the crown that you
would turn to wind it every morning and that you would pull out on its stem to
turn to move the hands . . . except while he was in swimming, my brother
wore it day and night. He took it off for good only forty-eight hours ago. He
handed it to the nurse to lock away for safekeeping while he was having the
surgery that killed him. In the car on the way to the cemetery this morning,
my niece Nancy showed me that she"d put a new notch in the band and now
it"s she who"s wearing the Hamilton to tell time by."
Then came the sons, men in their late forties and looking, with
their glossy black hair and their eloquent dark eyes and the sensual fullness
of their wide, identical mouths, just like their father (and like their uncle) at
their age. Handsome men beginning to grow beefy and seemingly as closely
linked with each other as they"d been irreconcilably alienated from the dead
father. The younger, Lonny, stepped up to the grave first. But once he"d taken
a clod of dirt in his hand, his entire body began to tremble and quake, and it
looked as though he were on the edge of violently regurgitating. He was
overcome with a feeling for his father that wasn"t antagonism but that his
antagonism denied him the means to release. When he opened his mouth,
nothing emerged except a series of grotesque gasps, making it appear likely
that whatever had him in its grip would never be finished with him. He was in
so desperate a state that Randy, the older, more decisive son, the scolding
son, came instantly to his rescue. He took the clod of dirt from the hand of
the younger one and tossed it onto the casket for both of them. And he
readily met with success when he went to speak. "Sleep easy, Pop," Randy
said, but any note of tenderness, grief, love, or loss was terrifyingly absent
from his voice.
The last to approach the coffin was the private duty nurse,
Maureen, a battler from the look of her and no stranger to either life or death.
When, with a smile, she let the dirt slip slowly across her curled palm and
out the side of her hand onto the coffin, the gesture looked like the prelude to
a carnal act. Clearly this was a man to whom she"d once given
much thought.
That was the end. No special point had been made. Did they all
say what they had to say? No, they didn"t, and of course they did. Up and
down the state that day, there"d been five hundred funerals like his, routine,
ordinary, and except for the thirty wayward seconds furnished by the sons--
and Howie"s resurrecting with such painstaking precision the world as it
innocently existed before the invention of death, life perpetual in their
fathercreated Eden, a paradise just fifteen feet wide by forty feet deep
disguised as an old-style jewelry store --no more or less interesting than any
of the others. But then it"s the commonness that"s most wrenching, the
registering once more of the fact of death that overwhelms everything.
In a matter of minutes, everybody had walked away--wearily and
tearfully walked away from our species" least favorite activity--and he was left
behind. Of course, as when anyone dies, though many were grief-stricken,
others remained unperturbed, or found themselves relieved, or, for reasons
good or bad, were genuinely pleased.

Copyright © 2006 by Philip Roth. Reprinted with permission by Houghton
Mifflin Company.


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