A Big One for Me

by David Roth

Paul Auster reading from his own book at the Brooklyn Book Festival, September 2012; he wears reading glasses and a disapproving expression, before a wired microphone
editrrix [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

My father didn’t enter retirement so much as he was overtaken by it, and that negotiation is ongoing even though it is pretty well resolved in point of fact. Outside my childhood bedroom, he is retired. But inside that room, crowded in with the bed I slept in as a kid and the bookshelves I filled as a teenager, is all the stuff from his old office he couldn’t or wouldn’t give away. There’s a big desktop computer sprawled over a capacious L-shaped wooden desk, near framed photos of my sister and of me in sports uniforms and at graduations. On the other side of the room is an office-sized copier/scanner; it blinks and beeps and whirrs at strange intervals, as if waking with a start from a fitful sleep. Reams of printer paper slump by the door to the attic like drowsy bouncers. 

Every morning my dad goes into that room because it is where the work stuff is, and there he encounters the fact that there is no work to do. Lately he has been reading my books—which, of all the things that a man who spent decades defining himself through his work might do in this situation, plowing through the paperback I left behind in New Jersey when I went off to college is probably among the healthier options. This says less about the merits of Martin Amis’s 1997 novel Night Train than it does about the alternatives; it is saying nothing at all for the experience of hearing your father recap that book’s plot over the phone. But also consider the alternatives.

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