Reading with my Father: Slim’s Table (Part III cont.)

One of my posts during Thanksgiving acknowledged films that were shown on that occasion when I was a child. My mother was listening to her favorite radio station the day before Thanksgiving and the DJs were discussing Thanksgiving movies. They noted that The Godfather films mark a new trend in Thanksgiving movie marathons. I didn’t actually watch the movie marathon but I have my own copies of the films so I was able to take in a few scenes from Part II, or the one that I think of as the rise of the two American fathers, Vito and Michael.

Showing The Godfather films on Thanksgiving makes perfect sense because these films are very thoughtful commentaries on America. Vito and Michael have very different responses to the country. Vito being far more critical than Michael, takes credit for his own success or what he has been able to give to his family, his friends, and his employees. Michael, quite unlike his father, wants to be as American as possible. Thus, Michael joins the military, marries Kay, and by the second film, works to make the family business “legitimate.”

The evening before my Uncle Eric’s funeral, AMC was running The Godfather marathon and it seemed like every one I knew had it on. And everywhere we went we had the same conversation about favorite lines. My mother and I learned that we shared a favorite. We both like the moment when Michael confronts Frank Pentangeli about the attempted assassination against him and screams: “IN MY HOME! IN MY BEDROOM WHERE MY WIFE SLEEPS! Where my children come and play with their toys! In my home!” My father’s favorite moment was the conversation that takes place between Tom and Michael when Tom eschews Michael’s plan to kill Hyman Roth. Michael tells Tom: “Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain-if history has taught us anything-it’s that you can kill anybody.” More precisely, my father remembered a member of the family saying “we can get to anybody.”

I thought about all of this while reading Mitchell Duneier’s chapter entitled “The Need for Contact with Society.” The chapter itself attends to the dynamics of the social life for the men who frequent Valois. I read it as a consideration of the interesting logic of sociability for people who are societal unknowns as human actors rather than stock characters. This then prompted my thinking about my father’s views on sociability and thus reminded me of that night of watching The Godfather with seemingly everyone I knew. My father’s favorite line from the film perfectly identifies how he thought about his relationship with most other people.

My father seemed to think it safe to assume that everyone was out to get you. The people watching that he might have done at Valois might have turned up some very seedy characters. My father thought that people envied his cars; preyed on his home. These suspicions made him an awful neighbor, and that’s just the way he would have wanted it. We were sitting on the porch once and he loudly called out and pointed to others in the neighborhood who had parked too close to one of his cars. He refused to offer polite courtesies to his neighbors who might throw up a hand to say hello or offer him a good morning. My father wanted people, particularly his neighbors, to be frightened about his counter-move and thus less likely to try him.

Like most people, though, my father was a complicated man. Even though he was very, very suspicious of people, he could be an incredibly good judge of character. There were times when he left me with a very balanced impression of my own family. Even more interesting is that my father once showed a neighbor tremendous generosity.

My Dad was living with his mother in an apartment building when he learned that a woman living on the third floor had been raped. The rapist used the tree outside of her window to climb into her bedroom and was waiting there for her when she arrived home from work. This woman worked a very late shift and so she arrived home very, very late at night. My Dad was not a good sleeper. He once told me that when you have done as much wrong to people as he had, your dreams don’t let you rest well. So he always slept in fits and starts. When he learned about his neighbor, he offered to meet her every evening at the front door of the apartment building so that he could inspect her unit before she entered. She gratefully accepted his offer. There were times when my father would be near tears because he had finally gotten a sustained moment of rest but had to wake up to honor his commitment to his neighbor. I don’t remember how many months he performed this service but I do know that he followed through with it as long as the woman lived in that building. Despite the fact that the property manager had the tree cut down after the woman was raped, you can imagine that she still felt unsafe and eventually moved. This woman, I’m sure, would have held a very different impression of my father’s neighborliness than many others. And this is clearly one of those instances when all of their impressions strike me as true.

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