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After Thanksgiving Dinner, “Hell Comes to Breakfast”: Watching Dude Movies With Dad

November 29th, 2010 by Jeff Simmermon

I wear the coat that my dad wore on hunting trips with his dad back when a man could kill his dinner with his son for Thanksgiving. Dad never put any dead rabbits in the pocket in the back, and he never took me hunting, either. Consequently, that coat looks just about as good as new and doesn’t have a rabbit-sized scab stretching across the back.

We did plenty of dude stuff together when I was growing up — shot guns, chopped wood, built stuff, threw a baseball and salted slugs on hot afternoons when the A/C was busted and nothing was on TV.

Now I’m all grown and I live in Brooklyn and have a landlord who’s supposed to fix stuff at my house. Note that I said “supposed to.” I ended up getting into art and computers, stuff Dad wasn’t necessarily all that into before his eyes started giving out.

But the one thing we do together every chance we get: we watch some serious dude movies. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. “No Country for Old Men,” the first two “Godfather” flicks, any of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns are all religious canon in the Simmermon household. “A-Team” reruns will do, too.

I shot this on my iPhone the day after Thanksgiving while we were watching “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

Me and Dad and 'The Outlaw Josey Wales'

That was a perfect one for us: vintage Eastwood badassery and neither of us had seen it before, either. Something old, something new all at once.

The photo is tingling with purple sparks, and Clint and his doomed young companion are pulsing with a psychedelic rainbow glow. It’s tempting to think that I hit the in-camera iPhone apps pretty hard on this one, and I can’t lie to you about that. I did. But I’m a lot less interested in what something looks like than what it feels like.

My Dad’s eyesight has been fading for years. He can’t drive anymore, and reading the paper is hard on him. He doesn’t recognize old friends across a crowded restaurant anymore. Last year his mother died and I had cancer. Our family got a walloping triple-shot of what it is to be fragile, to appreciate what it means to be alive but also to move closer to a total system failure one waning system at a time.

The holidays were pretty rough. So were most of the other days.

Now it’s a year later, and we’ve made it. We’ve made some peace and done some grieving and adjusted to a world that’s never going to be the same. Dad’s listening to the news on his iPod and I’ve got my hormones straightened out.

But every time I go home, I still go to the best video store in the US and pick out a couple discs to watch with Dad. He moves his chair a little closer to the TV now, sure. We slip into a world where there’s good and there’s evil and all the bad stuff dies when you shoot it. We can still go there together, and he can see it clearly enough.

So all those purple fireflies, all that oozing rainbow pulsing out of Clint’s face up there — that’s not just photomanipulation talking. That’s all the magic in the room. That’s visible evidence that even though a lot of stuff changes, the traditions we have can hold us together. And man, I just like seeing it right there in my face, swirling around my dad.

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