Grandpa taught me to spell, guest starring on Almond Avenue
as The Silent E, turning cap into cape, twin into twine. I watched
him live on both sides of the screen, the one on the couch older,
more tired, but more likely to give out candy, a wrinkled piñata.
He told me the first number of any day was always number one,
then certain numerological derivations of the creative force divined
from the I Ching. Then had me carry those numbers to his bookie.
It was a practice picked up in Singapore after his tour in the Marines.
After his third bout in the hospital, when I was old enough to sit
in the waiting room by myself, watching him strut across the screen
in reruns of The Green Thorn, rugged mid-Seventies eco-avenger,
he moved in with us for good, Mom’s latest dying houseplant.
The neighbors grew used to him running around the garden
in his flowery underwear, offering to help the birds, dogs,
and cats by composting their feces. When his agent called
for the “role of a lifetime,” my mother eagerly drove him
to the boat show at the mall near Castaic Lake, an audience
of commuter cops and their families fretting to see the man who
had played Officer Lawson, Colonel Rick “Popcorn” McPhee,
Sheriff Ned, and other uniformed stand-ins for absentee dads,
like my own canceled rerun of a father. Mom and I watched him
proudly as he nailed his lines before forgetting his name. That night
he fleeced me with the shell game he felt should be perfected
by any hustler or actor. To be the ball, he said, was to be a man.