The Carnival Dog, the Buyer of Diamonds
by Ethan Canin
What’s the one thing you should never do? Quit? Depends on who you talk to. Steal? Cheat? Eat food from a dented can? Myron Lufkin’s father, Abe, once told him never get your temperature taken at the hospital. Bring your own thermometer, he said; you should see how they wash theirs. He ought to have known; when he was at Yeshiva University he worked as an orderly in the hospital, slid patients around on gurneys, cleaned steelware. Myron knows all his father’s hospital stories and all his rules. On the other hand, there are things you should do. Always eat sitting down. Wear a hat in the rain. What else? Never let the other guy start the fight. Certain inviolable commandments. In thirty-two years Myron Lufkin had never seen his father without an answer. That is, until the day five years ago when Myron called home from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and told his father he had had enough, was quitting, leaving, kaput, he said. Now, Myron, living in Boston, sometime Jew, member of the public gym where he plays basketball and swims in the steamy pool after rounds, still calls home every other week. The phone calls, if he catches his father asleep, remind him of the day five years ago when he called to say that he was not, after all, going to be a doctor. It was not the kind of thing you told Abe Lufkin. Abe Lufkin, a man who once on Election Day put three twelve-pound chains across his chest and dove into San Francisco Bay at Aquatic Park, to swim most of the mile and threequarters across to Marin. As it turned out they had to pull him from the frothy cold water before he made the beach−but to give him credit, he was not on a young man. In the Chronicle the next day there was an inside page, sputtering and shaking on the sand, steam rising off his body. Rachel, Myron’s mother, is next to him in a sweater and baggy wool pants. Myron still has the newspaper clipping in one of his old butterfly display cases wrapped in tissue paper in a drawer in Boston. On the day Myron called home from Albert Einstein to say that three years of studying and money, three years of his life, had been a waste, he could imagine the blood-rush in his father’s head. But he knew what to expect. He kept firm, though he could feel the pulse in his own neck. Itzhak, his roommate at medical school, had stood behind him with his hand on Myron’s shoulder, smoking a cigarette. But Abe simply did not believe it. Myron didn’t expect him to believe it: Abe, after all, didn’t understand quitting. If his father had been a sea captain, Myron thought, he would have gone down with his ship−singing, boasting, denying the ocean that closed over his head−and this was not, in Myron’s view, a glorious death. It just showed stubbornness. His father was stubborn about everything. When he was
young, for example, when stickball was what you did in the Bronx, Abe played basketball. Almost nobody else played. In those days, Abe told Myron, you went to the Yankee games when Detroit was in town and rooted for Hank Greenberg to hit one out, and when he did you talked about it and said how the goyishe umpires would have ruled it foul if they could have, if it hadn’t been to center field. In Abe’s day, baseball was played by men named McCarthy, Murphy, and Burdock, and basketball wasn’t really played at all, except the very very tall, awkward kids. But not Abe Lufkin. He was built like a road-show wrestler and he kept a basketball under his bed. It was his love for the game, maybe, that many years later made him decide to have a kid. When Myron was born, Abe nailed a backboard to the garage. This is my boy, he said, my mensch. He began playing basketball with his son when Myron was nine. But really, what they did was not playing. By the time Myron was in the fifth grade Abe had visions in his already balding pharmacists’s head. He sat in the aluminum lawn furniture before dinner and counted out the one hundred layups...
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