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702: One Last Thing Before I Go

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

Andrew Thomas Norway lives in St. Paul, but he's one of those doctors and nurses who flew to New York to help with flood of COVID patients who filled New York hospitals. He's actually at the hospital at Columbia University, where he went to medical school a quarter century ago. At night, after his 12-hour shifts, he sleeps in his old dormitory, literally in the dorm room he had when he was 23. The hospital has scratched out all kinds of extra space for COVID patients, converting 24 operating rooms into intensive care units. But the strangest thing to him?

Andrew Thomas

Normally, there'd be family all over the place. But the families are not able to come close to the hospital. They can't even come in the lobby, let alone get to see the people they love. And the other thing is just the reality that most of these people are going to die in these places alone.

Ira Glass

Most of them are unconscious, in medically-induced comas, because it's easier to survive on a ventilator that way. But because they're unconscious, it means that the gap between these COVID patients and their families is even more profound, because they don't talk on the phone or FaceTime or anything. So Andrew suggested to the nurses that maybe they should take notes each day, little things they notice about each patient to share with the families if the patient dies. I asked him to read a few.

Andrew Thomas

Sure. This one's from a nurse named Sandy. And she wrote, Mrs-- I won't say the name. "The patient is mostly sleeping. She looks peaceful. Also, I really like her dark green fingernail polish. I would love to know the name of the color."

Here's another one. "I've been parting the patient's hair to the side. I don't know if that's how he wears it, but I think it looks good that way. Also, yesterday he got a shave, and now he looks so young."

Here's one more. "The patient looks so peaceful. He's sleeping and calm. Everyone is jealous of his salt and pepper hair. He looks like George Clooney right now."

Ira Glass

I talked to a few of the nurses who are writing these notes, and they said that, because the patients are unconscious, their interactions are pretty basic, so figuring out what to write can be tricky. Dr. Thomas sees that for sure.

Andrew Thomas

Yeah, so people end up focusing on what you can see, which is embellishments like earrings and hairstyles and fingernail polish, and also just trying to emphasize that the people are comfortable, that they're sleeping. They're not in pain. That's something we really want to-- almost all the nurses comment on that, it seems, on almost every one.

Ira Glass

And what's your hope about how the families will take this?

Andrew Thomas

My hope is that the families will know that their loved ones were being seen as people and treated as people, and that they weren't alone as this happened.

Ira Glass

So they gather details about the people laying in front of them, knowing that there's something like an 80% chance that, if they're on a ventilator with COVID, they won't live. Those are the numbers in New York. Those two things are so different in size, writing down a few tiny observations measured against the enormity of death and what that means. But sometimes, I think that's all you can do. And today on our program, we have two stories where ordinary people rise to this exact task. They look at death standing there-- gigantic, horrifying-- and they say something. And in these stories, truly amazing things happen. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: Really Long Distance

Man 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Ira Glass

Otsuchi had been there for 100 years, and in 30 minutes, it was gone, almost totally flattened. The tsunami and the earthquake that went with it killed six times more people than died in 9/11, over 19,000 people. Another 2,500 are still missing. In the aftermath, of course, families struggled to figure out how they were going to move forward without the people they loved.

And in that town of Otsuchi, it led to this new-- I don't know, ritual is not exactly the right word for this, but it's something close to that-- this thing that people invented to stay connected to the dead. One of our producers, Miki Meek, has family in Japan, and she grew up going back and forth between there and here. And she watched this documentary about this thing people were doing in Otsuchi on the Japanese News Channel NHK, and got permission for us to play you some excerpts. Here's Miki.

Miki Meek

Of all the areas in Japan affected by the tsunami, Otsuchi has one of the highest numbers of missing people, 421. Today, it's still partly in ruins, and partly a construction site, as they try to rebuild the town on higher ground. But a year before the tsunami happened, this guy named Itaru Sasaki, he was already dealing with a loss. His cousin had just died, and Itaru was having a hard time figuring out how to talk about it.

So he did something pretty ingenious. He went out and bought an old-fashioned phone booth and stuck it in his garden. It looks like an old English-style one. It's square and painted white, and has these glass window panes. Inside is a black rotary phone rusting on a wood shelf. This phone connected to nowhere. It didn't work at all. But that didn't matter to Itaru. He just needed a place where he felt like he could talk to his cousin, a place where he could air out his grief. And so putting an old phone booth in his garden, which sits on this little windy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it felt like a perfect solution.

Itaru Sasaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

He's saying, because my thoughts could not be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind.

Itaru Sasaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

So I named it the Wind Telephone, [JAPANESE]. The idea of keeping up a relationship with the dead is not such a strange one in Japan. The line between our world and their world is thin. Lots of families keep a Buddhist altar for their dead relatives in the living room. My uncle has one for our family. There are photos on a little platform, and every day he leaves fresh fruit and rice for them, lights incense, and rings a bell. It's a way to stay in touch, to let them know that there's still a big part of our family.

So after the tsunami and earthquake happened, word got out about Itaru's special Wind Telephone, that he was using it as another way to stay connected to the dead. Soon, people started showing up randomly on his property and walking right into the phone booth. This has been going on for five years now. Itaru estimates that thousands of people from all over Japan have come to use his phone. A TV station asked Itaru and the people who come to use his phone if they could videotape their calls from a distance and put an audio recorder in the phone booth. They wanted to get a sense of how people are still grieving.

I watched their documentary after the fifth anniversary of the tsunami back in March. That whole week, all the news programs in Japan were airing memorial programs. But I found the calls in this particular program remarkable and moving for just how simple they were. One woman from Otsuchi, named Sachiko Okawa, showed up one afternoon. She's 71 years old, and lost her husband in the tsunami. She regularly brings her two young grandsons to the phone booth, and you can tell by how casually they talked to him on the phone. They squish into the phone booth with their grandma, wearing matching blue and black striped shirts. Sachiko starts the call by picking up the receiver and saying hello.

Sachiko Okawa

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Her oldest grandson quickly jumps in.

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Hi, Grandpa.

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

How are you?

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll be in fourth grade next semester. Wasn't that fast?

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Daina, my younger brother, he'll be in second grade next year. Then Sachiko corrects him. She says, no, Daina will be in second grade this year, not next.

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Yeah, yeah, this year. A lot of calls were just like this, straightforward updates about life, the kind of quick highlights reel you might give to any family member you were catching up with on the phone. The boy, he then tells his grandpa--

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Grandma is fine, too.

Grandson 1

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm giving the phone to Daina now. Daina, his little brother, grabs the phone.

Grandson 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Grandpa, I finished all my homework. Sachiko urges him to keep talking.

Sachiko Okawa

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Grandson 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

He says, everyone is doing fine. Then he hangs up. They all say goodbye.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Grandson 1

Bye bye.

Miki Meek

As they're walking out of the booth, Daina says--

Grandson 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Maybe Grandpa will say he heard us.

In another call, a woman in a puffy winter jacket with a fur-lined hood shows up at the booth by herself. Her name is Kikue Hirano, and she's 66. She used to live in Otsuchi, but she moved away after she lost her house and her husband in the tsunami. Her husband was a deep sea fisherman. His name was Miyoji and they used to talk and drink sake together at night. Now, Kikue lives alone, about 50 miles away. But sometimes Kikue finds herself driving back to Otsuchi, and to this booth. I watched her do this thing that a lot of callers seemed to do. You hear Kikue actually dialing the rotary phone, saying some numbers to herself.

Kikue Hirano

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

4, 2, 5, 7, 4, 4. She's dialing the phone number for her old house in Otsuchi, the last place she knew to reach her husband. Then Kikue just stands in the booth in silence, holding the phone to her ear.

Sometimes she fidgets around, and tilts her head up and concentrates on the ceiling, the same way I do when I want to cry but I'm trying hard not to. It doesn't work. Kikue brushes some tears off her face. Eventually, she hangs up. She lingers in the booth a little longer, hands clasped together in front of her, staring at the phone booth floor. She walks out.

One pattern that the owner of the phone booth, Itaru, has noticed over the years is that more men than women come to use it. Not surprisingly, this is not a demographic that's known for sharing their feelings, especially the older farmers. They already have a reputation for not talking much. In one of the phone calls recorded in winter, a man with gray hair and a little towel hanging around his neck walks into the garden. This kind of towel is part of the uniform of Japanese farmers. They use them to wipe away sweat and clean their hands. This man opens the telephone booth door, and under his breath, you hear him say--

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Huh, so this is the Wind Telephone. This appears to be his very first visit to the phone booth. He lost his oldest son in the tsunami. His son's name was Nobuyuki. He also lost his house and had to move into temporary housing with his wife. And recently, she got sick and also passed away. He calls her okaasan. It means mom in Japanese. It's what everyone in the family calls a female head of the house, even the husband. It's a very intimate, loving term.

[ROTARY DIALING]

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Hello?

Man 2

Nobuyuki.

Miki Meek

Nobuyuki.

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Is Mom with you?

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Sorry to ask this, but take care of her, and your grandma and grandpa, too.

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll come again, OK?

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom--

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--I'll be back.

Man 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Bye.

He uses the towel around his neck to wipe his eyes.

One of the things that makes these calls so poignant to me is all the understated ways that people are actually saying I love you and I miss you. I'd never say something so direct like that in Japanese. It's just not done. I've only seen people say it in the soap operas. [JAPANESE]. Even saying that right now feels weird. I've never said that to my mom or my grandparents.

[CREAKING]

Take this call. It's winter. The phone booth is surrounded by snow.

[ROTARY DIALING]

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Hello?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where are you? He's an older man wearing a baseball cap. He also calls his wife Mom. His wife, daughter and mother, they all went missing in the tsunami.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It's so cold, but you're not getting cold, are you?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Are grandma and our daughter Miyuki with you, too?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Come back soon.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Be found soon. Everyone is waiting for you.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

OK?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Be found soon. Hurry home, OK?

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll build a house in the same place.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Eat something, anything.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Just be alive. Somewhere, anywhere.

Man 3

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm so lonely.

He never says I love you directly. Real feelings are communicated through small gestures, especially ones of concern, like when he asks his wife, are you staying warm? Are you eating? And then promising, I'll build a house for us. These are total heartfelt declarations of love.

For other men, the phone booth is a place where they can finally say their complicated feelings out loud. They can voice their regrets. Anyone who's had someone close to them die knows this feeling. Like, I've kept having the same one-way conversation with my dad in my head ever since he passed away last year. I just keep telling him all the situations where I wish I had been kinder, more patient. One call I watched was from a young father with rectangle glasses and a long black jacket. He lost his family, both parents, his wife-- her name was Mine-- and a one-year-old son named Issei.

[ROTARY DIALING]

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad?

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mine.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Issei.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It's already been five years since the disaster.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

If this voice reaches you, please listen.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Sometimes I don't know what I'm living for.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Issei, please let me hear you call me Papa.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Even though I built a new house--

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--Dad, Mom--

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--Mine and Issei--

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--without all of you, it's meaningless.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I want to hear your reply, but I can't hear anything.

He hangs up the phone, takes off his glasses, and covers his eyes with his hands.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm sorry.

Man 4

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm so sorry I couldn't save you.

[CREAKING]

[DOOR SHUTTING]

There's a couple of phrases I heard callers tell the dead again and again-- [JAPANESE], don't worry about us, and [JAPANESE], which basically means I'm doing my very best. I'm enduring. In Japan, [JAPANESE] is a catch-all slogan for slogging through life's many challenges, no matter how tiny or big. From trying to pass a test at school to grieving, you hear it all the time, for everything. In the phone booth, [JAPANESE] and [JAPANESE], these are key phrases to reassure the dead that the living, the people left behind, they're doing OK, even if they're not.

People don't want to worry or burden their loved ones, even dead loved ones, because most Japanese are Buddhist, and generally believe that, when someone dies, they're not suddenly relieved of all their earthly concerns. They're not automatically in heaven, happy and carefree. Many people believe that, if the dead see a family member suffering, they can't let go of their earthly life. They hesitate to cross to the other side, and end up stuck in a no man's land.

I heard these reassurances in a call from a 15-year-old kid named Ren Kozaki to his dad. He arrived at the phone booth after spending four hours on public transportation by himself. Ren lives in a city much farther north that wasn't affected as much by the tsunami, but his dad was a truck driver who drove all over Japan, and in a last-minute schedule change, he got sent on a route that took him along the coast when the tsunami hit. He's been missing ever since. Ren went into the phone booth wearing a red backpack. And what he does in his call, you hear him signaling to his dad that it's OK, he should keep moving on into the afterworld.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

The four of us are doing fine.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

We're [JAPANESE].

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

You don't need to worry about us. [JAPANESE].

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad, are you doing OK?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I do have one question I want to ask you.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why did you die?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why did it have to be you, Dad?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why just me?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I've always wondered--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--why am I the only one who is--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--different from everyone else. Anyways--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--please be found quickly.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where are you now?

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

They never found anything of you.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I wanted to talk with you again.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Ren left the booth. In late February, he came back with his entire family-- his mom, younger brother, and sister. They all drove down to Otsuchi together. And when they got to the phone booth, at first they kind of awkwardly hung out in front of it. So to break the ice, Ren walks in and places the first call to their dad. He tells him--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--I brought everyone with me today.

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Bye.

When Ren walks out, his family laughs. They say--

Riku

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

That was so fast. Ren shoots back--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--it was just a quick report to dad that I brought everyone with me today. Next up are Ren's little brother and sister, who are 12 and 14 years old. They go into the booth together, and the sister is talking and laughing nervously.

Ren's Sister

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

What am I supposed to say? What should I tell them?

Ren's Sister

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Wait, wait, wait. Don't leave me alone in here. The sister picks up the phone. And let me just say, the mom told the film crew that this is a girl who has not said a single word about her dad to anyone since he went missing five years ago. So she picks up the phone and starts to cry.

Ren's Sister

[SOBS]

Miki Meek

She asks her brother again, what should I talk to him about? Her little brother's name is Riku, and he tells her--

Riku

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Say what you wanted to tell him.

Ren's Sister

[SOBS]

Miki Meek

She says, are you trying to make me laugh, Riku? Riku says--

Riku

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--no, I'm not. Then she finally starts talking to her dad. The conversation is all over the place. And she's crying so hard she can barely talk.

Ren's Sister

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad, I'm so sorry I always used to say you were stinky. What happened to your promise to buy me a violin? Now I'll have to buy one myself.

Her little brother who sticks close to her, he encourages her to keep going. He says, what else? So she tells her dad--

Ren's Sister

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I started tennis in junior high school. I'm not in the top eight. I want to be in the top eight in our last tournament. Please cheer for me.

I got hooked on this boy band, The Johnnys, when I was in my first year of junior high. I'm still hooked. They both say--

Ren's Sister

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--goodbye. They come out of the booth together. Now it's their mom's turn. Her kids tell her itterasshai.

Ren Kozaki

Itterasshai.

Miki Meek

Have a good trip. Good luck. Ren, the oldest, he bows and waves to her. She walks in, picks up the phone, and lets out a big sigh.

Mom

[SIGHS]

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where should I start?

Mom

[SIGHS]

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I feel like you're still alive somewhere. We had so many things we wanted to do together.

Mom

[SNIFFS]

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Over the phone we always said to each other, are you alive? Yes, I'm alive. It was our password between the two of us, wasn't it? I can't ask you that anymore.

Mom

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Come back. We, all four of us together, we will be waiting. Bye.

[PHONE HANGING UP]

After she comes out, the family lingers outside the phone booth for a while.

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

This was literally the first time they'd all talked about their dad together since the tsunami happened five years ago. The youngest, Riku, he sat quietly on a bench with his head in his hands. The night before his dad disappeared, they went to a public bath together. His mom and older siblings tell him--

Riku

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--Riku, you don't need to keep your feelings in. Go ahead and cry when you want to. Ren, the oldest, gently teases him. He says--

Ren Kozaki

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--see, he can't stop crying. Mom says yeah, but he held back until now. It's OK because you held back. You endured until now.

The sister then hands Riku her handkerchief. The mom says to her kids, we were all about to fall apart. We were so broken. We didn't think we could make it through. And maybe that's why we never talked about Dad until now. But talking to him on the phone today, it changed something.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek is one of the producers of our program. Thanks to Tomohiko Yokoyama and NHK Sendai, who recorded all this and shared it with us. Today's show is mostly a rerun. We checked this week, and the wind phone is still in operation, though not many visitors right now because of COVID. The Japanese government is asking people to stay home.

Coming up, two brothers in their 80s have a last chance to talk to each other before they die, and neither wants to take it. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, One Last Thing Before I Go, stories that are about-- well, they're about what power do words have in the face of death?

Act Two: Uncle's Keeper

Ira Glass

We've arrived at Act Two of our program-- Act Two, Uncle's Keeper.

So in the first act of our program, people kind of defy death by making small talk and some talk that was not so small with their dead relatives. In this act, somebody wants to do something very similar, make a connection that seemed impossible between people. Except in this story, all the relatives are alive, which you'd think would make it super easy. The story comes from Jonathan Goldstein.

Buzz Goldstein

Hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Hey, Dad?

Buzz Goldstein

Hi, Johnny.

Jonathan Goldstein

Hey. How you doing?

Buzz Goldstein

Good, you?

Jonathan Goldstein

Good, good. Good Yuntif.

Buzz Goldstein

Shana Tova.

Jonathan Goldstein

[HEBREW]

Buzz Goldstein

[HEBREW]. [CHUCKLES] What's that mean?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm not sure.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, oh.

Jonathan Goldstein

This is my father, Buzz. I'm calling him at his home in Montreal. And the reason we're talking crazy talk is because it's Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, which seems as good a day as any to talk with him about forgiveness.

Jonathan Goldstein

So I wanted to-- I wanted to ask you something, and I just wanted to gauge your interest.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

How would you feel about paying your brother, Sheldon, a visit?

Buzz Goldstein

I have no feelings about it. I'm not really interested.

Jonathan Goldstein

You're not?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

My father, Buzz, is 80, and his brother, Sheldon, his only sibling, is 85. And for the past 40 years, they've pretty much been on the outs. My father lives in Montreal, and Sheldon lives in Florida. And the last time they saw each other, over 20 years ago, was at their mother's funeral when they had a fight over the details of the arrangement. Since then, they've hardly spoken.

It worries me because there's not a lot of time left, and I don't want my father to have regrets. And my father has a profound capacity for regret. My mother gave up trying to reunite them years ago after many attempts. So I know that if I don't push him, no one else will.

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm not surprised that you're not jumping at the idea, but I'm a little surprised--

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

--that you're as against the idea.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. Time's passed. He hasn't shown much interest. So I'm respecting that, and I leave him alone.

Jonathan Goldstein

What he did do was he called you on your 80th birthday not so long ago, and you felt good about that.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, because I called him on his 80th birthday.

Jonathan Goldstein

This kind of tit for tat accounting is what always gets in the way.

Buzz Goldstein

You know what it is at this point with him? I'll tell you what it is. I don't think it's even anger. He's past anger. And he's past any feelings of animosity. He's pissed. He just doesn't care.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

That's apathy. I mean, sometimes at least hate or love, they're emotions. Apathy is nothing.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

You know what, Johnny? As a child, even when I was 10, when I was nine and eight, I was crazy about him. We had a great-- I loved him. He was the older brother. He would-- hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm listening.

Buzz Goldstein

I just looked up to him. And he had all the friends. Sometimes he'd take me along with him. And he was [INAUDIBLE]. Somebody tried to call here, dinging me here.

Jonathan Goldstein

The most complicated question, the one I keep coming back to, is how did the bad blood begin? And there are many versions-- an ill-fated trip to Montreal where Sheldon felt slighted about having to stay in my father's basement, an ill-fated trip to New York where my father felt slighted about having to stay in Sheldon's attic, rude words spoken to each other's wives. In one version of the story, Sheldon's refusal to bring a table to my bris almost resulted in my being circumcised on an ironing board. But in the version being told today, my father was asked by Sheldon to pay more than his fair share for their mother's funeral.

Buzz Goldstein

And I said, you're always working some kind of an angle. So then he got furious. He got furious. He started screaming at the phone, go to hell, drop dead, blah, blah, blah.

That was how that ended. But I feel he's the kind of guy-- he has angles like that. He has angles. I always felt I was on the up and up with him, and he wasn't with me.

Jonathan Goldstein

If you got a stronger sense that he was interested in seeing you, then would you--

Buzz Goldstein

Yes, yes.

Jonathan Goldstein

--you would be more inclined to see him?

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay at his house though. That's out of the question.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK, quick sidebar-- anytime I've ever raised the prospect of visiting Sheldon, no matter how hypothetical the scenario, my father always makes a point of insisting how no matter what he would not stay in Sheldon's house, even if he was invited to, which, I should point out, he never is.

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay at his house.

Jonathan Goldstein

How come you-- [LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay there. I mean, that's not my thing.

Jonathan Goldstein

How come you always bring that up? I mean, normally--

Buzz Goldstein

Of course. I don't feel comfortable.

Jonathan Goldstein

--when someone goes to visit someone that they haven't seen in decades, they'll stay at a hotel.

Buzz Goldstein

I would stay at a motel or somewhere near his place.

Jonathan Goldstein

A motel. Yeah. No, we'd get a place with an ice machine and, you know.

Buzz Goldstein

Why? You're interested in making a trip?

Jonathan Goldstein

[SIGHS] I mean, I'm interested-- do you think that there's anything to be gained in seeing him?

Buzz Goldstein

Hm. I guess there's something. You know, you share your common experience, and you talk about the old days, and there are things that only he and I can remember.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

What you could do is you could call him and see what his attitude is. It depends on how you feel, what kind of reception you get.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah. I mean, I would. I would be happy to do that. My concern is that--

Buzz Goldstein

I like your initial suggestion that you call and feel him out, see what he's like.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK, I didn't suggest that, but-- you suggested that.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, I like that. But you'll give me an honest reaction.

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm happy to do it, but-- I mean, what are you looking for from-- what do you want to hear from him?

Buzz Goldstein

I miss my brother. I would like to see him.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Buzz Goldstein

That's all.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Buzz Goldstein

You understand? And you come back on me with an honest evaluation.

[DIAL TONE]

Sheldon Goldstein

Hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon?

Sheldon Goldstein

Yes, speaking.

Jonathan Goldstein

Hi.

Sheldon Goldstein

That was quite a shock getting your phone call. You said Jon, and I--

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

My hearing is not that great.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Sheldon Goldstein

And when I heard the first message I'm saying, who the heck is that? I don't know anybody by that name.

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon now lives outside of Fort Lauderdale, but my few memories of him are from when he lived in upstate New York. I remember he lived in a trailer. I remember that he worked at a local prison, that he smoked cigars, that he looked a little like my father, but was hunched like the world was weighing down on him. And he always wore this expression on his face that seemed to say, you got to be kidding me.

Jonathan Goldstein

You're keeping OK? You're keeping occupied?

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah. I read a lot. I go to the gym. I go shopping, you know, here and there, little things here and there.

Jonathan Goldstein

And so you still go-- how often do you go to the gym?

Sheldon Goldstein

Three times a week.

Jonathan Goldstein

My father also goes to the gym. That's a part of his routine also. He was happy to hear from you on his 80th birthday.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah. Well, he didn't call me on my 85th though.

Jonathan Goldstein

Tit, meet tat.

Sheldon Goldstein

To be honest with you, I've been-- in the last few years, I've been a loner.

Jonathan Goldstein

Uh-huh.

Sheldon Goldstein

You would basically almost call me a recluse. I don't socialize with many people. And I really don't give a damn what anybody thinks.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

And contrary to popular belief, I like being alone by myself. I get along with myself very well.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Look, I don't want to be rude--

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

--or anything, but I want to go have my lunch.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's fine.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

It's fine. Sheldon, I appreciate your talking to me. And you would be amenable to spending some time?

Sheldon Goldstein

Why not? We are brothers. I mean, we're not close or anything, but we're not going to have a chance to see each other much in the future.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah. Is that anything that you think about?

Sheldon Goldstein

Not much, no.

Buzz Goldstein

Press where to-- and then type-- you have an address?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, I do.

Buzz Goldstein

OK.

Jonathan Goldstein

My dad and I meet up at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. I flew from New York and my dad from Montreal. My father's all dressed up, wearing a faux suede sports jacket that I've never seen him in. We grab our airport rental and prepare for the two-hour drive to Sheldon. In the 90-degree heat, it's immediately made clear that faux suede might not have been the best fashion choice.

Buzz Goldstein

It's like we're on a safari.

[CAR DOOR SHUTTING]

Jonathan Goldstein

On the road to Sheldon's, my father will experience a spectrum of feelings. As we first set out, there's excitement.

Buzz Goldstein

My brother was funny in a lot of ways. I could laugh. We're going to have laughs with him. You know what I mean? He's a very funny man.

Jonathan Goldstein

A half an hour in and there's bitterness.

Buzz Goldstein

We invited him to your bar mitzvah. And he returned a very cold card. Sorry, we will not be attending. It was so mean, you know what I mean, even the writing.

Jonathan Goldstein

An hour in and how is Buzz feeling?

Buzz Goldstein

I'm relaxed.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, good.

Buzz Goldstein

Kind of old to get anxious, you know what I mean?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

A half an hour to Sheldon's.

Buzz Goldstein

Little bit apprehensive now. [CHUCKLES]

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

10 minutes to Sheldon's and Buzz is feeling--

Buzz Goldstein

All right.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah? You feeling a little--

Buzz Goldstein

It's going to be strange.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

It's going to be very strange. I mean, the man is a stranger to me now, and yet he's my brother. You understand? It's a very strange feeling.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

I wonder if he's getting nervous.

Jonathan Goldstein

Maybe.

Buzz Goldstein

Course, he's waiting for us, right?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon lives in the corner house on a quiet, suburban street.

Jonathan Goldstein

Ring the bell.

Buzz Goldstein

I guess. Is this his door?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'll double check. Oh, here he is.

Sheldon Goldstein

Ah.

Buzz Goldstein

Hey.

Jonathan Goldstein

Hello. Hi.

Buzz Goldstein

Good to see you.

Sheldon Goldstein

And this is Jonathan?

Jonathan Goldstein

Good to see you, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Nice to meet you. Come in.

Buzz Goldstein

Come here.

Jonathan Goldstein

Thank you.

Sheldon Goldstein

Lately I've become a monk, me and my pussycat.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, you got a cat.

Sheldon Goldstein

Oh, come here. What?

[MEOWING]

[CHUCKLES]

Jonathan Goldstein

After all the years, and the worry, and the dread, things seem to be going swimmingly. We sit down at Sheldon's kitchen table, and my father gets right into it.

Buzz Goldstein

Now there's things I want to know. You said that Rainey died.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

She did die?

Jonathan Goldstein

The dead are a good place to begin. As a subject, they're easily agreed upon and not likely to spark a fight.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yankel died.

Buzz Goldstein

Yankel died? He was the youngest brother.

Sheldon Goldstein

Oh, he died long ago.

Buzz Goldstein

He died, eh? Well, you know who died?

Sheldon Goldstein

Who?

Buzz Goldstein

Hoffman.

Sheldon Goldstein

Hoffman, a real [BLEEP].

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. I didn't know him that well. I didn't [BLEEP]. Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Kanish. We used to [INAUDIBLE].

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, that's shocking.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah. He was fat.

Buzz Goldstein

He was fat-- redhead.

Sheldon Goldstein

Redhead, right.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, Kanish. Yeah. Remember Johnny? Johnny was a sex maniac.

Sheldon Goldstein

Johnny, oh, he would [BLEEP] a dog on the street. If he saw the dog, he'd try to [BLEEP].

Buzz Goldstein

[LAUGHS]

Sheldon Goldstein

Can I get you guys a cold beer?

Buzz Goldstein

I'd like a beer.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, sure. I'll have a beer.

Even though they're in their 80s, Sheldon and Buzz still possess voices and temperaments suited to shouting out Brooklyn tenement windows, while my voice--

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, sure. I'll have a beer.

--is best suited to asking a waitress if there will be a sharing charge.

Sheldon Goldstein

I defy--

[CLATTERING]

[BLEEP]

Jonathan Goldstein

Forgot about that. Sorry.

Case in point, this is Sheldon accidentally swiping a portable microphone receiver off the kitchen table and me trying to smooth things over.

Sheldon Goldstein

Take this off, will you? It's annoying.

Jonathan Goldstein

Here, just put it in your pocket there.

Sheldon Goldstein

Just take it off, would you please? Thank you. Thank you.

Jonathan Goldstein

Over the next two days, my testes will flee like frightened cockroaches upward, ascending to heights not seen since the bar mitzvah that Sheldon was not attending. While it's fun watching them reminisce, I'd say that about 80% of my Uncle Sheldon's stories about the good old days are filthy enough to make them virtually unbroadcastable. But here's one specially selected and beeped for your delicate ears.

Sheldon Goldstein

Wally Rosen, wonder whatever became of him. He was a bum. Me and Wally Rosen were joining the weightlifting club. So you had to be tested for a rupture. I remember he put his hand [BLEEP]. I started laughing so hard I [BLEEP] right in his [BLEEP].

[LAUGHTER]

Ay yi yi yi.

Jonathan Goldstein

Over the years, I've seen my father in the role of husband, uncle, and grandfather, but I've never really seen him in the role of younger brother. How odd to see it now at 80. He sits beside Sheldon with this expression I've never seen on his face. It's wide-eyed, sweet, and deferential. But as the day wears on, Sheldon and Buzz begin to squabble over their memories, fighting over every little detail.

Buzz Goldstein

Remember the hullabaloo we had with the hair dyer, that heavyset girl?

Sheldon Goldstein

A manicurist.

Buzz Goldstein

She was a hair dyer.

Sheldon Goldstein

Manicurist.

Buzz Goldstein

No, she was a hair dyer. Here's what happened. She went over to Irving's--

Jonathan Goldstein

They even argue over the death of their grandmother.

Buzz Goldstein

I found her body.

Sheldon Goldstein

I did.

Buzz Goldstein

I opened the door-- no.

Sheldon Goldstein

I did.

Buzz Goldstein

My mother was across the street at Greenberg's.

Sheldon Goldstein

I remember walking in--

Buzz Goldstein

I looked in on her.

Sheldon Goldstein

--and I knew she was dead as soon as I saw her.

Buzz Goldstein

I never saw a dead body in my life, but I knew she was dead. Sure.

Jonathan Goldstein

So, wait. So you found her, or you found her?

Buzz Goldstein

I remember looking in on her room.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Buzz Goldstein

It was awfully quiet.

Sheldon Goldstein

I found her, but let him take the credit.

Buzz Goldstein

No, I'm not--

[LAUGHTER]

Some credit.

Jonathan Goldstein

The whole afternoon is like this. Every subject, even their dead grandmother, somehow becomes fodder for another pissing match. They're burning up all this time with small talk when what they need is some big talk. In particular, they need to address a story that I know holds a great deal of meaning for my father. It took place in 1939 on the day their mother left them. I've only ever heard the story from my father, never from Sheldon.

Jonathan Goldstein

I wanted to ask what you remember, your perspective.

Sheldon Goldstein

Well, I remember that time was when Pop was smacking her around, and she ran out in the hall in her slip.

Buzz Goldstein

Fighting in the hall.

Sheldon Goldstein

No. He was smacking her around.

Buzz Goldstein

Smacking her around, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

She ran out.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. So what happened the next morning?

Sheldon Goldstein

The next morning?

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. Look in the closet. Her clothes were gone. She left.

Sheldon Goldstein

Oh.

Jonathan Goldstein

What happened after this, in my father's telling, is that his mother returned soon after she left with a policeman in tow.

Buzz Goldstein

And they came back to try to get you. They wanted you to come back with them.

Sheldon Goldstein

And where were you?

Buzz Goldstein

I was there. They were trying to drag you out of the house. [LAUGHS]

Sheldon Goldstein

They weren't trying to grab you out?

Buzz Goldstein

No, no, no. I could stay with my father and grandmother.

Jonathan Goldstein

This is the point of the story for my father. It proves once and for all how his mother loved Sheldon more than she loved him. Sheldon didn't move out with her. And after a year, their mother returned. And together Buzz and Sheldon grew up under the same roof, in the same bedroom, often sleeping under the same blanket, each knowing who the mother had chosen, and each having to do their best to carry on and live life with the burden of that knowledge.

A couple times during the day, I asked them why they haven't spoken in so long. And they both insist, maybe out of embarrassment, that they do talk, just not often. But it isn't true.

In fact, my father learned of Sheldon's wife's death many years after the fact and then only from me. Sheldon's daughter got in touch through Facebook, and we made a phone date where she caught me up on her life and Sheldon's. And a few nights later while over at my parents' for dinner, I told my father of his sister-in-law's death. There was a terrible look that fell across his face, one of sadness, but something else too, maybe shock over just how far he and Sheldon had drifted.

Jonathan Goldstein

I found out about Judy, about her death.

Sheldon Goldstein

Who?

Jonathan Goldstein

Your wife.

Buzz Goldstein

I didn't know about it either until you told me.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Didn't I tell you?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Sheldon Goldstein

You didn't know about it?

Buzz Goldstein

We didn't know. We didn't know.

Sheldon Goldstein

She was sick about two years, Judy. Well, when she got the diagnosis, she was already stage four. What did I know about cancer? So the surgeon-- so I said, well, doc, how did the surgery go? Oh, he said, it went very well. But the cancer's in her liver now.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh. It spread.

Sheldon Goldstein

I said, it's in her liver? I said, what?

You know where I usually eat when I come in by myself? By the bar. They've got a waitress there who always waits on me. She takes good care of me.

Jonathan Goldstein

For dinner, Sheldon takes us to a local Outback Steakhouse. As people walk by, he provides a running commentary of an elderly couple--

Sheldon Goldstein

Don't get like that couple, whatever you do. It's time for the execution.

Jonathan Goldstein

--of an overweight couple.

Sheldon Goldstein

Boy, are they fat. People are fat today.

Jonathan Goldstein

It's as though he's sharpening his wit, readying it for the main event, teasing my dad about Canada.

Sheldon Goldstein

I don't know how you could take Canada all year round.

Buzz Goldstein

Why? We've got nice neighbors. It's nice. It's OK. What was I going to say?

Sheldon Goldstein

You're living in the same place for how many years?

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, about-- over 35, 38 years, something like that. I'm happy there. Yeah, yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

For my father, I know this is a touchy subject, believing, as he always has, that Sheldon looks down on him for the dinkiness of his Canadian life and home. It's like a constant reminder of just who is second best. Later, my father will repeat Sheldon's words. You're still living in that same place, he'll say, for how many years? But just then, I watched my father clench and unclench his jaw, as he does when he is brooding. I know he's trying to take the high road, trying not to ruin the evening.

Sheldon Goldstein

What, $200.30? Are they kidding?

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon invites us back to his place for cookies, but my father says he isn't up for it.

Buzz Goldstein

Thank you. Good night.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yep.

Jonathan Goldstein

As we walk through the restaurant parking lot to the car, my father is silent. I find myself feeling protective of him, like maybe encouraging this trip had been a bad idea, only making things worse. After midnight, lying awake in our hotel-- my father insisted we stay at one-- I lay in bed thinking about that day in 1939 when my grandmother came back for Sheldon, not my father. For my father, not only did it push him away from Sheldon, making him feel jealous and resentful, but it also cast a shadow over the rest of his life, causing him to always feel passed over. He's mellowed with age, but as a kid I saw it come out in all kinds of ways-- always sensitive to slights, ready for a fight at the smallest perceived offense.

I wonder if there's a different way for my father to see things. If there is, the only living person in this world who can help is Sheldon. When their mom left, Sheldon was nine, my father five. Sheldon would have understood a lot more than my father.

Yesterday, Buzz and Sheldon talked like a couple of kids who used to play stickball in the old neighborhood. Today, if me and my big fat meddling yap have any sway, they'll have a chance to talk as men, as brothers even. Because if not now, when? Day two.

Buzz Goldstein

This is a damn good cigar.

Sheldon Goldstein

He sent me--

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, Dominican Republic. They make a damn good cigar in Dominican Republic. What are you talking about?

Jonathan Goldstein

Despite the difficulties of last night, the coin is flipped back to the good side. Sheldon offers my father a cigar and with the cigar some cigar talk, some pretty foul cigar talk.

Sheldon Goldstein

We're riding on Queens Boulevard. Johnny's in the back seat with The Who. He's got his naked ass up in the air. And he's humping--

Buzz Goldstein

[LAUGHS]

Sheldon Goldstein

The funny thing is we had to stop for a light. And there's a truck driver sitting in the cab up high. God, that was funny.

Buzz Goldstein

[LAUGHS]

Jonathan Goldstein

Have you guys missed each other?

Sheldon Goldstein

What?

Jonathan Goldstein

Do you miss each other?

Sheldon Goldstein

You know, he asks the weirdest questions. What is he, a broad?

Jonathan Goldstein

No. I mean-- I don't know.

Eager to prove to my Uncle Sheldon that in spite of the fact I'm wearing my wife's travel deodorant, I am indeed not a broad. I allow them to return to more pressing matters, their prostates.

Sheldon Goldstein

The guy says, Jesus. He says, your prostate feels like the moon craters in there. I said thank you, Doctor. Thought he was complimenting me.

Jonathan Goldstein

So if I could steer this away from the prostates-- so my father said that it's significant to him to have come. What do you say?

Sheldon Goldstein

I agree with whatever he said.

Jonathan Goldstein

But what about you?

Sheldon Goldstein

I said I agree with whatever he said. Do you want a written contract?

Jonathan Goldstein

No, no. I'm happy with that.

It feels like I'm getting a taste of what growing up with Sheldon might have been like. So again, I make my move.

Jonathan Goldstein

So I have some questions just about-- because of the stories that I know from my father, but I'm curious what your take is because you were older. Do you remember what was going on when your mom-- when your mother left originally, like why and what was going on?

Sheldon Goldstein

Didn't you cover this ground before yesterday?

Jonathan Goldstein

But from my father's perspective, the way I understood it was always you were the favorite. Did you feel that way?

At this point, Sheldon's face suddenly softens.

Sheldon Goldstein

I always felt that I got the short end of the stick.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, but you were kind of a favorite with my mom.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, maybe with Mom 'cause maybe temperamentally we were closer than I was with my father. My father never gave me spit. Did you ever get any money from my father?

Buzz Goldstein

Can't remember.

Sheldon Goldstein

You never got a dime.

Buzz Goldstein

No, can't remember.

Sheldon Goldstein

You never-- one time I sprained my ankle so bad.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, I'll never forget that. That was terrible.

Sheldon Goldstein

I laid in that bed. And he says to me, you lazy bum.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Man, he went off on me that time. Whoo.

Buzz Goldstein

He took Sheldon once. Sheldon happened to say the word [BLEEP].

Sheldon Goldstein

He came in with that [BLEEP] strap swinging with the buckle.

Buzz Goldstein

And I can understand it leaving a feeling of resentment and dislike.

Sheldon Goldstein

That was his way of communicating with us-- smack, smack, and then--

Buzz Goldstein

What a way. Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

Was he easier on you, do you think?

Buzz Goldstein

He wasn't that easy, but he was tough on Sheldon.

Sheldon Goldstein

I know you were closer to him than I was.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

A lot of things that went on and you didn't understand really what was going on.

Buzz Goldstein

No, I didn't. So you had a different take?

Jonathan Goldstein

Why? Are you surprised by--

Buzz Goldstein

But I was a kid. I didn't understand it.

Jonathan Goldstein

But you didn't know that Sheldon was getting it so bad?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

In Buzz's telling, their father was always a more or less benign, childish figure incapable of expressing his feelings and so given to temper tantrums. For Buzz, it was their mother who was the manipulator, the woman who played the brothers off each other. But hearing Sheldon's take, it sounds like maybe their mother didn't come to take Sheldon because she loved him best, but simply because he needed more protecting from their father.

For the first time during our trip, I can see my father considering Sheldon's point of view, actually taking it in. I know it's intense for him because he can't even meet Sheldon's eyes. Instead, he looks at me, addresses his comments to me.

Buzz Goldstein

It sad that my father had such a negative impact on him, just awful. Because he had so much going for him. He was a wonderful son. He worked hard. He was a good boy. He went to school.

Sheldon Goldstein

You're talking like I'm a failure in life.

Buzz Goldstein

No, you weren't a failure. That's the thing that I'm saying.

Sheldon Goldstein

No, I am.

Buzz Goldstein

You weren't a failure. But all I'm saying is that emotionally he left an impact on you.

Sheldon Goldstein

It took a long time for me to get out of that emotion. And now I'm at peace with myself. I can talk about him and laugh about it.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Now I want peace, quiet. I'm happy living by myself.

Buzz Goldstein

Are you lonely, Sheldon?

Sheldon Goldstein

No.

Buzz Goldstein

No?

Jonathan Goldstein

The last time my father saw my grandfather in full health, my dad was visiting from Canada. My grandfather asked my father to drive him to the cemetery to visit his parents' grave. And once there, my grandfather wept inconsolably. Later that day, he would succumb to a stroke and shortly after be moved to a nursing home. With Sheldon being more local, the burden of my grandfather's care fell mainly to Sheldon. It seems like a lot of the family's burdens fell to Sheldon.

Buzz Goldstein

They put a lot of the responsibility on him that my dad should have been taking that responsibility. And he shouldered that.

Sheldon Goldstein

Who was going to take care of you? Who was going to take you to school? [INAUDIBLE] I remember one time I was late or something. You stood outside that screen door, crying.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

I'd say, Buzzy, I'm here. I'm here.

Buzz Goldstein

He was good to me. A lot of times he was good to me.

Sheldon Goldstein

A lot of times I was mean to you.

Buzz Goldstein

Mean, you know-- you were my older brother. You used to knock the [BLEEP] out of me sometimes, but that's the way it is with brothers. Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

I was good in some ways. Some ways I was mean.

Buzz Goldstein

Well, who is not? Who is not? Who is not?

Jonathan Goldstein

So if you feel like you were compelled to see each other now because you knew that it's a now or never kind of thing, then it means that it was important to you both, right, to see each other.

Sheldon Goldstein

You want to take that?

Buzz Goldstein

Sure.

Sheldon Goldstein

I'm not. Go ahead.

Buzz Goldstein

Yes. It's an easy answer-- yes. Yes, because we're not getting any younger. What's down the road? I'm 80. He's 85.

I mean, because there was a lot of water under the bridge, and we want to close that bridge now. I want to feel easy now. I want to say now he's going to be 86, I want to call him on his birthday and say happy birthday to him now. I'm not going to stand any [BLEEP] ceremonies anymore.

Jonathan Goldstein

As my father speaks, as per his brother's example, dropping F bombs like he's in a Guy Ritchie film, Sheldon keeps his arms crossed and his eyes shut tight. He's quiet for several seconds, and then he reaches out to pet his cat.

Sheldon Goldstein

Should I leave you the cat in my will if anything happens?

Buzz Goldstein

If anything happens, I'll take care of the cat. I'll take care of the cat.

Sheldon Goldstein

[LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

I'm happy I came to see you. That I am.

Sheldon Goldstein

I'm happy you came here. That's good, very good. If either of you want to buy a house, that one is for sale over there.

Jonathan Goldstein

When it's time to leave, Sheldon walks us outside. But before we get into the rental, he points across the lawn to his neighbor's house. He tells my father that it's for sale, and then he tells him the asking price. And my father says that doesn't sound bad at all. And Sheldon says that, what, with Canada being so bloody cold, my father should consider moving to Florida. And my father says maybe he will.

Buzz Goldstein

All right. You take care.

Sheldon Goldstein

Water under the bridge.

Buzz Goldstein

Take care.

Sheldon Goldstein

Take care, you too. Safe trip, both of yous.

Buzz Goldstein

Thank you, thank you. We'll speak. We'll speak.

Jonathan Goldstein

They don't get too emotional. They don't even hug goodbye. They just shake hands. And with that, it feels like Buzz has forgiven Sheldon and Sheldon has forgiven Buzz.

Gps

Turn right on Northwest Bedford Drive.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh my god. I feel so different now, you know that? I feel different, Johnny. I just feel so different. This has taken a lot off my shoulders, you know?

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein. This story was produced by Wendy Dorr with some help from Chris Neary for Jonathan's podcast, Heavyweight. If you have never heard Heavyweight and don't know where to get started, I have to say, it is such an utterly original program. And Jonathan has put together a playlist of his favorite episodes. Just search Heavyweight Starter Kit on Spotify. Jonathan, by the way, says his dad and Sheldon are doing fine under lockdown. Sheldon says that he's happy with the peace and quiet.

[MUSIC - THE BAMBOOS, "BEFORE I GO"]

(SINGING) I still wonder how we got to this, how we pretend not to notice.

Credits

Ira Glass

When today's program was first broadcast four years ago, produced by Robyn Semien. Our staff for this episode-- Elna Baker, Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dan Chivvis, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe Walt, David Kestenbaum, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike. Production help for this rerun from Noor Gill, Katherine Rae Mondo, and Stowe Nelson. Our translator for the wind phone was Kiku Matsuo. Special thanks today to Emily Engle-Young, Brittany [INAUDIBLE], Dragana Novakovic, Helen Garey, Yuki Zaizen, Noriko Meek, Karin Jeffrey, John Matthews, Christine Fellows, Haley Shaw, and Lawrence Tassone.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where during lockdown or during your commute to your essential job you can listen to 700 episodes of our show for absolutely free. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. Presidential debates are coming up later this year. He tells everybody he knows why I'm never chosen to ask questions at the presidential debates.

Sheldon Goldstein

You know, he asks the weirdest questions.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - THE BAMBOOS, "BEFORE I GO"]

(SINGING) Before I go, before I go, before I go. Before I go, before I go, before I go.