>>> The Lady's Shave
By staff writer NG Hatfield
October 15, 2006

Despite the hospital's new ordinance, my father died with his shoes on.

It wasn't that he was a rebel; he was a quiet carpenter's foreman, a patron of St. Paul's Catholic Church on Sundays and a supporter of the Republican Party since 1972. He mowed the lawn on Saturday and drank a six-pack at least once every two days. He listened to country music, drove a big, red truck that had a smooth, ash-colored dash, and smoked cigars with his friends while they all played the back nine on Wednesday evenings in the summer. He came home pissed off a lot because of the heat and the soreness of his limbs, but he'd only go to the garage and work on an old Buick Riviera that my grandfather had given him in a will.

But that's not all there is to my father. During my last few months of college and the beginnings of his failing mental health, I had heard stories about his days as an outlaw. My aunts, before they each passed, would tell me things they remembered about him—things that impressed me. For instance, my father had once been suspended from high school for drinking on the premises—under the bleachers no less. My Aunt Dani had seen a Playboy resting loftily on the passenger seat of his first truck. One time, even, he had beaten a man unconscious after the bastard insulted my late mother.

But now, it wasn't until the nurses walked into his hospital room that his maverick sensibilities were even slightly noticeable.

“Sir… we need those shoes,” a nurse would say.

“I've had these shoes for ten years, goddamnit. Just leave me to die.”

“If they take these shoes, my soul won't get to heaven. These shoes… these shoes are magic shoes, boy.”

His cries came to no success. The nurses would come in again and again, demanding and bargaining and pleading, trying to get those two cheap, perfectly white, Russell Athletics from my father's feet. They even sent a tall, muscular male nurse once. The bastard stomped in the room and tried to remove the shoes by force. My father kicked his feet towards the nurse's chest and yelled again, “I've had these shoes for ten years, goddamnit! Just leave me to die!”

An old Italian woman, who was kept in the bed next to my father’s, frequently added to our arguments with the nurses by shouting, “Calzini! I miei calzini!” and pointing to her bare feet. Usually, she did this only when her family was in the room.

Looking back to the brawny bastard, I said, “They're just shoes.” And he left like the others: pissed off and shoeless.

Twenty minutes later, my father sat up in his bed and screamed out the door, “Yes! They're just shoes you slimy bastard! Just leave me to die!” During my twelve years living with him, my father raised his voice often, but it wasn't until his assignment in Room 655 that it was ever about shoes.

The nurses kept coming, nearly every other hour, and again leaving after every struggle pissed off and shoeless; but, they came back late at night, sometimes, and tried to sneak them off his feet. Or so my father told me.

“I want you to sit here and watch me,” he said. “I don't want to die without these shoes.”

I patted him on the chest and said I would.

“Listen, boy,” he said, “Listen.”

I nodded and brought the uncomfortable, navy blue chair closer to the bed.

“Boy, I know you don't have much reason to trust me, being as we just met… but please don't let them take these shoes.”

I nodded.

“Promise me!” he said.

“I won't let them, Sir. I promise.”

“Listen to me.” He made a slow, deliberate gesture that asked for my hand; it was the first time he'd ever done such a thing in such a desperate way. “If they take these shoes, my soul won't get to heaven. These shoes… these shoes are magic shoes, boy… they’ve got soles. I can't let my soles go or I'll go to hell.” He put no emphasis in stating this to me. It was his fact.

“I won't, Sir.” I put my free hand on top of his and shook it confirm.

“Good,” he said, and after a few minutes, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

This happened for a few days. The nurses would come, my father would fend them off, he’d make me promise to guard the shoes until death, the Italian would scream about her “calzini” and then they’d all fall asleep. I, on the other hand, would sit up during the night, reading the paper or the closed captioning on the television that hung between the dividing curtains. I slept for sessions that lasted only minutes. Nobody took the shoes, and I felt good about that. Though, eventually, nobody even came to take them. They had finally given up.

The last day my father was alive, I sat watching him drink the syrup out of a near-empty aluminum can of peaches. He made little noise, but even what slight clinks his teeth did make, the old Italian woman drowned out by shouting at her family. A translator was rushed in and immediately began interpreting. “She said, ‘You're a bunch of phony bastards.'”

A few moans from the family followed.

“She said, ‘Quit being dogs and leave me alone.’”

A slim, blonde girl—no older than eighteen—darted from the room, sobbing, covering her mouth and looking at the floor with very swollen eyes. Another young man, about the same age, followed her.

The translator had a pretty pleasant temperament, I thought; what with translating such things, but I still wondered why he didn't sweeten up the translation to console the grieving family. I guessed that it was hard to make what she was saying seem loving, especially as she spit a time or two and made angry hand gestures.

Apparently, my father had found this whole production hilarious. His tobacco-yellowed teeth shone and shook as he tapped the tops of his shoes together, saying, “Well… boy… at least I know you’re not a phony bastard.”

I laughed, “I guess you’re right, Sir.”

Putting down the empty can of peaches, he turned gravely serious. “Stop calling me ‘Sir,’” he said, “I’ve told you that my name is Russell Athletics.”

I nodded and patted him on the chest.

“Listen, boy,” he said, “Listen.”

The Cumberland Sacred Heart Hospital's Board of Mental Health Ordinance #1224 stated that all patients suffering from a mental illness could only be permitted to wear shoes assigned to them; they worried others could be used as weapons.

Now I know why my father saved those goddamned shoes.

In addition to serving you every Sunday night, Nick also tops you off almost every day at his blog, The Lady’s Trim.