This was a difficult post to write. It first appeared in 2014.
My dad, Murray Sirota, passed away at age fifty-nine in 1969, when I was just a mere slip of a lad—more or less. We knew it would happen; a couple of months earlier he’d been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, the end result of a lifetime of cigarette smoking, and given six months to live. But the circumstances surrounding the night of his death is the story here—a story that could easily be written off as implausible fiction. I shall explain.
A couple weeks before he died, my dad had my mother call to say that he wanted to see me. They lived in Brooklyn; I lived in Ohio. (He did the same with my brother Alan shortly after; terminally ill people know when it is time to put closure on their lives.) I caught the first plane out of Toledo’s airport.
By this time Dad was bedridden and the cancer had taken his vocal cords. On the last day I saw him alive we spent some hours watching his beloved New York Mets (mine too, at the time) beat up on some new team called the San Diego Padres. (The Padres have been my passion for nearly fifty years now.) The Lovable Losers of the 1960s had become the Amazin’ Mets that year, and some pundits even thought that they had a chance at catching the powerful Chicago Cubs. On that note, I said goodbye to my dad for all time.
Well, the pundits were right. On September 10th the Mets had surged to within a half-game of the Cubs and were scheduled to play the Expos in a doubleheader that evening. My mom helped Dad into the living room to watch the games on their larger TV. The Mets won the opener in extra innings and the Cubs lost, putting the Amazins’ into first place. My dad got so excited that he had a massive heart attack and died. This passionate Mets fan never got to see them win the second game that night. Nor did he get to see them win the World Series a month later. But, I’m sure he knew.
Long after the grieving had passed (does it ever?), I thought: What a way to go! Talk about a true baseball fan. I’d probably choose that same route—maybe right after the Padres win their first World Series? And as an author—well, of course I had to write about it.
My 1991 satirical science fiction novel, Bicycling Through Space and Time—and two sequels, all of them reissued this year—follows the exploits of novelist/ne’er-do-well Jack Miller, a thinly disguised me. In chapter eight, Jack talks about his roots. Here is the paragraph, verbatim.
I was born in White Plains, New York, the only child of Rose and Henry Miller. No, not that Henry Miller, who wrote more books in his life than my father ever read in his. Dad was an unimaginative bean counter for a firm in Manhattan’s garment district, faithfully commuting into the city for three decades. He died of a massive heart attack when he was fifty-six, and I was eighteen, three months after learning that his two-pack-a-day habit of over forty years had rotted his lungs and left him with incurable cancer. I have to say, for such an uncreative life, he went out in storybook fashion. He died in Yankee Stadium during the fifth inning of a game in which his beloved Yankees were whipping the pants off the hated Red Sox. Pictures of my uncle Jerry doing CPR in the aisle behind third base made the eleven o’clock news, not to mention the early editions of the Post and Daily News.
I’ve said before that writing can be unbelievably cathartic. Of all the books I’ve written, this trilogy allowed me one release after another.