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Mort and George
Mort and George Ow, Jr.



For George Ow, Jr.


    My stepfather was the first I knew who did. A square-faced man with a broken nose who beat my mother and was always ready with a curse or a fist, he blubbered when the woman in the black dress, big as the side of a building, sang Rumanian songs in the little restaurant on the Eastside, while my mother smirked and the waiters with black mustaches stood against the walls, sucking their teeth.

    There were the boys who wept because they had come so close but in the end had lost the championship, and others who wept because they had won it. There were army buddies, sitting in foxholes or barracks, holding the letter that said, “Forgive me, I’m going to marry Tim,” while the tears slipped down their faces and they continued to hold the letter in front of them like a flower they were offering to the wind. They were hardly more than schoolboys, really, who years later, as fathers, hearing an old pop tune on the car radio as they drove their kids home from the movies would remember that letter and weep again, hands gripping the steering wheel, not wiping the tears from their cheeks.

    I’ve known men who sobbed when they remembered strolling hand in hand with their fathers through the cool of an evening in a garden or city park. They wondered why he had abandoned them, and searched for him all their lives, only to look in the mirror one morning bleary-eyed and alone, to find that the face looking back at them was his.

    And then there was the writer who wept whenever he read his stories to an audience. His mouth worked hopelessly around the words, the emotion blurring whatever he said. He had been famous when young, but fate and changing tastes had passed him by, although he wrote as well as ever. I thought he wept for the unrecognized beauty of his words. I was wrong.


   There are men who cry for their youth, or something they lost in it. Others weep in fear of old age, or for every moment that passes them by. But there are some, and I think the writer was one, who cry for others. I won’t say these men have been sent among us to weep for us all, but they have come to an understanding that sees the end in all beginnings, and they mourn for the living, as well as the dead, before we and our world are gone.

   These men are not indifferent to the world, or aloof. They do not spill their tears in condescending pity, but as an expression of suffering so personal it grabs their hearts like the hand of someone falling away from them on a mountainside.

   I don’t mean to suggest that I am one of this group, but recently tears have rolled from my eyes when I see the simplest things: lovers kissing on the street, workers waving placards on a picket line, a boy alone shooting baskets in a backyard, and all those teenagers who wear the same expressionless mask I discarded long ago.


      We can shout against the injustice and cruelty of other men, but how do we protest the elemental sufferings of loss and death? Like a moth beating against the window light, our anger must soften into a butterfly of mourning in the end.

   That is the knowledge men have difficulty telling anyone. They spend a lifetime learning that to be human is to be a fulcrum balancing joy on one side and sorrow on the other, life on the palm of the right hand, death on the palm of the left—a wisdom so elemental they choose to remain silent in order to spare others, for a while at least, the knowledge we all must accept. And that may be why you see an old man—passing lovers on the street or boys shooting baskets in backyards—who suddenly, for no apparent reason, begins to weep.


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