Patrick Ryan: It was the last book he ever read


Patrick Ryan remembers his dad's last years of reading @ Granta

My dad worked a lot of jobs. As a young man, in Ohio, he repossessed cars for a summer. (‘Don’t ever repossess cars,’ he told me. ‘Nobody likes you. I had to carry a baseball bat and keep a loaded pistol in the glove compartment, just in case of trouble.’) He then worked as a desk clerk at a hotel in Washington DC. Later, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he stood in a caged room all day and checked out camera equipment to staff photographers. When the Apollo program began to wane in the mid-1970s, he quit ahead of the layoffs that were coming, honed his skill at fixing cars, and got a job as an auto mechanic.

But after a few years, the owner retired and sold the garage.And so my dad mulled around for a bit and flirted with the idea of becoming his own boss. He looked into opening a liquor store, a cafeteria-style restaurant, a wholesale inner tube business . . . But he lacked the one thing a man with a dream needs to get anywhere: capital. He would become a realtor, he decided. He would sell houses. He got his license and tried that for a while – just as the real estate market in the area was entering a major slump. By coincidence, his marriage to my mother was also in a slump; they separated on the eve of their twenty-third wedding anniversary and divorced soon after.

He moved to Virginia. He tried real estate there for a while, couldn’t sell a single property, and got a job at Dulles International Airport overseeing the luggage-handlers for one of the major airlines. A year later, the airline went more