Last November, a humpback whale swam up the Hudson River. The animal was spotted slapping its fin near the Upper West Side and then splashing below the Statue of Liberty’s effervescent mint skirt. I read every story I could about this cosmopolitan animal, worried that it would die like the poor Gowanus dolphin. One whale expert kept appearing as a source: Paul Sieswerda, a retired aquarium curator living on Staten Island, who had nicknamed the Hudson whale “Gotham,” and who assured reporters that it was likely not lost but hungry.
Another humpback was spotted in January, this time in the East River, near Gracie Mansion. Once again, Sieswerda was called on as New York’s resident whale guy, and once again he noted that the whale was likely feeding. I wanted to meet this man who was watching the whales return, and so this past April, I took a bumpy bus ride to the tip of the city to meet Sieswerda on a sand-swept dock in the Rockaways.
By the first week of July, a nurse called and said, Things are progressing. This seemed like misleading terminology, but I understood what she meant. Later, I flipped through the manual the hospice team had given us. Inside, it described how a body prepared for death, carefully and methodically shutting down. Perhaps it was just the way the copy was written, but the whole process seemed improbably kind and gentle. Like a family moving out of a home it loved but no longer needed. Reducing bedrooms to cardboard boxes, packing up photo albums and dishes and books to put into storage.
At ninety, death was ordinary and expected and it was not tragic. I knew these facts to be true and yet they seemed in direct opposition to everything I felt. I was seized by panic and dread each time Sadie’s breath was followed by the ominous death rattle—which sounded as though she were drowning after every inhalation (I was assured by doctors this was not actually the case.) My grandfather sat on the couch just a room away and he watched the news, listened to WQXR, laughed softly as his caregivers flirted with him and encouraged him to eat his dinner, a chicken breast and some steamed broccoli.
So yes, Meddling Kids is a story about what happened to the Scooby Doo gang after they all grew up. And it is awesome. It is a book that lives completely in the sweet recollections of childhood summers; that exists in the power band of maximum pop-culture self-referentialism. It trades on memory and nostalgia with almost zero ironic distance, just embracing the ridiculousness of its own backstory with both arms, making the surviving members of the gang (plus one hallucination) wear all their damage and all their scars in plain view. They were kids who saw some messed up stuff. They suffered horribly for it, and mostly in silence. Now they're going back to mend those things in them that have been broken.
And that's just the beginning.