My Father’s Great Recession
Fierce rains pour from black clouds, and when at last we meet in the parking lot, I see an obese and aged semblance of Dad. He wears a blonde mustache, but his receding topsoil is corn-silk white. Beige slacks and a light blue sweater do little to mask his immense roundness. Three hundred pounds or maybe more.
He engulfs me in a bone-wrenching grip, and I feel stuck to his squishy stomach. He releases and says, “You want coffee?”
We enter an espresso shop, brand new to the Jacksonville shopping center. The place is empty save for three young baristas chatting behind the counter.
“No business?” asks Dad.
“Day’s good but night’s slow,” says one girl.
My father is still my father, and all three hundred pounds plus performs for the girls. He tells some dumb jokes about Southerners in Parisian cafes and does a weird-step routine across the room. A fat man on tippy toes looks like a balloon float bouncing on and off the asphalt at a New Year’s Day’s parade. Two of the girls laugh out loud, and the third stares in amazement.
At the counter, my father orders espresso, and I ask for café au lait.
I reach into my pocket and feel for the four new bills, still intact from a money-machine stop at the start of the trip. My singles and coins are there, too—change from highway tolls, fast food, and gas-station drinks and snacks.
I pull a crisp twenty half way out of my shorts, but not before Dad removes a ten dollar bill from his pants. He grips it like a man who rarely holds one. His thumb firmly bends it into his wide palm. Before lifting both drinks, he takes his change and lowers it to the bottom of his pocket.
Over at a table, we stare across at each other.
“So good to see ya,” he says. “So good to see ya.”
He sips his espresso as I stir my café au lait. He talks about his life and his life is in associations, Toastmasters and Catholic Church and AA and church choir. I listen and nod but also drift away; I’m too tired to focus after two days of driving.
“Yo Al! Yo Al! You there? Earth to Al, earth to Al!” My father has always broken my dreams. I think he expects constant attention, but I like people who respect another’s drifting. Maybe this is selfish on my part or maybe selfish on his part because I know he too likes to drift and dream. Maybe we dream to drift from our selfish core.
“Do you want to go eat?”
“You hungry?” he replies.
We leave the café and walk to my car. “Wow! That’s a nice car, kid.” It is a good car with high miles, an eleven-year-old Toyota with a near-perfect exterior.
“What a lucky car. What a lucky find.”
We walk over to his even older Buick, and I notice the rust which has formed since last I saw it. That was three years ago when he was in love and happy, even working, and his weight wasn’t over two fifty. Now I see rust on the hood and the doors and the trunk and even on the hubcaps. Cars that live by the beach die by the beach.
We drive to Shoney’s for the $3.99 steak-tip special. We get small but tasty dinners, crisp and juicy tips with a baked potato and broccoli and cheese. The broccoli is my first green vegetable since Philly. The drive was twelve hours the first day, and I could have pushed on, but I stopped at a motel off I-95 past one in the morning. I was south of Florence and set up for an easy four hours in the morning. But the rain came and ruined driving, and I spent eight hours on the road, half of it parked on the shoulder and in gas stations or cruising below thirty-five.
“You beat, kid?”
Again, I move to pay, but the old man beats me to it.
Back at the shopping center, I get my car and drive it over to his. The rain comes hard again, and I try to follow his sixty miles per hour on the dark two-lane strip of A1A. But in a foreign place and in the rain, I slow to forty. When I catch up, his Buick is parked on the side of the road, white and shining, like an apparition. I pull in behind him, and he crosses and descends into his lot, and I follow, thankful the day’s drive is through.
As soon as I leave the car, I hear the waves crashing in. I lift my bags from the trunk, and we walk upstairs to a huge, studio apartment. He opens the screen, and we walk onto the deck. In pitch black, the ocean groans and roars. But the wind blasts in, so we return inside. He pulls out a pink futon, and I collapse upon it and soon sleep.
We rise early and drink coffee. My mind drifts back to Philly.
“Yo Al! Yo Al! Watcha wanna do today?”
“Go outside and listen to the water.” I like to spend mornings in silence, or with a good book or body.
I follow him out and see the water for the first time. The waves are small, three foot at their peak. The beach is empty save for a few children playing in the surf. They come from the next house over. The sun is bright and hot and shining hard in my eyes.
After a few minutes I ask, “Is the sun always this bad?”
“Pretty much for this time of day.”
Back inside, the breeze cools the house, but it is clear it will be hot by noon.
“Well Al, there’s an air-conditioned noon time AA meeting. Wanna come?”
“Uh. I don’t know. Do you want me to come?”
“Yeah. Parents like to show off their kids.”
My father needs me to do his thing, like a man who insists his son join the family business. Dad’s business is in the meeting group—the five-and-dime for self-analysis and hanging out.
We drive South down A1A to St. Augustine. The Alcoholics Anonymous meet in a small pink stucco church. Inside, I see many weathered faces. Crafted wrinkles persist upon every visage. From age and sun and work and drink, and love and loss and drugs and life. Most smile and look relaxed, like they’re glad to have survived the main and sobered for the end.
The meeting starts and people share. Each introduction is the same. “Hi, my name is Jerry and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Jerry,” is the unified return.
Folks have varied stories to tell. A woman speaks of visiting her family in Arizona, of being happy to see them and relieved to be back home. A man speaks of his narcissism, which he attributes to alcoholism, and how shocked he was that he did not have to bang down the landlord’s door to retrieve his security deposit. A woman speaks of Paris and how she wishes she were still there. A man speaks of a crash in Ohio, involving a plane he was not on. A man thanks god he no longer works in an office and can spend his days with butterflies and film. My father does not share today, and he cannot contribute to the basket either.
We leave the church and emerge into steaming St. Augustine. We stroll through the tourist section, glancing in the uniform one-story stucco shops. Beige walls and brown doors, with the same Florida mugs and lousy tee shirts in the window displays.
“You hungry, kid?”
“Well, now’s the time to seek shelter from the heat in restaurant A/C.”
“Can we wait a bit? I’m not so hungry.”
“Well, watcha wanna do?”
In spite of the heat, I say, “Let’s see the harbor.” We walk to the harbor and look at the old fort. The brown on beige of a tourist sign says that St. Augustine is the oldest European city in the Americas. The Spanish built the city and fought with the French to keep it.
I want it to mean something that my fat father, who believes in fate, has fallen in with the oldest European city in America.
We sit on the stone wall protecting the city and look out at small motor boats bobbing along the water.
I break my drift to say, “I’ve been spending some time with this girl.”
“Yeah? Havin’ fun?”
“Al, if you ain’t havin’ fun, there’s no use in stickin’ around.”
“She keeps things interesting. All her judging and talking.”
“You mean bitchin’ and moanin’?”
Just then, I realize she reminds me of him. And that if he were her father, she would describe his nonworking life as one he has chosen. Not at all a greatness thrust upon him but a mediocrity he has embraced. That’s how she’d complain about Dad.
“Hey, Al. Why don’t you check out large titties in the coffee shop. She looks like fun.”
Back in Philly, the girl termed me a breast man and apologized for having none. My father has larger tits than the barista.
The water laps up against our stone wall. Could this be the original barrier? The first wall constructed by European man in the new world? I move my palm along the uneven stones. They are smooth, hard, and quiet; they say nothing but stay on task for centuries.
We drive to a fish house with five-dollar lunch specials. He orders scallops and I order shrimp. The seafood is fried and juiced through and each piece offers a good sum of meat. The vegetable is green beans and the mashed potatoes are real and topped with butter. We eat fast and afterwards order dessert. My father leaves two dollars for the waitress, and I add a third because my “career” since college has been that kind of work or worse.
At the Laundromat, I throw in his clothes as Dad inserts quarters. We are cooled only by an old, weak fan, but I take this opportunity to ask what has been on my mind.
“Where’d you get the money?”
“I got a backer. Same guy who bought me the tires last month. I told him my son was coming down, and he offered to lend me some cash.”
I remember him telling me of a rich friend who insisted upon sharing his wealth. I doubt my father begged, but I can imagine how he told his story, and the gracious way in which he palmed these alms for the poor.
We retreat across the street, where we enter a store called the Liberated Mind. We walk into what appears to be part bookstore and part coffee shop, the kind of place popping up all over. Two men greet my father as they would a regular. Dave and Hal run the shop. Dad gives Dave his grand-opening coupon for free coffee, and I buy lemonade. The books are a blend of new age, popular psychology, and the usual post-sixties stuff. Prominently displayed classics include Alan Watts, Ram Das, and Robert Pirsig. Packaged in shrink wrap and cooled by crisp A/C.
I see a bunch of old board games, and because we wait for laundry, I look through them and pick out scrabble. I bring it to the small table where my father sits.
“Tomorrow night,” says Dave, “we’re having a big scrabble competition. You’re welcome to join us.”
Dave brings the drinks and sits down. We draw letters and Dad gets an A and goes first. The first word always gets a double-word score and Dad’s first word is WILL. He counts seven and doubles it for fourteen, but I think WILL is at least a triple word. There is WILL as in force, WILL as in inheritance, WILL as in the future tense, or WILL as in a little boy’s name. Dave answers with LORD, attaching his ORD onto Dad’s last L.
“So where you from?”
“Did you read about the plane crash up there?”
“Yeah,” I respond, suppressing the urge to mention it happened in Ohio.
“If you believe things happen for a reason.” Dave’s incomplete thought looms over the board as a customer comes in from the heat. “Come on in!” Dave welcomes him. “Did you see our ad in the paper?”
The newcomer nods. He wears a full beard and black trench coat, too much in this heat. He looks nervous. In the South, a man might fear being spotted inside the Liberated Mind. Or so a narrow-minded Yankee presumes. “Come on in and have a browse. Make yourself at home.”
Dave returns to the game and declares, “My goodness. I could have done WORD instead of LORD and gotten three extra points!”
“It makes sense you were distracted,” says Dad. “Nothing offers more anxiety than opening up a new word or store.”
“Yes,” says Dave.
“And Word and Lord are one,” says my father.
“I believe that,” says Dave.
“Points are in the heart,” says my father.
“Yes,” says Dave.
“Nothing in this world happens by chance,” says Dad.
“Amen, brother,” says Dave.
Both my father and Dave are men trying to believe. I see them as men who have felt an early chill—of poverty or loneliness or death—and now they seek a meaning to the end.
Dave turns back to the browsing customer, who quiescently thumbs through the world. “Wednesday evening, we have a group discussion. You’re welcome to join us.”
Dave walks over and hands a flier to the man.
“Thanks.” The man takes the flier and departs, as if he were only waiting for the invite. Dave returns to our word game.
“What are you discussing?” I ask.
“It’s an open forum. I’m up for just about anything.”
In Dave’s eyes, I see a faint glistening of apocalyptic portent.
We pass through two dull rounds of scrabble. The game ages and the words lose import as we play only for the points, the winning. With a firm lead, Dad rises and walks out to throw his clothes in the dryer.
When my father is gone, Dave says, “I think your daddy is a special man.”
I am unsure of why he is special and unsure of why Dave says this. It may only be the kind of thing said to the son of a penniless man, but I guess he speaks of Dad’s sense of humor.
“He’s a funny guy,” I say.
“What do you mean?” asks Dave.
“He can make most anyone laugh,” I say. “No matter who the person is he can make them smile.” As soon as this is out, I realize that Dave, intent on meaning, may have been thinking something entirely humorless. I hope I have not ruptured his idea of my dad. I imagine Dave is like most men, unable to let another’s opinion affect their own self-involved viewpoint. My father may or may not affect others, but I contend he can make them smile.
He returns sweaty from changing loads. “We’re going to have to watch stuff now.” We play a final round of scrabble. Dad’s word is BROKE. Dave’s word is END, and I use an O to connect GO and OR. Back at the Laundromat, my father and I fold sheets and socks.
On the way home, Dad remembers he needs a few groceries. I am surprised when we speed by a Wal-Mart and then a large-sized local grocer. He takes a left off the main road, another left, and then gets us to “Bob’ Groce”—the “s,” “r,” and “y” no longer lit by green neon.
“Look, Bob’s gross. He’s a heavy dude, Al, and he’s disgusting.” Dad winks and punches me lightly on the shoulder. Inside, the aisles are dimly lit, and the shelves are half empty, with available cans and jars pushed toward the front. As far as I can tell, there are no refrigerated items, just dark, empty shelves where the milk and eggs ought to be. Dad moves to a table full of generic packages of doughnuts and other pastries. Pink and green icing or a rainbow of sparkles ruins every one; they are the cheap kind with knock-off names like Ted’s Toasties and Howdy-Doo Does. Dad selects several boxes and moves over to the register.
He produces his food stamps and hands them to Bob, or the grim wide man at the counter. Dad’s doppelganger, save for the fact the man looks cool, even mad. “Oh, he’s still angry at the economy,” I imagine my father saying as he shuffles out of the shop and back to his own predicament. The silent transaction complete, Dad takes his boxes of sugar and food coloring, and we leave the store.
“Bob’s got the system rigged,” Dad says to me as we walk to the car.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“He takes food stamps for junk food.”
It’s slow to sink in but I understand. Why waste a backer’s cash on the essentials if Cousin Bob and Uncle Sam can provide them for free? The backer. The government. Soup at the church? In the imagined or presumed idea of what was to be my life, this was to have been another person’s father. The thick red shame of it all does well to complement the humidity and heat.
Back at his place, he strips down to his underwear and relaxes on the bed. I stare at the blob of flesh that is belly. He is on his side, and it droops down upon the mattress. A long yawn and then he says he likes to make a day of doing just one thing, like a month’s worth of laundry. Out of the sun, and with the wind blowing from the water and cooling his place, I have energy for the first time since morning. As my father drifts off, I peruse his bookshelf, looking for something special among a shelf of sallow paperbacks. He has kept all his trade-paper Russians and Kunderas, and more recently added newer self-help and how-to-writes for memoir and screenplay, but I select from a section of Hemingway and pick out The Sun Also Rises.
It is my father’s copy from college, the Scribner Classic edition. When I was in Paris, I felt proud to read the same copies of Dostoyevsky as Hemingway read at Shakespeare & Company. Hemingway wrote his first stories in Paris, and as a busboy, un commis, I broke my first wine glasses there and wrote only a little in a journal each day.
I sit and open the book and read. Robert Cohn was a Jew from Princeton. I am half a Jew from Philadelphia. My father is fat goyim, from Jersey City, and growing old South of Jacksonville Beach. He is once removed from computers in California, where he grew weary of corporate tech and cashed in his severance pay.
A real fleshy father is as powerful as a famous father figure and reading my father’s Hemingway moves me as much as reading Hemingway’s Dostoyevsky in a dimly lit studio by the Gare Du Nord—the African ghetto of the tenth arrondissement. It was the Constance Garnett translation of The Possessed, a book about fathers and sons, father figures and figurines. The red hardcover was faded and worn, and its pages would tear if I weren’t careful turning them.
My father wakes up and rolls over. He turns on the television and breaks my concentration. Its blare drowns the perfect sound of steady sea washing in and away from near shore.
The next morning he is up and active. “Yo Al! Yo Al!” I arise and move for the coffee.
“Today, I gotta go down to school. A friend told me they sign up substitutes on the spot. I’m gonna check it out.”
He leaves and I read. The Sun Also Rises is so dull and sad that I put it down and walk out on the deck. It is breezy and overcast, good weather for running on the beach. I put on running socks and sneakers and my black bathing trunks and descend the wooden stairs that lead to sand. I walk down the sloping beach to a solid damp strip where the water no longer rises. I start to jog and feel my tight leg muscles loosen with heat and sweat. I run very slowly and tire too soon. My conditioning is very poor though my body has some muscle tone. I quit after a mile and walk slowly back to Dad’s porch.
On his deck, I take off my glasses and socks and shoes and begin some stretches. I stretch my quadriceps and hamstrings and groins and calves and shins. I try to hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds. My mind drifts from my body and wanders to the last passage of Foucault’s The Order of Things.
In college and after, I spent much time daydreaming of Foucault and other so-called important thinkers; more recently, I have wondered what it was in their books that I found so appealing. Now, nothing about them seems relevant or of interest, but the shore reminds me of Foucault’s image of the face of man being washed away from the sands of time. He believed man was a concept that was introduced in the sixteenth century and one that could disappear in ours. My father is a strange, late version of this idea of man. Fat and old and owning no property but perceiving his own omniscience and authority. His weight and finances seem destined to wash him from these shores.
After stretching, I walk into the ocean. The water seems warm for September, salty and fairly calm. I wade in the surf but opt not to venture beyond the breakers due to my fear of sharks. Foucault’s father was a wealthy doctor, and I believe Hemingway’s was as well. Fathers who could save sons from carnivorous fish, or at least amputate the damaged leg. I return to the apartment, shower, and read.
My father bursts in, and I ask him how it went.
“There’s no work out there, Al. I got a master’s from Harvard but there ain’t work out there. No one needs a smart Yankee down here.”
Or a tired old fat one, searching for private-sector employment with a degree from the School of Education.
We eat hotdogs and sauerkraut for lunch. After lunch, my father calls the telephone company and explains to them that he cannot pay his debt. He gets angry over a misunderstanding and berates the customer-service rep. He owes ninety bucks for last month plus three hundred from the winter, but he yells at the lady because before they said he could pay the ninety to keep the line and now she’s telling him three ninety or nothing. But he holds neither sum so the point is moot, and bankruptcy leaves one bitter or quarrelsome. He hangs up and bitches about those corporate mothers. When you lose your phone, you lose call backs from prospective employers too. I listen and despair and resist the urge to write him a check that would never be repaid.
We sit in silence, and then a few minutes later, I hear resilience in his voice. “Good thing my downstairs buddy is willing to let me run his line up here.”
Dad walks into his closet, searches through, and returns with some lengthy extension cords. He descends to Ed’s apartment and gets to work. I sit and read and listen to him fiddle around downstairs. After fifteen minutes, he yells up, “Check for the dial tone, would ya Al?”
I pick up the phone and yell down, “Yeah, I hear it.”
“You lose one phone and you work to get another.”
We sit in silence and he says, “Yo Al! Watcha thinkin’?”
“Thinkin’ about the fact that you’re flat broke and barely trying to get work.”
“I’m lookin’. You saw me go down to school today.”
“But what about any job?”
“All the jobs out there pay six bucks an hour. Forty hours at six bucks per, when you take out for taxes and food and rent, you don’t got gas money left to get to work. So I’d have to get a second job and work sixty hours a week. Why would I want to do that?”
“Gee, Al. You know that ain’t life. I’d be too tired to do anything else except sleep and work.”
I don’t know what to say. His thinking makes sense, but shit life is better than no life, right? I think of The Sun Also Rises, and I wonder what Hemingway would say.
“Whatever happened to the Lost Child Fund?” I ask.
“That wasn’t no money maker, Al. Kevin said I’d gross a thousand a month, but I made less than a hundred bucks on it in July. Kevin had it goin’ alright for himself. But the fucker invested ten thousand dollars in the scam. He had to make it work, so he was buying up the boxes of other poor saps taken in by the company. He’s got one hundred fifty boxes out there, and he’s trying to make it work.”
The Lost Child Fund claims to aid the search for missing children—runaways, kidnapping victims, and other milk-carton disappearances. With Kevin’s help, my father had taken a driving route of fifty donation boxes. He placed boxes on the counters of fifty businesses—restaurants and convenience stores mostly. Each box was filled with candy and had a coin slot for a donation. My father collected the coins and twenty-five percent was sent to the Lost Child Fund.
“Each box wasn’t gettin’ more than two bucks a week. Plus there’s theft by store employees and customers, and you gotta pay store owners a percentage to get them to look out for your box.
“And who the hell knows what Kevin did with the money I gave him. Ain’t a dime went to aiding the search for missing kids. The whole deal was a scam, plus in the fuckin’ heat down here, the candy would melt in the backseat.”
The more removed from his white-collar experience, the more his words retreat to their impoverished origins. I feel cheated by this regression. I want to believe in his personal responsibility, and he makes the soundings of poor education and poverty. But his words sink through. I feel sympathy, and I nod.
When my father next rises, he prepares for his Toastmaster’s meeting. He appears energetic again. Alive. As he puts on clothes, he talks. His first speech was on not taking yourself seriously. Next week he will speak on destiny. My father believes in God’s will. He believes in fate. He believes nothing happens by coincidence. He believes the lord will provide. I imagine my father giving a final sermon at the Coffin Inn.
He leaves for his meeting, and I stay by the beach and read Hemingway. The book is sad and dull, but his description of a fishing scene or bull fight or sipping espresso in a Parisian café leaves me longing I were there.
A couple hours later, my father returns.
“Yo Al! Yo Al! How ya doin’?”
He sits down and silence follows.
“Jeez, Al. Won’t you talk to me?”
I don’t know what to say. I try to choose words and think things through. “I’m worried about you.”
“Me? You gotta worry about you first.”
I too am unemployed.
“Look kid, don’t worry about me. I paid my money and took my chances. I screwed up my own life. You got your whole future in front of you. You gotta get out there and hustle for a buck.”
He may be right, and this adds to my impatience. I feel a sudden desire to head north.
“I’m going back tomorrow.”
He looks upset.
“I’m at a crossroads too. I have energy. I want to work. I want to write.”
“Don’t you wanna earn money?”
“I don’t want to hurt people.”
“Oh yeah, I hear what you’re saying.” Dad looks overly sympathetic. “I understand. It’s okay.”
I feel like an ass for saying all that. I want to write. I don’t want to hurt people. And already ashamed, I add, “But even when I don’t mean to hurt them, I often do. By accident, on purpose, through action and speech.”
“Ain’t that the way kid. I feel like I’ve gone my whole life makin’ enemies when I was only tryin’ to make friends. Always laughin’ at the wrong time and cryin’ with no one else.”
“Look, kid. Is it the Church thing? Are you upset I want to go to that dinner?”
“Well, if it’s your last night, let’s eat out by ourselves.”
“I’ll treat tonight.” As soon as these words surface, I detest myself for the pride I feel.
“Good,” he says.
We find an all-you-can-eat fish special at a small place called the Red Diner. The booths are mauve and the tile floor is pink. The fish is trigger—very breaded, greasy and good. The waitress enjoys our presence and eagerly brings us seconds and then thirds. I have a lot to say to my father, and I wish I could, but I cannot precisely articulate what I feel. And I nod and listen to his commentary on the meaning of life and life after death and fate and God and one day at a time. He describes the psychology of the waitress’s family based upon the speed with which she brought more food.
When we’re finished eating, I slap down my plastic card and feel nothing extreme. A slight satisfaction, perhaps.
After I sign, we drive back to the coffee shop. The three baristas recognize us at once. I smile at the one with breasts and brown eyes and feel shame for perceiving her in this way. My father has no jokes for them today.
At the table, I say, “I know an old man who has money.”
Dad looks skeptical, but I continue.
“I asked him to lend you two thousand dollars. But he said he doesn’t know you.”
“Al, don’t ever beg. Jeez. I ain’t raise you for that.”
But his backer pays for our drinks.
After coffees, we walk over to a late-night bookstore. They have a selection of damaged and used books going for a dollar apiece. Perhaps it is only coincidence that I find a torn and abused copy of Paul Auster’s City of Glass. I know this gem is a book for Dad. Auster is a man of connections, a self-involved and near-sighted talent, who grapples in his dark for meaning long ago lost at sea. Much like myself, much like my father; indeed, the trees do not grow far from the apples even if a discarded core might be the most we would find in the local sands. My father accepts the book with a wide smile and a tear in his eye.
In the morning, I pack and load my car, and then we take coffee on the deck. Washed up upon the shore are a couple brown logs. My father points out to it. “Jeez,” he says. “You know what that is, Al?”
“The remains of a Cuban refugee raft.”
We go down and take a look. The logs are of rotten brown wood strapped together with twine and white rags stained dirty grey.
“Ain’t no coastguard markings on this one, Al. That means the refugees were never picked up.”
“Could they have jumped off and swum to freedom?”
“Nope,” knows Dad. “They’re dead.”
We walk some more.
“Jeez, Al. I was only joking.” I look at him skeptically. “There’s no raft, Al. No one died. It’s just driftwood. Could be from anything, but Cuban rafts don’t wash up this far north.”
As my father rescues the Cubans who were lost at sea, I reach into my pocket and can feel the crisp bills. I grab them all and begin to pull them out, but then hesitate. Within my pocket, I loosen one from the others and let it remain. And then just before pulling out the other two, I dive back in and come back with the single bill. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t want to help or because I need the money, but I hope that a cheap, unforgiving bastard of a son is better than no son at all.
He takes the twenty dollar bill.
“Jeez, Al. I don’t want your money.”
I look at his hand holding the bills and wonder what will become of the money. And then, I wonder what will become of my father.
Looking up, I see drops sliding down either cheek. As he pockets the cash, he’s staring back at me and smiling through his tears.
“Thanks, son. Thanks for the visit.”
By the car, we share in a long hard hug. He is heavy and strong, and he grips me tight. In his grasp, I feel the full weight of my father—a man who squandered money on the Lost Child Fund, searches more for self than work, and grows old by a bright sun and windy sea. At once, I feel love and anger and doubt and shame, and I stick to him like a suction.
And then I push and wiggle out of his grip, get in the car, and drive.
For the first hour, I feel nothing but despair. I am sad to go although I was bored and too anxiety-ridden to enjoy our shared time. Hours later, I am just south of Hilton Head when the traffic comes to a complete stop. People leave their cars and mill about. Old folks chew the fat. Truckers stand atop their cabs, so they can look ahead. It’s damn hot. I sip from my gallon jug of water. The old folks, perhaps twenty years my father’s senior, appear in much better health and spirits.
My father is fifty-four and fat and flat broke, and I try my best to forgive him for that.
“There’s a rig on fire up ahead,” hollers one trucker.
I turn off the engine, leave the car, walk across the shoulder, over the green grass, to the mesh fence where I unzip my shorts and take a long, lazy piss. I wonder, as I do so, about the placement of public pissing in Southern protocol. I come back to the car and read Hemingway.
Alex Kudera’s award-winning adjunct novel, Fight for Your Long Day (Atticus Books), was drafted in a walk-in closet during a summer in Seoul, South Korea. In 2016, he published Auggie’s Revenge with Beating Windward Press as well as a Classroom Edition of Fight for Your Long Day with Hard Ball Press. The e-singles “Frade Killed Ellen” (Dutch Kills Press), “Turquoise Truck” (Mendicant Bookworks), and “The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity” (Gone Dog Press) are available most anywhere books are downloaded. When he isn’t writing, he works, walks, frets, fails, and helps raise a child.