"We should do this more often," he said to me afterwards. "And you should be the one who is inviting me."
At least he didn't say that I'm the one who should be paying.''
My father always says what he is thinking. At least, I think he does. If he holds back, well, that would be scary, because I wouldn't want to know what is going on in his head if it contains a vault of things unsaid.
In dubious English.
He invited me to Saxby's, a burgeoning coffee chain that has franchise shops sprouting up like zits in this particular part of the world. The first time he asked me out to breakfast with him, he told me to meet him at "Sexboys." This was, to the best of my knowledge, an unintentional malapropism. Since he has been corrected, he persists in mispronouncing its name, but now does so cognizent of the error, and he now jokingly refers to our breakfast haunt as "Sexyboys," "Sexy's," and, most recently, "the Xylophone place." That last one I can't figure out for the life of me. My wife, in great consternation over this moniker, proffered, "Well, do they play xylophone music there?" In a stunning role-reversal, I put my hand on her shoulder and said,
"Honey, don't think so much."
When I pulled into Sexboy's parking lot, there was only one other car there-- my father's jet black BMW. I can't help but shake my head when I see this car. My father has a notorious hatred for cars, and they don't like him very much either. His first year in this country, he backed a car into a patrol car during a traffic stop for speeding. The next year, some maniac slammed into his car in a shitty section of Philadelphia. My father threw his car into drive and chased the guy for five blocks. At a red light, my father jumped out of his car and stormed up to the driver's side of the offending vehicle only to be greeted by the muzzle of a pistol being pointed at him. He wisely retreated.
Since the rockin' 1970s, my father has obliterated several other vehicles-- Oldsmobiles and Buicks, a Pontiac Bonneville. He's never killed a foreign car, so I guess it's good that, somewhere in the mid-1990s, my family decided somehow that it was too good to drive American cars anymore. Though a 1987 Volvo 740 GL quit on him in the middle of a snowstorm on the George Washington Bridge. My father took out his briefcase and stormed away from the car. "It abandons me? I abandon it! Fuck that!" he said when he got home two days later.
My father has always had a strained relationship when it came to cars. "A car is to get me from Poin' A, to Poin' B," is his most notorious vehicular catchphrase. Then what, you might argue, is a man espousing that philosophy doing behind the wheel of a BMW? Well, all I can say about that is, we're human beings. And what would we be if we weren't constantly contradicting ourselves? We wouldn't be being very human now, would we? Make too much sense and people will start calling you an animal.
Getting out of my car at Sexboys, I turned and caught a glimpse inside the window of my father's BMW. Thank God for cameraphones:
My father's BMW looks like a cubicle in a "Dilbert" cartoon. If you look really closely, you can see a sticky-note placed right in front of the speedometer. I guess this isn't really as dangerous as it looks: my father never looks at the speedometer anyway. He might as well have Post-Its covering the side and rearview mirrors, too.
I got my usual: meat, cheese, egg, bread-- coffee: whole milk and the sugar container upturned for forty-five seconds. He got his usual: light cream cheese on a sesame seed bagel-- coffee: black. When our food was on the table, I looked at the two disparate meals and wondered if I would be getting the bagel and black coffee someday, my unhealthy, poor-postured son seated across from me consuming copious amounts of sodium and sugar. Some day, maybe. Hopefully. I don't know.
Our breakfasts together are, well, unpredictable. I never know how they're going to go. Yes, there's always pontificating and swearing and at least some laughter. Or at least a derisive smirk and snort. There's always coffee. Ever the Israeli, he gave me my first taste of coffee when I was eight years old, and it flows through whichever veins of mine are not obstructed by pork detritus. Yes, I eat pork. And he eats shrimp. And God laughs at us, and at those who keep kosher. I think he's only ever really disappointed at the people who shoot each other in the world's alleyways, and when Joy Behar opens her mouth.
I told my father that I will be leaving my job in August to return to the streets as an emergency medical technician. It's funny-- I was afraid of telling my parents this because, as someone who holds a bachelor's degree (admittedly, it's in theatre, which is as useless as holding a bachelor's degree in strawberry cupcake development) and a master's degree, I was worried they would chastise me, maybe appropriately, for wasting my intellect and my life on a, well, manual career of certain poverty and servitude.
But, you know, my father rose to the occasion like the hairy, Israeli phoenix that he is. He didn't cut me down, or berate me, or make me feel guilty. He didn't tell me he was wasting my life. He was just my Daddy, and expressed his fears that I could be hurt in an ambulance accident, or be attacked by a psychopathic patient.
"Or partner," I chimed in, reminding him of the thick-necked paramedic who once tried to brain me with a clipboard.
He smiled. "Right. Or partner."
Lots of boys grow up thinking that their fathers are brilliant men. My wife's father, for instance, is a brilliant man-- and I suspect that being brilliant isn't easy, because my father-in-law takes forty-five minutes to put on a pair of pants and, if you go to "Target" with him and you're not careful, he will outright vanish-- possibly teleported to a Mensa meeting. A longtime friend of my wife's family described my father-in-law this way,
"He'll never look you in the eye. His eyes are always up, staring at some invisible chalkboard-- that only he can see-- and it's probably got all these complicated equations on it-- stuff you and me would never understand."
I don't know if my father is brilliant or not, and I'm not sure I remember ever thinking, when I was a boy, that he was. One thing I know for sure is that he and I are well-matched, in spite of the disparity in our command of the English language, and how different our breakfast choices may be. My wife's father has his invisible chalkboard. My father has his dashboard cubicle. It's all the same, really. More or less.
"What do I know?" he said to me one day, during a discussion about one of life's greater questions, "I'm just a girdle man." This he said with a twinkle in his eye, parrotting something I said to him years ago. He's the president of a company that makes undergarments for women-- and men-- and I said to him one day, not in anger, but definitely with great insensitivity, "Daddy, you're just a girdle man." I said it to him after he asked to see some piece of creative writing I'd done at age 12.
Just a girdle man. God, what an asshole I am. At least he's able to laugh it off now. Come August, I'll be "just an EMT." The son of a girdle man.