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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Where I Came From

I bought myself a birthday gift today.

I don't know much about it, but that doesn't bother me.  The seat is covered in a coral-hued fabric, there's wicker underneath the cloth.  The back is punched leather, and there's wicker behind that, too.  The little sticker from the antique mall just said, "Swivel Chair - Oak.  $85".  I offered to pay cash, so they gave it to me for $70.  Life is good, you know.

I saw it a week ago, and I wanted it then, but my wife and the babies and I left the antique mall last weekend and I let myself think about it for a couple days.  See, I'm a pretty impulsive guy, so I thought I'd see if I still wanted the chair come, Wednesday, say.  I did.  Ten years ago, I bought a wooden swivel chair from K-mart and, well, it's just not the same.  There's no character, no history.  No one's ever farted in that K-mart chair besides me.  I like things that have been farted in, apparently.  You should see my trouser collection.

So, today, I put the babies in the car and, on a whim, I picked up the phone and called my father.

"Hey, want to take a ride with me and the babies?  We're going to an antiques mart to pick something up."

"Where?" he asked, "you mean, like across the street, or like, New York?"

"Well," I hedged, pulling up to their house, "it's somewhere in between."

The antiques mart is 23 miles away from where we live, and is around a 45 minute drive.  The babies were blissfully quiet in the back, and my father did what he does best-- which is keeping conversation going.  He asked me questions about the babies he already knew the answers to, or had forgotten, he chatted about a conference for entrepreneurs he attended where he met the mayor and inadvertently put his foot in his mouth-- this happens a lot.  He talked about successfully suing a local radio station, for what I have no idea, and his thoughts about possibly suing his web design contractor.  My father also wants to sue the hospital where my brother-in-law was diagnosed with and treated for the cancer that quickly killed him, but thankfully that subject didn't come up on this leisurely drive down Route 1.

"I hope this thing actually fits in the car," I said during a silence, "I didn't take any measurements."  I never do.

"What are we picking up?" he asked.

"Oh-- it's an office chair, an antique office chair with a cloth seat and a leather back."

He looked at me.  I looked at the road.

"Where did you come from?" he asked, shaking his head, "I mean, seriously-- an antique fucking chair?  Where did you come from anyway?"

I shrugged.

"You know, I ask myself that question a lot, too."

"I mean, I know I have family on my side that liked music and things-- and my cousin, you know, the one that was in love with my brother, she had an antique show in South Africa a while ago.  But you?  I just don't know what it's all about."

And he never did.  But one thing that was always understood was that, however bizarre and off-the-wall my latest interest was, he would be there to indulge it.  During the late eighties, when the Olympics were held in Seoul, I decided, at age 8, that I was going to grow up to marry a Korean girl.  The language fascinated me, so I would have my father drive me to Darby-- 69th Street-- where there was a small Korean enclave, and I would look at all the strange neon signs on storefronts and windows, and I would make him buy me Korean language newspapers that I would take home and study, and copy onto lined paper.  My lust for antique VW Beetles raged unquenchable for years and, when I was fourteen, a 1966 Beetle-- Bahama Blue-- somehow ended up in our driveway.  I sometimes went off to summer camp dressed in a dark blue, heavy wool three-piece suit in 100-degree weather.

No one ever said "no" to me.  But they probably always wondered "why".

I don't know who they would have asked.

"Look," he said to me as I piloted my wife's Honda Fit towards through the towns leading to the antique mart, "just be who you are-- you always were who you are.  The minute you start to change, you can't live in your own skin.  I never changed for anybody."

"Yes," I said, "you did.  You changed a lot."

It was quiet for a second.

"Yeah-- okay, yeah, I did.  But I knew if I was going to stay in this country, I'd have to change-- otherwise it wouldn't be fair to anybody."

I've changed, too.  I'm a husband, and I'm a father, two times over.  I'm no longer chasing dreams of policing the streets as a genteel beat cop, and I'm satisfied with the humble life of the occasional community theatre performer.  I'm no writer, I'm a blogger, and that's okay with me.  When my wife was pregnant, she was worried that the babies would change us into some unrecognizable entity, that they would supplant our identities.  It happens, you know.  Just look at the Facebook profile pictures of the people you went to school with-- many of their profile pictures have been replaced with pictures of their offspring.

But that's supposed to be you.  There's still a you in there-- isn't there?  That's what identity is, I think; who we are and what we love and what piques our interest.  My identity is comprised of my preferences and my proclivities and my habits and my collections.  My sillies.  And I suppose I'm glad I'm still bringing back silly things from antique malls.  And I think, in his way, my father's glad, too.

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