My Wingman; My Dad
Thanksgiving isn't always turkey with mashed potatoes and the Macy's Day Parade. Sometimes it's just you, your Dad and a cheeseburger with a beer at the local sports bar figuring out a way to avoid the holiday.
Six words. Six little words. I was mortified. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
My Dad picks me up from the airport and we drive seven miles to sit in a sports bar in Ferndale the night before Thanksgiving. It’s tradition. We order from a happy hour bar menu. We are not rushing to thaw a turkey, and we pity the people who do. Our eyes fixate just over each other’s heads as we watch the Seahawks on two separate wide-screen televisions. Communication isn’t really our thing. Our cheeseburgers arrive with everything on them, despite my detailed instructions for everything on the side.
“There’s mayonnaise on it,” I complain to my Dad.
He doesn’t look up from his plate. “Yeah well there’s kids starving in Zimbabwe and begging for mayonnaise,” he says. “Eat up.”
It’s always the same story, just a different location that doesn’t make sense: children in Tripoli, or Bangkok, Newfoundland or Compton. And since I only complain about the mayonnaise, apparently they are only begging for condiments.
“Listen Dad, there’s something I have to tell you,” I say during the commercial break.
“Oh God, now what?” he says, as though I am a problem child, or am asking him to post bond. “You’re going to give your old man a heart attack.”
“What do you mean, ‘Now what?’ Geez’” I become twelve.
“Rip the bandaid off fast,” he says.
“Ok, You remember the Fillmore, well I was at Lucinda’s concert,” I say, “You remember the Fillmore, right?”
“And, oh, I just love those purple chandeliers…Someday I’m going to have a purple chandelier like that in my house. Anyway, after the concert, Lu and I were on her bus, and I got this email on my phone and it was from this address that I totally didn’t recognize,” I chatter on.
“How do you get an email on your phone?” he asks.
My eyes widen. “How do I get an email on my phone?” I show him my iPhone. He stares at it and squints.
“Forget it,” I say, looking at his calculator watch from the 80’s. “I’ll explain it when you get rid of your top-loader VCR and use that DVD player I got you five Christmasses ago.”
He looks at the iPhone and I continue, “Right so Dad, you remember Lucinda right? Well like I said, she came through town the other day…”
“Jesus Christ,” he says. “Are you going to tell this story like your mother? Get to the point!”
“Well thanks Dad,” I say. “Now I don’t even want to tell you.”
“Oh Lord! Are you pregnant or what?” he says.
“No I’m not pregnant.”
“Well fine then, it can wait until the next commercial,” he says, satisfied with my answer and waves down the cocktail waitress for another beer.
I am organizing the sugar packets by color, when I see Laney Sampson. She is at the cashier, on the family side of the restaurant, paying her bill. In high school she was a cheerleader. She turned that three-year experience into being a stripper, and then she became a Christian. Last time I saw her I was home from college, stepping off the Greyhound, and she was throwing up in the strip mall parking lot across the street. It was seven in the morning, and she had just gotten off of her shift. I sat with her and gave her a Marlboro Light because that’s the latest diet I was on. She had no idea who I was; She called me her best friend.
She walks toward our table. I’ve been seen.
“Hey Laney,” I say. “How are you?”
“Doing great!” she says.
“You look great,” I say before it was too late to tell the truth.
“Really?” she says, “You think so? I took the Real Age test and it said that I was 49—Can you believe that noise?”
“I can’t” I say. “They got my age wrong too,” I tell her.
“Like 31?” she says.
I give her the thumbs down. “Younger.”
“Twenty Six,” she says.
I push aside the fort I made with the sugar packets.
“Eight,” I say.
“Eight?” she says. “I’ve got children almost twice your age!”
Her key ring jangles, full of quotes from scripture and the cross. She goes on to tell me about all of the things that the Lord has provided for her and her Pastor husband and their three kids. A house, good schools, a sub zero refrigerator.
She flashes a photograph of her children. “They are very bright,” she tells me, “All of them: On the honor roll. And what about you?” she asks, staring at my beer.
I reach for it slowly and take a drink. “I didn’t make the honor roll.” I say
“No,” she says, “Are you in New York? In advertising or writing those little story thingees?”
This is why I hate Thanksgiving. I hate these interviews. I hate Facebook, too, which is really just High School Musical, Part 2.
I don’t want to tell her about my life; about my apartment, or my friends, or my job. I work in advertising in a job that no one understands, and everyone thinks they can do. My last client was The Girls Next Door, and I know she will disapprove, despite her fake boobery.
“So you have a kid? A boyfriend?” she snoops for my emotional real estate.
“I have a dog,” I say. “He’s 8 months.”
She wrinkles her nose. “It’s not the same. I know everyone thinks it’s the same. It’s not.”
There’s a standoff. I get the impression that she doesn’t like dogs. And I only really have one rule for humans: If you don’t like dogs, I don’t like you.
Finally, she says: “It’s amazing to see you again. We heard you were dead.”
“We heard you were dead!” my Dad interrupts in an I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I kind of way.
“We didn’t hear that, Laney,” I say. “What he means is that we heard you were born again.”
“Born again and blessed,” she says, “My husband and I bought a house up in Sudden Valley. It’s been terrible weather, just terrible. It’s a good thing we have the Land Rover to get around.”
My Dad butts in, “Praise God!” I kick him under the table.
“The Lord is good,” she reminds us again, and rolls her eyes up to the ceiling. It is littered with bottle caps and yellow stains from decades old cigarettes.
“Sure is,” my Dad says, “Now willya move over, I can’t see the game.”
I move a chair out for her. Laney sits down beside me, and taps her French manicured nails on the table.
“So, when are you publishing that book of yours I keep hearing about? The one about the rockstar,” she pauses to edit herself, and then decides not to, “and the journalist who is really, really successful?”
I panic as I think of the stack of rejection letters from 2008 that I ran through the shredder. Rejection letters that weren’t even letters, but strips of paper, or photocopies by Xerox machines that were low on toner. Even the Xerox machine, whose only job it had was to tell me to Fuck Off and Die, was sick of me.
“I’m getting published,” I say. “In January.”
“You are?” Laney says.
“You are?” my Dad asks.
“I am,” I say, realizing I have just made a terrible mistake. I don’t talk about myself, and this is why. “It’s a love story, kinda. A memoir.”
“Love!” my dad laughs.
“Well what’s it called?” Laney asks.
“Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”
“Six Words?” they say at the same time.
“So it’s a billboard?” my dad says, suddenly an expert.
“Or a jingle,” Laney offers.
“Or a get well card,” my Dad continues the game.
There’s a pause. I can hear only the sportscaster’s voice now, the Seahawks have fumbled the ball, even he sounds disappointed.
“Well I ought to get going,” Laney says like she’s taking off from my cafeteria table. We may as well be in high school. I am a piece of mold, the underdog, the 12th Man, the last chair in Clarinet just hoping not to get thrown into the lake at band camp. She has all the material she needs for a three-day marathon of gossip with girlfriends from bible study.
When she leaves, I notice her expensive handbag and her Pilatied body. I struggle to get ketchup out of the bottle, and eat cold fries.
“A get well card, Dad?” I say, “Thank you Wingman.”
We get to a commercial break. The Seattle Seahawks are losing. The bar is lined with men who hang on the outcome of every ref’s decision. They drink, and cheer, and yell and say, We’ll get them next time.
“Okay,” my Dad says, “I’m all ears. What’s your big news?”
The waitress eavesdrops as she clears our dishes. The mayonnaise sits, warmed over, an unfortuntae waste for the children of Ghana.
“That was my news,” I tell him.
“What, the six words?” he says.
“Really?” he says. “What words?”
“Ok,” I say. “’Dear Salt: Stop Calling! Love, Wound’....'Dear Modern Bride Magazine: Please Unsubscribe.'”
I see that he is calculating every loser I ever dated and marveling how I could roll that up into six words.
“Did that test really say your real age was eight?” he says finally.
“Yeah,” I say. “It did.”
He puts on his reading glasses and uses a little pencil to fill in a Lotto ticket. The jackpot is 18 Million. I drink what’s left of the beer; the stuff at the bottom that nobody wants.
“Well, hey then, there you go," he says without looking up. "My little girl’s got plenty of time.”