“Couldn’t find the gloves,” I said.
“Where’d you look?”
“Last I saw them they were in the trunk. They’re not there now and it’s getting late. You don’t know where they are, do you?”
“No,” Carolyn sighed.
I got ready to walk out.
“You’re not emotional enough,” she said.
“You mean sentimental enough.”
“Why?” Carolyn asked.
“It’s too easy to exploit.”
“How?” she asked.
“I ask my father what he wants for Father’s Day and he gets all sentimental saying, ‘just for you to come by and maybe we can throw some baseball.’ “
“So? So give me a break.”
“It sounds nice,” she said.
“Sounds nice. A lot of lies sound nice,” I said. “That’s how you get them to work – by dipping them in honey.”
“You’re too hard on him,” Carolyn said.
“He’s an asshole. Always has been and always will be. Will always try exploiting my emotions and that’s not what anybody who claims to love you ought to be doing. His sentimentality is poison, Carolyn, I tell you.”
Carolyn’s heard all this before. I don’t know why she humors it anymore. Then I realized I do know why. It’s because she thinks sooner or later I might change. She humors me with the hope of tearing down a wall stone by stone instead smashing it with a sledge.
“Father and son tossing ball. Sounds sweet,” Carolyn said. “This could be the beginning of a mend.”
“Oh, God,” I said. “You’re buying it too?”
“I’m just saying it sounds sweet.”
“Asshole sweet,” I said. “Asshole sweet and sentimental and nostalgic.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You never stopped to think if he’s so nice and sweet why he’s got no friends? Why no woman’s had any interest in him for 40 plus years? Wouldn’t people care if he was so nice and sweet? Nobody cares for him very much, including his own grandkids. So who’s the assholes, him or everybody else including our own kids?”
“They’re just kids,” Carolyn said. “They’re too busy with their own lives.”
“Really? You think they’re not wise enough to notice how he never calls to see how they’re doing? Never offers to do anything with them? Never offers to take them anywhere? Yet, sends birthday cards saying how much he misses them. It’s the same thing, Carolyn. Same lies. Same manipulations. Thank God our kids have enough distance from it to be able to see it. Him waiting for them to come over and toss baseball instead of him doing anything to make it happen for himself. It’ll never change and that’s why nobody cares.”
“Your mother cared.”
“She cared once. When she was eighteen. Everybody makes mistakes. I was smoking a pack a day and getting blackout drunk at eighteen. Would you be interested in the eighteen-year-old me now?”
“No,” Carolyn said. “Not like that.”
“Well, that’s what you’d have gotten. But I’d have a luscious head of hair halfway down my back. And I’d be 40 pounds lighter with an earring and much less cynical and way more carefree than now. C’mon. I’m seducing myself with my eighteen-year-old self.”
“Stop,” Carolyn said.
“But I’d also be puking and pissing the bed some nights too.”
“But you’ve changed,” Carolyn said.
“So which is it? I’m better or worse now? You always tell me I’m too hard-hearted and guarded. But I wasn’t always that way. A lot of things change. Sometimes we gotta become more guarded and cynical in order to improve in other ways.”
“It’s just an hour of your time,” she said. “That’s asking very little to appease him.”
“You know, I wanted to ask him, ‘If I drop the ball, will you get in my face and scream and yell and belittle me like you did when I was 13? Pretty please. Will you scream at me like a dog that’s pissed on the carpet cause I didn’t throw well enough? Will you please make me feel like I’m an utter failure to you for striking out? And, while we’re at it, you can tell me how I’m looking like a queer with my long hair too? That’ll be fun, right?‘ But somehow all that gets left out of the sentimentality of father and son tossing ball now.”
Carolyn pretended not to listen.
“It’s hokey TV fluff from the fifties,” I said. “I don’t live in a black and white TV show and I won’t get pulled into that nonsense of pretending like I do. Even if it’s just for an hour.”
Still, nothing out of Carolyn.
“It’s his way of ignoring the truth,” I said.
“How?” she finally asked.
“You and me, for example. We’ve been together a long time.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“With plenty of up and downs.”
“Sure,” she said.
“Things between us now are different than they were 22 years ago, in our first year.”
“And things now can always be improved.”
“Nothing’s perfect,” Carolyn said. “Understanding that’s what helps keep us together.”
“What if I told you I could make things better? Maybe way better. And easily. So easily.”
“I’d be all ears,” she said.
“Then here’s my plan. You ready?”
“I can’t wait,” she said.
“I’m gonna buy a used ’95 Saturn, just like I used to have when we met.”
“Okay,” she said.
“And I’ll take you to the park and we’ll finger bang in the back seat just like when we first started dating. Back when things were novel and exciting and I could cum at your touch. It’ll make up for everything that’s happened since then. And, as we both know, a lot’s happened.”
“That’s the most stupid thing I think I’ve ever heard,” she said.
“What if I brought a six pack of Bürger? And played Faith Hill on the cassette player?”
Carolyn couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I’ll buy some knockoff Polo cologne,” I pleaded. “And I’ll pout and complain and blame it on you if you don’t agree it’s a decent solution for a lot of our current problems.”
“Stop. You’re being ridiculous.”
“Yeah, it’s as ridiculous as tossing a baseball on Father’s Day,” I said. “But that’s how you ignore reality, by living in sappy nostalgia. That’s how you ignore present problems instead of trying to solve them – by living in some romanticized, non-existent past.”
“He’s just sad,” Carolyn said.
“He ought to be sad. And living in a sappy, sentimental past that never existed isn’t going to help one goddamned bit,” I said. “At least we really finger banged and it was hot and exciting. All those parts are at least true.”
“You played toss with your father. That was true too.”
“But it was a mostly horrible experience, not the sappy father/son bond-fest he wants to pretend it was. I’m not going for it.”
“It’s not that bad,” she said. “You can just pretend.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But when’s the pretend ever end and the real ever begin? That’s the problem with some people. Give ’em an inch and they take a mile and I already know through decades of experience, he’s not that interested in what’s real. He’s not interested at all in dealing with me as the person I am now. He wants me back the way I was at 13. Or, even worse – even more unrealistically, he wants an ideal of what I should have been but never was. He wants a taste of the ideal of what the situation should have been. And that’s ridiculous.”
“It’s Father’s Day” she said. “You’re supposed to make him feel good. You’d buy him anything he asked for so why not this?”
“Cause anything else would only cost me money.”
“And what’s tossing a baseball cost you?”
“I’ve made promises,” I said. “To myself and a few to you over the years too. When’s it okay for me to start getting loose with my promises? My promises to myself or to you? Can we start going down that road or is it best to just leave it alone?”
“Leave it alone,” Carolyn said.
“See, as defense, I’ve pledged to myself to try to keep things real, Carolyn. Especially between me and him. That’s the only way I can cope. Keeping it real. And over time, the more the bullshit piles up, the more you gotta guard against it. It’s like honing your reflexes. Get it? You might not get that cause your home was pretty functional. But when you’ve been raised in a nonsensical reality, there comes a time when your guard goes up against it. Otherwise, you’re consumed by it. Your guard has to go up or you’ll be 64 living in a nonsense world too. And trust me, that’s not what you or me want, Carolyn. “
“You’re making too big a deal of it. It’s only Father’s Day.”
“We’ll see,” I said. “I gotta go.”
I drove to the liquor store. Kenny was working. I brought a twelve pack of Bürger to the counter.
“Surprised to see you,” Kenny said.
“It’s not for me,” I said.
“Rough stuff. So who’s the lucky one?”
“Taking it to my father,” I said.
“Lucky him. I haven’t had that since I was a kid. Got fucked up at party once and woke up naked with Allen Lake’s fat sister. Rough stuff.”
“Yeah. I think we all started off on Bürger. Then moved on, hopefully.”
“You doing okay?” Kenny asked.
“Yeah. And you?”
“Yeah. Good,” he said.
I paid Kenny the $5.99 plus tax.
“Glad to hear it,” I said. “Don’t know if I’ll be back anytime soon so if I don’t see you, take care.”
“You too,” Kenny said.
I took the twelve pack over to my father’s house and rang the bell. He came to the door. It was mid-afternoon and he was wearing what I suspected he’d slept in. I suspected he wore little else day after day and week after week.
I held out the twelve pack.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I said.
“What’s this?” he asked. “Bürger? What for?”
“You said when you were young you drank a lot of Bürger. See, I do listen. I do pay attention.”
“Yeah but I hardly drink anymore,” he said. “You didn’t pay attention to that, I guess.”
“I’ve heard you say a thousand times there was nothing better than an ice cold Bürger on a summer’s day at old Crosley Field.”
“Well, thanks,” he said.
I handed him the beer and stepped inside, behind my father as he made his way to the kitchen.
“Yeah, just think of the good old days as it’s going down,” I said. “They’ll taste like liquid gold. They’ll take you back to ’68. It’ll be like stepping into a time machine.”
“Yeah. Maybe if I drink all twelve. You bring the gloves?”
“Couldn’t find them,” I lied. “Carolyn must have moved them to the garage or attic or basement – I don’t know where. I asked and she couldn’t remember.”
“Too bad,” he said. “I was looking forward to a game of toss. Just like the old days.”
“Well, now you got the beer instead,” I said. “You probably gave me my first Bürger. So drink a few and reminisce. You and me and Bürger. Bürger and the Reds at Crosley. High-school parties at the lake with Bürger. I’m sure you remember us cracking our first Bürger together, right?”
“No,” he said. “I’m getting old, you know. Memory’s going. Do you remember?”
“No,” I said. “But I thought for sure you would.”
“So you gonna have a drink with me? To reminisce too?”
“No,” I said. “When I promised Carolyn I’d quit, I meant it. It was good for all of us she made me quit.”
“Just one,” my father said. “She’ll never know. For old time’s sake.”
“No,” I said. “Somehow I don’t think she’d approve.”
He walked the beer to his fridge.
“Anyway, how’s everybody doing?”
“Fine,” I said.
“Just fine? You got nothing else for me? I hardly hear anything from you guys and all you got’s ‘fine’?”
“You hardly hear anything because you never stop by or call.”
“You’re all so busy,” he said.
“Not as busy as you want to believe,” I said. “Not too busy for Carolyn’s sister.”
“You always gotta bring her up? I’ll have you know, she’s younger than me. It’s easier for her to get around and take your kids places.”
“She’s also way heavier so she’s got an excuse too. And she lives further away and has a full time job so there’s plenty of excuses but maybe none of them’s the major difference.”
“Then what is it? This major difference?”
“How much she cares.”
“Can I tell you something?” my father asked. “Something you probably don’t wanna hear? She’s not just heavy, as you say. She’s fat. Very fat. Obese. Grossly fat.”
I cut him off there.
“She’s also very kind. Very kind to the kids,” I said. “Don’t forget that.”
“Okay,” my father said. “I never said she wasn’t.”
I cut him off again.
“But you’ve never acknowledge that she is, either.”
“Can I continue?” he asked.
“Anyway, no man probably wants her. And no man equals no kids. And she probably wants kids so she uses yours as surrogates. From my point of view, that’s part of what’s going on.”
“So you expect me and Carolyn to take that into consideration? Real consideration? And care? You want me to take that home to her sister just so you can save some face?”
“I would. Besides,” he defended. “Anytime I try talking to the kids, they don’t seem interested.”
So the failure is their fault?
“So what do you have going on that the kids might be interested in?” I asked.
“I got a lifetime of experiences,” he said.
“Kids don’t care about the past,” I said. “They mostly live in the present. Just like you and me when we were their age.”
“Well, they should care about the past,” he said.
No. Not when you’re conning them into believing a phony past. Sand is a better foundation than a phony past for building a present and future.
“They don’t care much about my past either,” I said. “And I’m okay with that. They don’t much care about my first car or thrash metal or the horror films I liked when I was a kid. They’re too busy with what they like and have going on at the same age. They’re as wrapped up in their things at their age as I was and, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with that. And as much as I might dislike it, their Manga stories are probably far better than mine.”
“Maybe they should care more about you and less about Manga, whatever that is.”
Turning things on the kids again. Interesting move.
“I want them to care more about themselves than me,” I said. “I’m an adult. Carolyn and I can take care of ourselves so they can have their teenage years for themselves.”
My father fell silent.
“Besides, I’m having a hard time figuring out how this is supposed to work. You’re the wise elder waiting for his teenage flock to wise up and finally come around and sop up your stories and wisdom? That’s the game plan? Cause you’re not getting any younger, ya know.”
“Well, maybe after I pass they’ll realize what all they missed out on.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” I said.
“You don’t think there’s any value in the past? Our past?”
“I never said that. And I’d argue their present and futures are more important for them than your past or mine. And I’d argue maybe their futures should be more important to them than our pasts.”
“The past is important too,” he said.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t. I didn’t say that at all. More and not aren’t the same.”
“Well, that’s just a big difference between you and me,” he said. “I think the past’s important. You know what they say about history and being doomed to repeat itself, right? But some people just don’t care. That’s the difference between them and me.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re probably right. There’s plenty of bad things in the past to learn from, both historically and personally. That’s why we need clear presentations of the past, not a bunch of nostalgic, sentimental nonsense.”
I waited for a reply but none came.
“See, the problem is that Kaitlyn and Kyle don’t like baseball. And I get you don’t like Minecraft or Snapchat so somebody’s gotta budge.”
“I don’t even know what Minecraft is,” he said. “I don’t know anything kids these days are into.”
“That’s cause you never ask and don’t care to venture into their world,” I said. “And if you’re not gonna care about Minecraft and they’re not gonna care about The Andy Griffith Show, then who’s gonna give an inch?”
“Andy Griffith‘s a classic. It’s a shame – a crying shame – for it to get lost and replaced by the Kardashians and all that kind of nonsense.”
“I’m not so sure,” I said.
“Besides, why’s it always gotta be me? Why am I always the bad guy?” he asked. “You always try pinning it on me. It’s Father’s Day and you come over here grilling me on my day.”
“It’s gotta be on you cause they’re only kids. That’s why. You don’t get something for nothing. Just packing a bunch of old memories in a trunk and trotting them out isn’t anything, except to you.”
I could tell he was getting angry.
“Creating new memories, in the here and now, takes effort,” I said. “Crosley Field. High-school parties. Those are memories. Sitting around listening to grandpa reminisce about those things don’t create memories for anybody. It’s just you wallowing in ’em at the expense of creating new, lasting ones now.”
My father shook his head.
“You’re so spiteful,” he said.
“You know, Pop – well, I know you know how I barely knew my grandfather. Now my kids got one who they barely know better than I knew mine. It’s a golden thing you got in front of you.”
“If you want them to have a grandfather so bad, then why don’t you do more to make it happen? Why don’t you call or make them call or bring them over more? Why’s it all my fault?”
“Really? It’s our faults, then?”
“It’s not as easy for me to get around anymore. It’d be hard for me to take them to the fair or the museum or the zoo. It’s not like I’m in my twenties.”
“You do plenty for yourself. Besides, nothing worthwhile comes easy.”
……..like making up for the past by tossing a baseball.
“I never get anything,” he said. “Nobody comes by. Nobody calls to check on me. You can’t even come over and toss baseball with me. I never get anything.”
“You already forgot that twelve pack of memories in the fridge?”
My father shook his head again.
“Well, Pop, I gotta go. You want the kids’ cell numbers?”
“You’ve upset me too much. Some other time,” he said.
“We’ll wait on the call,” I said. “Happy Father’s Day.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Real happy.”
I got into my car, feeling like I’d just sparred with Bruce Lee – the Bruce Lee of bullshit. How Carolyn couldn’t understand the horror of it was beyond me.
But should it be such a horror show of conceit and twisted logic? We’re all different. We all react to things differently. Some things are just easier for some to tune out than others, like living close to a railroad track or the airport. For some, nonsense slides right off them or goes right through them as easy as radio waves. Other ingest, digest and just shit it out, no problem – while others chew and chew. Dissecting. Over-analyzing – swallowing – belly churning and gurgling and aching until it’s all sprayed out in a warn, disgusting shit stream. What is that curse?
I turned the ignition key.
Problem is he’s always though of himself as The Who or The Stones and I can’t see him as anything more than REO Speedwagon or Supertramp, at best. And it’s okay to be either of the them but there’s gotta be some humility in understanding your place. There’s just gotta be.
I was emotionally spent. I prayed to whatever might deserve it. To whatever might help.
Though I am imperfect, never let me be like that. Please. For the sake of everyone, including me.
I drove home intoxicated on deceit and excuses. The complexity of his labyrinth of nonsense, obfuscation, denial and self-deception was almost admirable were I not the one digesting it.
I drove home feeling like shit. I felt sick that maybe I was caught up in my own maze of self-deceptions without knowing it too. There’s always the possibility of being the naked emperor of the kingdom of his own grandiosity.
I wondered if I was, could I even know? I wondered how I’d even know. I realized I probably couldn’t know, as the defenses against knowing would be too fortified. I decided maybe the best I could do was be sincere in wanting to know the truth.
I got back home and went inside. Carolyn asked how it went.
“Same old thing,” I said.
“Forgiveness,” she said. “You can’t love without forgiveness.”
I realized the things that upset me the most about Carolyn was she was always trying to get me to see myself differently – see myself differently in the same way my father and I were never going to see eye-to-eye over what he was. In a way, I understood her frustration by way of my own.
“I could forgive the past,” I said. “But when you’re the same person in the present – the same person now that was so unpleasant back then – that I cannot forgive. I cannot forgive the not caring.”
With that, I tossed my keys on the countertop and took a seat at the kitchen table.
“I’d rather not talk about it any more,” I said. “It’s my Father’s Day too.”