It’s that time of year huh. Today I’ll post something I wrote back in my pining days, an ode to complicated pater-daughter bonds everywhere; may God preserve them in hearts and dreams.
Now my favorite father has kind blue eyes that twinkle like they should. Ever affable, my dad Gordy wears polyester suits and sells clean cool Chrysler Plymouths. Always has and always will. That’s fine.
I was just a kid when he adopted me. I was still a kid when he abandoned me. I write him letters but he doesn’t write back. That’s fine too. Because he’s still my dad. And everything that implies, right, that’s what “adopted” means. He’s my best most documented dad who gave me his name just because, so every ten years I drop in for a visit.
We meet in the same office that we visited in when I was a little kid. He sits, sprawled in the old squeaky chair behind the same plastic name plate atop the worn leather blotter that rests on the old metal desk. He fields the usual phone interruptions with the usual brisk jocularity. A jocularity as familiar and oddly comforting to me as the fake brick wall that holds the dirty beige telephone with the row of blinking yellow squares across the bottom. The same row of lights that has never gone two minutes without disrupting a single visit in this, my dad’s private office. I stare at the phone, transfixed by its power. Little plexiglass cubes flashing secret dollar signs only he can see. I see my rival, my soul-mate, winking dirty beige telephone that won’t be denied–make shrill ringing noise and get instantly picked up, yes. In between calls he tells me I’m beautiful. I am an angel and I am a kitten.
The way I choose to dress isn’t his “bag,” but it looks like I’m trying to take care of myself, and that’s what counts. He remembers when I was just a sloppy awkward donkey kid but look at me now, I look just like my mother, a beauty, a princess he says. I want to tell him something but I don’t know what. I tell him I can’t make sense of the instrument panel on my new Chevette.
That tricky little panel, he says, is my car’s base of operations. As such, it is imperative that I, its commanding pilot, comprehend what the vehicle wishes to communicate to me. Those gauges and indicator lights grouped conveniently in the instrument cluster are designed to tell me at a glance all the important details about the performance of my automobile. Lights, turn indicator, odometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, rear window defogger, vent-heat-defroster system, it’s all spelled out for you Kitten, plain as the nose on my face…. Here, let me draw you a diagram.
And then car-talk begins to roll. We are drowning in an ocean of fuels, fluids, coolants, lubricants, methanol, ethanol, cosolvents, octane (Go with the highest grade available, to heck with the price). Next comes the lesson on jumper cables and cold starts, plastic coated flip charts of a maintenance free Delco battery called Freedom. (The Delco Freedom Bat-tree, got that Angel? Once again it may cost you, but it’s worth every cent.) He shows me pictures of tires — whitewalls, sidewalls, bias-belted vs. steel-belted radials. (Never, but NEVER combine the two. Lose control and end up in a ditch, every time.) Tread, traction, bumps, bulges and splits. The Spare. We watch a short filmstrip showing the mounting configuration, tire inspection, proper inflation, wheel rotation. I sit politely watching the screen, although I’ve already seen the film six dozen times. He cautions me to be wary of mechanics who will take a woman to the cleaners every time, get all the warranties in writing, and have the seat belts removed from the car. (Unless you want to get trapped inside and burn up. Happens every day Kitten, happened to a couple of my buddies.) Keep an Emergency Road Kit in the Glove Box, don’t forget the flashlight. (How they ever came up with the name “Glove Box” beats the hell out of me. Can you name one person who keeps their gloves in the glove box?)
Chuckling ruefully he reaches into a desk drawer and hands me a jug of Preservatone Road Oil Remover. But to tell the truth, it’s really a multipurpose polish and cleaner, he confides. Use it once a month to prevent corrosion and rust rot, to remove tar, and to maintain the gloss on the exterior paint finish.
What? Paint finish, he finishes. And we’re finished. Thirty minutes of car-talk and now he’s guiding me to the exit and I haven’t a clear thought in my head. Cartalk. Something to say. Fatherly advice. It’s all right. I give him a bear hug. He turns, reaches into his pocket, whips out a piece of paper and crumples it into my palm. Too shy to look at it now, my heart races in anticipation. At last my favorite father’s twinkling blue eyes are looking right into mine, fine as blue. “Robin,” he says, “I want you to stay out of trouble,” adding pointedly, “you know what I mean, kiddo.” I nod my head, wondering what he means. But it’s okay. That’s what I tell myself minutes later as I reboard the airline. He loves me, sure he’s a little nuts but not as much as the rest of them. Besides he loves me and is showing it the best way he can, this was fun, it was important, after all he did adopt me, so what if he never writes back, in a way that’s even better, it’s more romantic–it’s then I remember the note my sweaty hand still clutches. I open it, see a wrinkled bill. Twenty bucks. That’s fine. Everyone needs money. With it I buy a bottle of revenge in the big green bottle; his brand. Of course it tastes awful, but tonight I’m a sentimental fool. Lou Rawls on the stereo, sitting in the dark, sipping Cutty Sark, with a twist of bitters. You know what I mean, kiddo. I stay awake to look at the sun come up, watch the cars drive by, drinking to my dad.