Fun with the Fam

The waiter set down another round of drinks—he’d picked up the faint signals of Johnson Calvert Radio (KJCR).

I repeated the same water/alcohol combination, downing my drink.  By the time I reached the bottom of the glass I was intoxicated for the first time.

‘How you feeling, son.’

‘Fine.’  I could see by his grin that he recognized what was happening to me.

‘Hey, he’s loaded!’ my dad announced to the heavens.

‘I think I need to get out of here.’

‘Shoot you just got here.’  Johnson Calvert slumped forward: a six-year-old expressing a pout in his posture.  ‘Oh well.  In that case…’  My father hailed the waiter and handed him a credit card.  ‘You close this down for us, will ya?’  The waiter offered a polite smile and took the card.

‘If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen….’  Grace stood up and I saw she was younger than I’d thought.

‘Isn’t she something,’ my father said, watching her go.  He nudged me in the shoulder with a playful fist.

‘She sure is, Dad.’

We sat in silence while I thought about how much I wanted to leave.  My father’s eyes panned the room, master of all he surveyed.

‘This sure is great.  Sure is great.  I’m sure proud of you, Son.  San Jose State!  The Spartans!  Stand up job, Son.  Stand up!’

‘Does Grace really sell refrigerators, Dad?’  My father broke out laughing.

‘My boy!  I’ll tell ya—she doesn’t sell refrigerators, but she sure sells something!’  He laughed some more and I did my best to join in.  ‘Say,’ he turned to me.  ‘Did you want to take her out?’  It took a moment for me to realize what he was suggesting.  ‘Do ya,’ he said, tipping his head in the direction of the restrooms.  ‘You know? Not that I’d think less of you if you didn’t. Say, you been laid yet?’

I told my legs to stand up so I could leave but they weren’t cooperating.

‘I mean when I was your age I was getting laid right and left.  Gotta lighten up some, Son.  Have some fun.  Be more like your old pop.’  I slumped forward over my water.  If I concentrated hard enough on the inanimate object in front of me I just might escape the bar without making a scene.  I let the silence drag out for a strained infinity before Grace came back from the restroom.  My father started to laugh, trying to segue back to where we’d been.

‘What’s so funny?’ Grace said.  She resumed her seat, but this time with even more distance between her and my father.

‘Nothing.  Just Jackson.  Such a smart kid!  Almost as smart as his old man!’

The waiter returned.

‘I’m sorry sir, but this card doesn’t seem to work.  Do you have another?’

‘Doesn’t work?  What gives?  Give ‘em your card, Grace.’

‘But I-‘

‘Give ‘em your card.  We’ll stop by the cash machine.  I got you for it.  Give ‘em your card.’  Grace gave the waiter her card; he examined it.

‘This says your name is Florence.’

‘Grace is my middle name.’

The waiter went away.

‘The nerve of that guy,’ my dad said.  He shook his head.

‘I should go,’ I said, needing to get the hell out of that bar.  The drink had crippled my defenses.

‘Great to see you, Son.’ My father stood to say goodbye. He spread his arms, ready for a paternal hug.  I stood my ground.

‘Yeah, Dad.  Great to see you too.  Nice meeting you, Grace.’  I waved, a casual flick of the wrist.  Grace (Florence) offered her hand, limp like a dead bird.

‘You’re a doll,’ she said.  I felt color on my cheeks.  My father stepped toward me and forced a hug that somehow evolved into a reassuring handshake.

‘San Jose State,’ he said.  ‘That’s just so great.  Makes me so proud, son.  You’re going to college and  you’re gonna get a degree.  Really proud.’

‘Thanks Dad.’  I was walking away as the last syllable came to be.  I glanced over my shoulder when I reached the door and saw my father arguing his point with the waiter, waving his arms in apparent indignation.  Grace, a red flash in the night, stood apart from the confrontation with her arms crossed.  I managed to get out of the restaurant and around the corner and had ducked into an alcove when I broke down.  I sank my head against the wall, giving myself over to the sobs with my nose and forehead pressed against the painted brick.  It had happened again. Time together wasted by my father’s buffoonery.  I could feel my whole body shaking and I knew there were people walking by behind me but I wouldn’t turn around to let them see me.  As long as I couldn’t see them they didn’t really exist.  I closed my eyes and shook.  I’m not sure how long I stood there like that.

‘Jackson?’

I spun round, my sobs cut short.  I couldn’t see him through the tears at first and then his form sharpened and the embarrassment flooded my stomach.  He stood with his palms pressed flat to the seams of his brown slacks as a faint wind lapped at the tail of his jacket.  A streetlight behind him silhouetted his shape, more like a cardboard cutout than a man.  I couldn’t even see his face.  But I knew the voice.

‘What do you want?’  I gave no thought to keeping my voice down.  Johnson Calvert was not supposed to see me this way. I felt hot through my arms and legs.  If I’d known better I would have realized I was just drunk but at seventeen I misinterpreted the fire for striking moral clarity. I saw his mouth, hung open just enough that I could have slid a ruler down his throat.

‘Jackson….’  As he spoke I saw Grace standing behind my father with a fur coat obscuring her busty red dress.  The sight of her—another witness—tipped me over the edge. I flailed out at the night and felt something wet on my hand. There was a soun, like the yelp of a dog that just got his leg run over.  I heard feet running toward me and the first color I saw was the red of Grace’s dress, her fur coat open in the front.  She made a lot of noise and I didn’t understand what it was she was doing until I saw her picking my father up off the pavement.  A pall of blood ran from his nose and down his face.  He didn’t say anything—just looked at me with pained eyes.  Grace had him by the arm, not in an affectionate way but in a we’re-getting-the-fuck-out-of-here way.  I’m sure she thought I was crazy, and maybe I was.  My forearms felt tight so I unclenched my fists.  Gracie took my father by the arm and without a word the prostitute led my father away to go find an ATM so he could pay her back the money he owed her. I dug into my pocket and felt the sharp edge of the sheriff star and wanted to laugh.

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