It is a warm day and I stood outside a barbershop looking up at the jutting neon sign
of a second floor diner.
As I stood looking on, several people came and looked too, searching for the Holy
Grail, a statue of liberty, a truth – whatever I was seeing. Most looked back to me
for guidance – as though they were missing something intrinsic to the situation at
hand – an old man staring at a sign with glaring sense of acceptance on his face.
Back and forth their eyes went – their gazes no different then a gambler at the dog
tracks, missing my focal point, then shrugging it off and continuing down the street
to the shops.
I was on my way to my father’s funeral. It sounds more difficult than it should. My
father wasn’t much of a man and certainly less of a father. It was just another thing
to do on a busy day.
“He must be looking at the sign,” the girl said to the boy. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a neon sign for a restaurant. He must be looking at something
in the sky.”
The two sat staring for a bit. The boy sat down on the ground like a teen in front
of a television. The girl followed suit. The girl thought she saw a star. The boy
lit up a cigarette, careful to blow it away from me.
“Have you ever been there, F-lo-r-ians?” The girl said, her head cocked to the side
like a puppy curious about a toy. “No.” Said the boy.
Florian’s was my old stomping grounds – sort of, anyway. It’s where my mother and
father met, and subsequently where I was conceived. I spent nine months listening
to Duke Ellington, or so I’m told. When I was a boy I’d be given a nickel to skip
up to the barbershop for a hair cut once every two weeks. After I saw the lunar landing
I would try to skip the way Neil Armstrong skipped, more of a slow motion gallop.
I was obsessed with space for weeks—until I discovered bottle rockets or dinosaurs
or whatever came next.
“What do you think it is?” Asked the girl. “Looks like a dive. A hole in the wall. I’m sure he’s not staring at that.” Answered
I glanced down at myself. Right. My Sunday best. I’ve had this suit for two decades.
It didn’t fit for one of those, and barely passes for fitting now. It’s been in and
out of style, but I think the cut is razor sharp these days. I’d gotten the suit at
the beginning of my marriage. It was a birthday gift – a bad one, really. We’d been
invited to several high par events and she thought I needed to step into the new world
and look presentable for once. I didn’t argue, but would have preferred a new watch.
This is the same suit that I watched her buried in. The same suit that’ll bury my
father. It’ll probably be the suit I’m buried in as well.
“Maybe he just wants a haircut.” Says the girl to the boy. “Or maybe he’s a recovering drunk deciding whether or not to get a drink.”
Recovering drunk? No, I was never enough of a drunk to be warrant a recovery. I always
pictured this romantic Hemingway drunk. Like it would have given me more personality
to be a drunk. A drink here and there was all I took. I couldn’t deal with a hangover.
I couldn’t deal with the guilt. I couldn’t deal with the pressure of social interaction.
“I could drink right now,” I want to tell them. I could do it and get away with it
because I’m not a drunk. I have an excuse. My father is dead. Dead at 102. Feel remorse.
102. Feel remorse. Dead, finally. An old and bitter man who was waiting for his own
death all his life, and what did life give him in return? Time. Time to become more
bitter. More of a rancorous outlandish pile of refuse.
“We should go.” Said the girl, looking directly into the boys eyes, then at me. “Maybe
he just needs to be alone.” “Sure.” Said the boy. He helped the girl up, and the two started walking away. “I
wonder what he’s looking at. I wonder why he hasn’t responded to us. He looks familiar
though, doesn’t he? Like someone’s father.”
I looked over at the boy and the girl. Their backs walking the walk of young love.
I thought it would be more cinematic if I hated them. If I grimaced, if I was drunk,
it’d be a better story, like my father’s. But instead I grinned. I was never able
to fill my face with his kind of hateful countenance—his stream of complaints of which
he was capable, much of it directed at me.