I was just puttering around the house per my usual when the phone rang. The phone started ringing. I stared at it like a foreign object. I'd gotten my number on the No Call list way back when the law first went into effect. I was an old guy caught puttering around his house. My phone could go a week without a peep. But not much more than that, because I was one number off from a nearby chain restaurant popular enough to encourage reservations. Usually I politely informed them that they've dialed the wrong number. Though there had been several occasions where the caller had been such an asshole from first word that I'd been more than happy to take the reservation for 12 for an hour hence on a busy Saturday night!
Something like that would put a skip in my step for several days. Sure it's pathetic, but after you hit 40, you live for those little thrills, those puny triumphs. Trust me on this.
At my daughter's insistence, I'd entered this marvelous new age where you didn't have to actually answer the phone. You could listen to who was calling explaining why they were calling. Mostly they were wanting to make a reservation, and mostly going ahead and making them on the tape of my machine.
The machine clicked on. The message began. "Quit pretending you're modern. Like, how many calls a week do you have to screen anyway?"
It was my daughter Christy, so I quickly picked up. "Shut up! I'll have you know that I'm constantly getting calls from Heads of States and Hollywood Actresses. If I didn't screen all of my calls, I'd have to actually talk to those sorry fuckers!"
"Daddy! Language, please!" It was our joke. I was born with a dirty mouth, but I'd kept it well in check once I had a daughter. It became a habit. Though once in awhile I'd spew out some nasty words. When the hammer hits your supporting thumb instead of the nail-head. But Christy, that apple dropped right next to the tree. She often spoke like she'd been raised by pirates. By pirates who'd gotten motherfucking into the OED in adjective status.
"Okay, young wench, why are you calling me?"
At that, Christy got shy. "Uh, well ... things aren't going so hot in my life. I'd really like to, say, come over Saturday, have dinner with my Dad, and talk."
I shrugged even though she couldn't see me. "Bring a pizza, and I'll be all ears."
I could hear a little contented sigh. "I knew you would help me."
"I'm your Dad. I'll always and only ever be here to cherish and try to help you. As long as you remember the pizza."
It was a delight to hear Christy laughing, even if just over the phone.
Come Saturday it was getting perilously close to seven in the evening, and I was getting pretty hungry. I began to realize that I was being stood up by my own daughter. It'd happened before, and I didn't really mind because I didn't much want to hear about what was not-so-hot in her life. Because that always involved her boyfriend of several years.
And let me stand corrected. He wasn't just her boyfriend. Nor was he officially her fiancé. They were engaged-to-be-engaged, a notion so stupid and useless even the French didn't have a term for it. This engaged-to-be-engaged thing was apparently a rather rocky road.
The guy's name was Turk. I'd never ascertained if that was actually on his birth certificate, or just what he'd taken to calling himself. Me, I'd taken to calling him Turd--in secret--because that was exactly what he was. The kind of guy it's best to just wipe after then flush away.
Christy knew I wasn't keen on him, but I'd mostly kept my mouth shut, and was perfectly civil the few times we'd met. It was her life, not mine.
I had food in the house, but my taste buds were tuned in to pizza. But I didn't want to go out of my house to get it. So I was gearing up for the culinary disappointment of delivery. The phone options were the crappy chains that guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes, or they'd throw in the antacid for free.
I flipped through the Yellow Pages, noting down numbers. From there it was like standing in a voting booth, trying to decide which candidate made me want to puke the least. I was rescued from the decision by a knocking on the front door. I half-expected it to be a delivery guy with the wrong address. I'd pay for the pizza, eat a slice, throw the rest in the fridge to toss into the garbage later, while retiring to bed for a night of passionate heartburn.
It was a delight, and disappointment, to find Christy on the porch. She came bearing a big box from the excellent pizzeria in town that tossed the fresh dough in the air and didn't employ drivers. She also had several bottles of a decent red wine, but in the big bottle, which did not bode well. The pizza would be delicious, the glass or two of wine soothing, but then she'd hit her third glass and I'd have to suffer through her complaints about Turk this and Turk that. There wasn't much I could actually say to help; it was a tired old litany that bored the shit out of me. The challenge for me would be to not nod out during the monologue.
The pizza was ace, and the wine not too shabby. We had nice conversations while watching the tube. With her third glass, Christy became immersed in some dumb movie. I was impatient, ready to cut to the chase so I could get that over with, be in my own bed in my quiet house when I was ready to nod out.
I waited for the next commercial break. "Uhm, so what's going on?"
That was enough to get her going. "I think I'm done with Turk. Apparently, in his book, being engaged-to-be-engaged doesn't preclude him from hooking up with other women."
"You mean engaging in sexual intercourse with other women?"
"Shut up, Dad."
"I'm just trying to translate the modern vernacular for my ancient ears. You think you're done with him? Like all the times before when it turned out you weren't?"
"You never liked him!" she accused.
"No, but I never talked trash about him like you do. So why are you here tonight if you want to defend him? I mean, it's always nice having you over, but maybe it's time for you to go home and work out your own compromises."
Christy started tearing up, which was my sign to refill my glass.
"You scented him out as a sleaze right away. Why didn't you say something?" she snuffled.
"Wait," I held my hand up. "You know I've never liked Turk--you just said so. What you don't know is that I secretly call him Turd, because that's exactly what I think he is."
Christy giggled through her sniffles.
"But baby girl, that's your life. You know my opinions, but that's all they are. How can they change anything? is what most people don't understand. It's like watching a horror movie on t.v.--Don't go in that room!!! You can shout at the t.v. all you want, but you can't alter the script--they always go into the bad room."
She nodded, silently, accepting my words of wisdom. She tried to refill her glass, but there was only a splash left. So she stepped boldly into the danger zone of opening the other bottle. Thus refilled, she cheered me. I topped off my glass, reconciled to a fuzzy morrow.
"So what do you want to do, long term? Obviously for tonight I'm taking your keys and granting you the couch."
There was the silence as we both slugged through and refilled our glasses. Eventually Christy looked up from her lowered eyes. "I was wondering if maybe I could move back home while I sort things out. This is a very comfortable couch."
I was ready for that. I'd anticipated the question since her call. It wasn't the first time. I would never say no, but given the generosity of drink, I was giddily agreeable. "Christy, baby," I slurred, "you're welcome to your old room."
"But Mom turned it into her sewing room."
"Well, yea, but it's not like she's not doing much sewing anymore."
That was the unspoken thing. My wife, Christy's mother, had been killed three years back when crashed into by a coked-out cop with a documented history of abuse. The bastard's previous wrist-slaps had won me a huge settlement. I could live off the interest. In the destroyed shell of my former life.
We kept drinking, safely on the couch. Finally, my daughter stated, "But last I looked, aren't you keeping that room as like a shrine? It's still Mom's sewing room. All her stuff is still there."
I shrugged, drunkenly. "I just never go in there. Never had the habit. But not because of that. I don't need the space. I don't have the habit of going in there. Before it was her sewing room it was your bedroom. I never had much reason to even go in the room. But we can clear it out so you can have it again for however long you need." I gave her shoulder an affectionate rub. "Better that than you hogging the couch every night, right?"
I'd been a very good husband. Now, at least, I could be a good father.
"Can you help me move?"
"Sure," I said. "I mean, first we'll need to clear out the room. But then when you're ready I'll rent a truck and we can collect your stuff." It was a passive-aggressive statement on my part. I would agree tonight, and tomorrow she'd go back home, and I'd never have to touch the room, much less get a truck.
"Can we do it tomorrow?"
Well, I nodded, thinking it was the wine talking. I was surprised when Christy sort of sprang across the distance and wrapped me in a tight hug. She kissed my ear, whispering, "Oh, Daddy, you're the best!"
.... There is more of this story ...