For a couple of days, or maybe weeks, I’ll try to update that certain amount of lost time due to the demise of my internet connection last fall. Using stories, anecdotes or whatever you choose to call them, I’ll try to re-acquaint and fill in some of the gap for a while. Your patience with this self-promotion is gladly accepted. Although I must caution – sending e-mail is chancy at best. Try the guestbook instead.
Of all the things that made me itch to see the year 2003 in my rear view mirror, the exodus of Beth was perhaps the one that was easiest on my mind.
When summer ended Beth the Eldest was still living at home with Lids, the charismatic and large young lady who bashed softballs for a living. The two of them played ball and worked part time jobs and generally had a very happy summer. It was curious, having two young lionesses under roof at the same time, because I rarely saw them. Between my getting up and hitting the road at 5:30 am (a time not quite on the radar of women in my household) and their fondness for late afternoon games and “messing around with friends” afterwards, and the whole nesting thing in Beth’s room, I might catch a glimpse of them on Saturday afternoons but that was about it.
Since they were more or less paying their own way, and Beth was slated to start college locally in September, it wasn’t such a bad arraignment. I was (still am, for that matter) very much a live and let live sort of lad.
Things took a sharp left turn when Beth quit the part time job and started college, went to a week’s worth of classes and announced, “So much for that!” to Ally and me.
I’m afraid the slumbering “Now see here” part of me was about to beg to differ.
“Now see here!” I said. “You’ve paid your admissions fees and gone to all these seminars and stood in all the lines and you go to class for a week and that’s all you can stand? Just what exactly did you have in mind, a free pass to a diploma?”
“Dad, I’ve been going to school for 12 years and I walk in there and all I see is 4 more years and I just lock up. I need a break from school, that’s all it is. Please don’t get mad.”
“Me mad? You tossed a semester’s worth of your tuition money and I shouldn’t be mad?”
She was crafty, she was. “I haven’t paid that yet. That’s why I’m getting out now, before it becomes due.”
“I see. So what’s your next move?”
The next move turned out to be an extension of summer, minus the job. Taking a break from school turned out to be taking a break from reality, too. Fall and summer in this neck of the woods are pretty undistinguishable, it’s warm and the pool is open and softball fields beckon and a 19 year old can find solace in television and a soft couch all day if it happens to rain. Having a sometimes-working live-in girlfriend doesn’t hurt either.
Now it helps to know that her parental examples and torchbearers weren’t about to go all hypocritical on her and demand that she go to school. It would be less than forthright for me to make indignant noises about the absolute necessity for a college diploma. Hell, I took off a year after high school myself, went three semesters and then dumped college. So did Ally, and we both worked part time while we were there. I see plenty of people who went and graduated and find themselves doing blue collar stuff in the end. And I still can hear the collective howl from my parents when I told them I was going to work the year after high school.
Difference being, of course, that I knew I was going to work if I wasn’t in school. Never crossed my mind not to. You want to ditch school? Fine, get your ass to work.
So after a month of her laying around the house and moaning about how she had no life and making random plans to seek work, I summoned Beth to the throne that is my recliner and gave her the kick start speech.
“’Kay, listen up. No more of this. You want to live here? Great, love to have you and always will. But the free ride is over. Rent starts in two weeks. You’ll probably need a job to pay for it.” I can be pretty cryptic when the mood chooses.
“But Dad, Lids and I are going to get an apartment and I’ll be getting a job soon and . . .”
“Nope. You’ll be getting one right now. That’s it.” And I returned to reading my newspaper or whatever the hell I was doing at the time. Cryptic indeed.
Beth went to Ally (for those of you without children I might comment that whenever the Dad makes a pronouncement the child automatically, and without guile, makes haste for the womb that bore her and seeks protection from the strange male in the other room) but Ally wasn’t hearing her, either. Which is one of the things I really admire in Ally. Whenever there is a big moment, she and I think very much alike.
It took a week of brooding and another three weeks of hustling but you know what? Beth got a job. As a matter of fact, Lids got one too, and it didn’t surprise me overmuch that they got a job at the same place. And Beth called me on the road one day and asked if I wouldn’t mind helping her out on Saturday since they had found an apartment together. Were moving. Making a new nest, as it were.
No, I didn’t mind.
Of all the things that parents remember or commonly share with other parents is the moment that a three year old holds up a picture or a puzzle or something they’ve been hacking at for the past hour and proudly smile, “I did it all by myself!”
I thumb through pictures from time to time, see Beth at age three or four, sitting on our back deck with great fuzzy slippers and a laugh for the old man, her blonde hair tossed every which way and living life in that way that four year olds do, without thought and without fear. I see a picture of Beth just a couple of months ago, standing in her apartment with the thrift store and hand-me-down décor, the obligatory 32” TV, the plastic dolphins pinned to walls behind her. The blonde hair now pulled in a ponytail.
And she is smiling as if to say, “I did it all by myself!”
Well yeah. Sorta. After all, she’s only four miles down the road.
Ally and I have taken to eating pizza on Friday nights, which is noteworthy only for the fact that we eat at a pizza joint. I’ve lived in the South for so long that I’ve forgotten how Northern life can be, but one thing that has always haunted me from my northern boyhood is pizza. God, can they ever make pizza up there. There’s just no comparison. That homemade dough and a crispy crust, cheese gooey and dribbling with a hint of sharp sauce. Hefting a slice that looks to be about a foot long and just letting the whole thing slide into a gaping maw.
A blessed and talented man opened up an “Authentic NY Pizza!” joint about two blocks from my house, and I was callused enough from previous claims about NY Pizza in the South to just ignore the sign. I mean, I’d been hurt enough already from trips to supposed Southern pizza masters to never want to believe their boasts. But somebody, some fellow ex-patriot NY’er told me about it. Told me that if it wasn’t “The best you’ve ever had, I’ll pay for it.” And he was serious.
Well that made it worth a look, because nobody is more serious about their pizza than me. I never pass up a free one, either.
We went, we ate. Ally, after watching me wolf down the better part of a large and hearing nothing but moans and smacking noises for half an hour, sat back and regarded me with a half smile. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
“It’s the best I ever had. Oh my God. I want to live here.”
I went and nearly tackled the owner, salaaming shamelessly and offering him shekels and attempting to hug his neck as he listened to me babble. “Best I’ve had since that joint in Buffalo burned down thirty years ago. The crust! The cheese!” And I went on, drooling and staggering around the place and generally acting the part of a lunatic just off the boat from Sicily. I could swear I saw the owner wink at Ally as if to say, “We get one like him in here about every week or so . . .”
So it’s become a habit. We go on Fridays, sometimes we take kids and sometimes not. But last night, Ben the 16 year old Youngest (and a budding pizza glutton himself) tagged along to see what I’d been raving about.
And after whisking through another work of art, I sat back and basked in the afterglow of olive oil and garlic and finely cut pepperoni. I tipped lavishly the young waitress who brought me my feed. Life could not get any better.
The owner has made a habit of stopping at our table for a moment, to enjoy the worshipful look in my eyes I suppose. Ally said hi to him and introduced Ben and we all chatted amiably.
Then Ben said, “Are you hiring? ‘Cause I really need a job.”
The owner looked startled, as if someone had just quit and left him in the lurch. “Why, as a matter of fact I do need a dishwasher. Let me get you an application. When can you start?”
“He can start tonight,” I growled from deep in the depths of my sated and happy haze.
The owner trotted off for an application but it was all a formality. Ben starts tonight. He better, because if he doesn't want the job I know of a certain paunchy 45 year old who would do it for free.
I was wrong. Life can get better.
I have a son who now works in heaven, and God is serving dinner at 6.
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