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April 2012 Volume 14 , Issue 4 submit to us!

by Mitchell Waldman -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Bill Lundy opened his eyes. The early morning sun was spraying through the opened bedroom window. He remained motionless on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He hadn't had much sleep the night before. He was too nervous. In a few hours he'd be up in a 727 bound for New York City.

He hopped down from the top bunk onto the cold floor. His whole body was tingling with excitement. It was the one day of the week when Mom served pancakes for breakfast. He loved to smother them with lots of gooey maple syrup. It was also the one day of the week that he had to surrender his jeans and T-shirt for his "good clothes." But he didn't mind, because Sunday was the day Dad came to get Billy and his brother, Dave.

Harry was weaving in and out of traffic, speeding like a madman. With Bill's luck, along with his stepbrother's driving, he'd be happy to get to the airport alive, let alone New York. Bill had made a point of telling Harry that they had plenty of time, that there was no need to rush. It was no use though, because Harry loved to scare the shit out of Bill. Wouldn't he ever grow up?

80 90 95 and the speedometer kept rising. Billy sat between Dad and Dave. The road ahead was dark and deserted and the Mercedes was flying. He watched the red needle move, the car humming musically, its pitch steadily rising. 100 110. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILES AN HOUR! On Monday he'd be bragging to the guys at school about how cool his dad was, an outlaw, going 110 miles per on the Edens Expressway.

"TWA Flight 330 to New York, LaGuardia, now boarding at Gate 26," the speaker blared. People were walking, running everywhere, in every direction. People that reminded him of his father. That man over there with the big laugh and the belly to match. And that guy at the lunch counter. Well-dressed, pipe in hand, surrounded by rings of cool white smoke.

The rich aroma of the burning pipe tobacco mixed with the fragrance of Dad's Old Spice and the leather of the car seats. The taste of Burger King Whoppers, of ballpark franks coated with mustard, the smell of Dad's apartment, even of the Dial soap in his bathroom -- these were all the sensations that reminded Billy of him, of their Sundays together. Sundays that Billy spent the rest of his week waiting to come. But it seemed like too long, all those days in between.

He was at the top of the ramp now, about to descend into the womb of the plane. The stewardess took his ticket with a worn smile etched on her face.

Billy sprinted to the black Mercedes and as always his brother had already claimed the front seat. Just because he was four years older and in high school, he thought he owned that spot. Billy sullenly climbed in the back. But Dad turned and said "How's it goin', Sport?," that smile glowing at him, and now it didn't seem so bad being in back. Just being near Dad made him feel better, made him feel good.

He was seated by the window, looking out at the dark clouds. In thirty minutes he'd be there. How many clouds were there between here and New York? Eight years worth, he mused. It had been that long since he'd seen his father. And if Bill hadn't made first contact, suggesting this visit, it would have been much longer still. He'd figured being twenty it was about time he knew his father.

All he really knew about his father was about the money, the presents, and those Sunday afternoons so long ago. He didn't remember the divorce. Hell, he'd only been four at the time. After that his father would take him and Dave out for a few hours every Sunday, that is, when he managed to show up. Then, all of the sudden, there were no more Sundays. His father had moved to New York to take a position with a new advertising agency. Since then all he'd heard from him was written on little notes sent with $ 50 checks. These checks came after forgotten birthdays and Hanukkahs. Besides this his father seemed merely a memory of smells, tastes, and sounds, of circuses, restaurants, movies, ballgames, of popcorn, cotton candy, ice cream, presents and See you next weeks.

A soft voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me, sir? You're not sleeping, are you?" He turned from the clouds to the stewardess's smile. "Would you like something to drink?" she asked.

"Sure. Sounds good. How about a gin and tonic?"

"Coming right up," she said. "How about you, Sir?" she said, asking the man sitting beside him.

He was a very dignified looking gentleman in a gray tweed sports coat and a yellow polka dotted bow tie. No, he said, he was afraid his physician wouldn't permit him to indulge right now, not that he would mind it. Airplanes made him extremely nervous. The stewardess smiled vacantly at him.

When the stewardess came with Bill's drink it was a dollar, but all he had was a five.

The five was pressed against Billy's pink palm. He smiled at his dad and shoved the bill into his pocket. While his brother, Dave, moaned and begrudgingly took the money, Billy hadn't argued. Five dollars was about what he made all week on his newspaper route. Besides, Dad was loaded anyway. Why else did he always get them expensive gifts and take them to fancy restaurants where they could order real steaks, not like when Mom and his stepfather took them out and they had to order chopped steaks?

The dignified gentleman's snorting had awakened Bill. But it wasn't the noise that kept his eyes open. It was the copy of Hustler Magazine propped between his cuff-linked paws. Some dignified, he thought. Well, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

* * * *

The meeting at the airport wasn't like he expected. After eight years apart he had pictured a made-for-TV movie type reunion -- sloppy emotions and entangling arms. But reality was different. And his expectations were unrealistic. After all, his father hadn't even kept in touch for the past eight years. The man hadn't written him a real letter or called him in all that time. When his father had finally shown up late at the airport, it was Bill who had made the first move.

"Dad?" he said, as the man, in his white suit with red vest, walked past Bill, seated in the baggage area. Bill had spent a good deal of time debating what to call this man: Dad, Father, Sir? (Sir? No, definitely not that). At his calling, the man, his father, turned and greeted him, smiling, standing stiffly, awkwardly, sputtering, "Well . . . there he is!" Bill got up from his bench. He was the same height as his father and stared him straight in his eyes, as his father stood there, gazing back. "Looks like you turned out pretty well," his father said, then seemed to be at a loss for words. Then, after an awkward moment, he said, "Well, let's get your bag," making a reach for it. But Bill grabbed it first. "I've got it," he said, and they were off. No hugs, no handshakes, not like the TV Movie of the Week at all. No, nothing like it.

They drove to his father's apartment with little conversation. They talked of Bill's flight and how school was and, at a stop light, his father turned to him with something like amazement in his voice, saying "You're looking real good."

As they pulled into the subterranean garage of the apartment complex, the attendant came out to park it for them. Bill's father pushed a green bill into the man's hand as he took the keys.

In the elevator up to the apartment they were pressed against opposite walls facing each other, the bags between them.

"You'll like New York," his father said. Bill didn't answer.

"You'll like my wife, Vanessa." The numbers were clicking with the floors, rhythmically. seven . . . clink!...Eight . . . clink!...Nine . . . clink!..Ten . . . clink! clink! PING!

As the door opened, his father said, "Here we are!," then coughed. They each picked up a bag up and walked down the narrow hallway, Bill following behind.

His father's new wife opened the door for them. She was very friendly, although she spoke very little English. She was also very pregnant. From the looks of things the big moment might be at any moment. Maybe, Bill thought, his timing for this visit wasn't so great.

Inside, Bill was amazed by the sounds of clocks ticking to the left, to the right, everywhere. On the mantel in the living room where he stood, was a clock, in the corner a large grandfather clock, and in other rooms, clocks unseen. Ticking together, out of synch, chaotically. Counting down every second of their lives that had passed, every second of the current moment lost, irretrievable, counting them each without mercy, in a flurry of ticks.

"Let me give you the tour," his father said, breaking Bill away from his thoughts.

Bill followed as his father led him through the place, the walls with the crown molding, the antiques scattered about. Past the ancient-looking grandfather clock ("That's Windsor Cherry," his father said, stroking its surface with one finger as they passed by, not that Bill would know what that meant), past the large, plush, wood framed couch (from the 20's, his father told him), a couple old looking red leather chairs with rounded arms and tacks all down the arms. On the table in front of the couch sat untouched copies of Time, Newsweek, Gentleman's Quarterly and half a dozen other publications arranged in a neat semi-circle, reminiscent of a dentist's office. These were arranged next to current issues of the Wall Street Journa and the New York Times. As Bill trailed behind his father he noticed that besides the ever-present aroma of burning pipe tobacco there were no odors to speak of. Every room had a television (his father said he liked to relax in front of them because he didn't have to think), and every room had a mirror. Impressionist paintings hung on the walls. In the dining room was a long dark wooden table with eight chairs around it ("These are original Queen Annes," his father said. "Picked them up for a steal in Jersey. Aren't they magnificent?"). And a wine rack whose crevices were filled with good years, good taste. In the kitchen was every known gadget for chopping, dicing, and mixing, not to mention an espresso machine ("Straight from Venice," he said. "Italy. First on the block," he said, beaming). And so it went, through the apartment, through the abode of this stranger Bill called his father.

The first evening in New York was spent in idle gossip. They, all three, sat in the living room and discussed all the topics of the day, although Vanessa had little to say on most of these matters. When the conversation lagged, his father, being the perfect host, said that Bill must see all the sights of "the Apple" and that he would be the one to show them to Bill.

And the sights they did see. The father was the perfect tour guide as well as host.

The Statue of Liberty. Wasn't she marvelous! Yes, she was, Bill thought, but I came to see you, not a piece of stone. They -- well, the father -- talked about name brand clothing, which he wore, his life, and his business, Advertising. In front of the Statue and everything, father handed down to son these bits of advice: In business the only way to survive is to screw them before they screw you . . . No, he wasn't prejudiced, but it was just that there was something to the theory that blacks were naturally lazy . . . Jews were arrogant, stubborn sons of bitches who'd stab their best friends in the back for a nickel. Hey, was the Lady of Liberty blushing?

Back in the apartment, for a breather between the Metropolitan Art Museum and the World Trade Center. The father was speaking long distance to his critically ill brother in Des Moines. There was a tumor in his chest. They said it was malignant. Things did not look good. It was really such a shame, the father offered, he was such a good person. Bill didn't know the man, hadn't seen him since he was a kid, but somehow he felt, from his father's casual comment, that he felt worse about his uncle than his father did. A smile emerged on the father's face. Well, come on, you do want to see the World Trade Center, don't you?

Through the week long tour around New York, Bill felt that his father was running from something. He seemed to be evading the issue of the returned son. Talk, for the most part, did not rest on the touchy issues of the past, the divorce, the last eight years. Mostly it consisted of  . . . "Central Park was formed in nineteen hundred and . . . that statue is over 200 years old . . . Isn't this city the greatest?...Would you like to eat?...Want to get something to eat?...Where would you like to eat?...Isn't New York the greatest?" Occasionally a stray attitude would be caught by Bill, but for the greater part of the time he couldn't tell this man was his father but for the smell of his pipe tobacco, his incessant smile and his impeccable taste.

Back at the apartment. Stopping for dinner. Vanessa was an excellent cook and good thing, because the father loved to eat and eat and eat. After dinner there was ice cream, fruit, more ice cream, and wine, a true exercise in gluttony. After the after dinner meal the father would realign his perfectly cut hairs, as well as readjust his belt. Then Bill and father were off to another wonderful Apple attraction.

Interrupting this week of flurried activities was the ending of Vanessa's expectancy, as was expected. In the hospital for an afternoon, Bill felt more anxious than his father appeared to be. From the looks of things it seemed to Bill that the only worries the father had always involved money in some way. He had shown anger when opening his monthly bills, which he said he couldn't afford to pay, despite or due to his Mercedes, television sets, the fashion wardrobe he kept, the gadgets, the antiques . . . . Being shortchanged by clients also seemed to upset him, as did bad investments. For his father, money did, indeed, talk.

It was a girl. She was fresh, brand new, pink, with baby new skin and baby thin hair and so little and alive! "Isn't she cute," the father stated. Bill wondered whether the father remembered when it was he who was being viewed behind the glass.

It wasn't until later that night after two bottles of wine with the father that he learned that he hadn't really wanted another child, it was she, Vanessa, she was only 25 and this was her first child. They were in an Italian restaurant drinking Italian wine. Bill was to leave the next day. He had seen all the sights (maybe his father was the biggest sight of them all). He had even seen his father's office with the 3 foot by 5 foot enlargement of a photograph his father had taken of a dozen silver dollars lying in the grass on one wall and a gigantic mirror on another wall. Bill thought that anyone who walked in there and was not impressed by the walnut desk, the magazines, perfectly lined up, was not worth impressing at all.

Yet another bottle arrived in the waiter's hand. As he poured, the father's tongue loosened on various subjects:

His childhood -- it was rotten, he hadn't even had one.

Money -- he didn't have enough to pay his bills, Bill's mother's bills, nor his second wife's alimony bills either. But, he said, he was renting out the apartment across from his to use as a darkroom, maybe he'd get a new car.

American girls -- they all had airs about them, especially Jewish girls. He had gone out with a girl once who was taller than him so he had bought a $ 90 pair of Italian shoes with three inch heels to keep from feeling funny with her.

His two daughters with his second wife who had come to visit him two years ago -- and wouldn't it be nice if they came out again?

The restaurant -- this place was good, but what they needed was a new advertising approach.

Bill's mother -- they hadn't gotten along, but he still respected her, despite her being Jewish, she was still a good person.

Bill and his brother, Dave -- he really wanted to be a father to them. He was really sorry he hadn't written in those eight years but he just got so caught up in things, money problems, working, and he had always meant to, and he was always busy, busy, busy as a bee, and you understand, Bill, don't you? Sure you do, you're my son, my own flesh and . . . .

Blood. The wine from the spilled glass was red, like blood. Bill's father had gotten carried away during his monologue, his hands chopping the air this way and that, and the table was now a sea of red between them. And now, Bill's unclearly thinking mind was clearly locked on an incident from last week. His mother had strategically placed an official notice on the kitchen table late one night so he could accidentally stumble onto it as he came back from a night of getting smashed. How much had it said his father owed his mother in child support? Fifty thousand dollars for the last fifteen years? Sure he cared. Did Bill hear someone say "Check, please?"

Standing in the airport, waiting for the plane, Bill realized the magic in his old memories had died. Pipe tobacco was pipe tobacco, hot dogs were just hot dogs. They were standing side by side, bags between them and the plane had just arrived. Bill's father turned toward his son and put out his hand.

"Dad, if you're going away to New York, when will we see you again? Billy asked.

"Soon, Billy boy, real soon." Billy ran from the car without saying goodbye. It was the last time he'd cry about his father.

"Goodbye, Son. Have a good trip and don't forget you're always welcome here."

Palms pressed together, they were face to face.

Bill uttered, simply, "Thanks," and walked onto the plane.

When Bill was on the plane, out of reach, he didn't hear his father whisper "I miss you, Billy boy, I miss you a lot." Nor did Bill see the tears that his father wiped with the back of his hand from the corners of his eyes before he turned and walked back to the life he knew.

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Features -- April 2012 -- Mid Month Issue