“Where’s Dad?” a teenage Aunt Becky asked, mouth half-full of toast. I don’t quite know why I’d asked, it was a day ending in “day” so the answer was always the same.
“Making copies,” my mom said, distracted by the huge puddle of piss my dumb-as-a-stone-but-sweet-as-fuck dog had left on the floor in outrage at very notion that a chair would be moved without her oversight. I’d neatly stepped around it, thereby pretending it didn’t exist and therefore not tasked with “pee removal services.”
I headed out of the room, and using my most annoying voice, mimicked that SNL skit with Rob Schneider that was funny for about four seconds (this particular usage neatly using up one of those seconds), which no one seemed to realize, “Makin’ copies.”
Quite literally, I ran into him as I made my way back to my room to “put on some goddamned pants, Rebecca,” which I knew would be the first thing out of his mouth when he returned from his errand. His remaining three hairs on his head were standing straight up, his hands full of several reams of paper and a bottle of super pricy clear nail polish, he rushed, “I just had to make some copies” as he skittered up the stairs as though there was a real emergency, not just a frantic need to file papers.
Those same three hairs flapping in the breeze, he flew up the stairs, gasping, “I gotta nail appointment in 20 minutes,” to no one in particular.
I just laughed – that’s my father for you.
Earlier in the year, inspired by the windsong or the pattern of the sun on the hardwood floors or because he wanted to be a hip, cool dad, not just some guy who looked like a pharmacist, he’d managed to take up a hobby. Sweet, right? Everyone should have a hobby.
But this is my dad we’re talking about. My dad takes everything to eleven.
In an effort to increase his coolness factor or reclaim his long gone days as a rock-n-roll guitarist*, he took up classical guitar as his hobby, as my mother had put an end to the “annoying her” hobby he was so very fond of.
What began as a relatively benign hobby soon turned into… I suppose if’n you wanted to wrap it up in a nice fancy bow, you could call it an obsession, but it was more than that. Much more.
Not long after he bought his first classical guitar, painstakingly procured after months of deliberation appeared a second classical guitar. When asked about this mysterious need for two classical guitars (two dueling banjos I’d have expected, you see) came about, I asked him, “why the fuck would someone with only two arms have two guitars?”
“Well Rebecca,” he explained, without taking his eyes off the sheets of notes that he’d been playing and replaying for approximately twenty-niner years (but in reality had only been fifteen or so minutes), “I needed one to take with me on vacation.”
As though THAT explained it all.
I backed warily out of the room, more than a little afraid of him.
Soon, he was deforesting entire rainforests with the copies he’d make of various and sundry sheet music, the only person I’ve met who enjoyed visiting Kinkos on a daily basis. He’d file his sheet music in such an order not even the most well-seasoned librarian could understand, always happily tearing down yet another rapidly shrinking rainforest somewhere.
My mother and I simply shook our heads, baffled and somewhat bemused by his “hobby.”
One day, he caught me after school, and fearing one of his dreaded sixteen hour long lectures about taking his three-hole punch from his office, I backed myself into a corner, hoping I was wearing comfortable enough shoes to stand there for as long as he needed to hammer whatever point he was about to make.
“Rebecca,” he asked frantically. “Where do you get your nails done? I broke one of these fucking nails and I need it repaired immediately.”
My mouth dropped open.
I looked down at my hands which had been painted a soothing shade of “fuck you in the eyeballs pink” and said, “um, Dad? I do them myself.”
“I’ve GOT to get the name of Jim’s nail guy,” he said as he hurried frantically off. Jim, I knew, was the eccentric man who gave my father classical guitar lessons many times each week.
But getting his NAILS done? This was going a bit far.
Hours he’d spend each day carefully tuning and retuning his guitars, making sure that he had not only the top of the line guitars, but the top of the line gear. I played concert cello for many years and never even dreamed of some of the equipment he’d happily purchased to feed his obsession. He’d play a fragment of a song over and fucking over, trying to get it JUST right.
Music, it turned out, was HIS passion, too.
Until one day, just as frantically as his hobby had begun, he simply… stopped.
No more Kinkos trips. No more meticulously filed nails. No more lessons. No more “same three chords” coming from his office at all hours of the day and night.
He was, as it turned out, done. I never did quite learn why he’d stopped; why his love affair with his guitar was over – if, as I’d always joked the guitar was my father’s mistress, they’d had a falling out or something. I can’t even tell you if he knows.
He was just done. Quietly and softly, he was done.
In February of this year, I found a job in the most unlikely of places, a place I call, “Not Chicago,” for reasons that should be obvious**. The job as EVERY LINT PICKER-OFFER should know, was a serious one, and I didn’t know that I’d be able to continue to use my words in a manner in which I felt comfortable. With all the “write about this, not about that” bullshit flying around, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to use my words any longer.
I was tired of inadvertently hurting those around me; weary of the games people play. I’d begun to use my words as a hobby – to connect with people I’d never normally meet, to use my words and tell my story in my way. I have.
But I’d begun to feel like a dinosaur – I’m a PR intern’s worst nightmare – I have a mouth that rivals any sailor, I’m purposefully inappropriate, I’m snarky, and I don’t give a fuck. I never wanted to be a “brand,” I just wanted a space to fill with words.
In July, the sky fell and the darkness took over. I continued to blog, although my heart wasn’t in it.
I began to wonder if I was, as everyone always claims, truly my father’s daughter. That I’d take a hobby once loved more than butter and simply… stop. I wasn’t certain.
The turning point came, I think, when a group of people attempted to find my new employer to attempt, one can only ascertain, to fuck with my job as a LINT PICKER-OFFER TEAM LEAD. I am a public person, but I do have a private life that I am allowed to have, and if it was a matter of keeping my job or keeping my blog, I knew which one had to go.
So, much like my father, I simply stopped, assuming I had, in fact, used up all my words.
I was, as it turns out, happily wrong. Turns out life? Not an either/or equation. It’s time to go back to basics – tell my stories in my way on my time in the hope that I can make friends and connections I wouldn’t otherwise have the pleasure of knowing.
I may have had to rebuild my life, but I’m not doing so without my words.
While I will always be my father’s daughter, I have something he never did: I have my words.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, I have a Band of Merry Pranksters, without whom, I can’t say for certain I’d have survived Skyfall.
And those? Those I won’t leave behind.
*As far as I can tell, my father never rocked, nor did he roll, unless it was completely by chance.
**It’s Not Chicago.
And now, Pranksters, I give you my firstborn son, Ben.
Music has always been important to me. Somehow, I never got the chance to really shine with my violin, until 5th grade.
The day before the concert, I was practicing and giving my mom, dad, and brother a concert. During my last song, I finally did the last bit of the song right. I played it right, it sounded right and it felt right.
After I played the last note right, my mom, dad, and brother clapped loud – my dad even whistled with his fingers.
“Great Job! Ben!” My Mom exclaimed.
“Yah! Ben! Amazing Job!” My Brother agreed.
Then my Mom said something I will never forget. “Ben… you have amazing talent, I will say! But… it’s up to you what you do with it!”
I will never forget those words.
I finished my practice and went up to dinner, wondering what those words meant.
The next night was my big concert. I was getting ready – I put on my pale-yellow dress shirt, my pants, my socks and shoes. “I’m busy as a bee,” I thought to myself. I grabbed my violin and went downstairs.
“Break a leg!” my Mom said encouragingly.
“Good Luck!” my Brother exclaimed.
“I’ll do my best” I promised, then grinned. We went out to the car and I got in. I was really nervous. Nervous as a Scardy Cat. My hands were shaking. The whole way to the auditorium, I thought about what my Mom had said. When we got to the building, my mom and dad whispered, “Good luck!”
I whispered back “Thanks!”
They went and sat down in their seats as I went to warm up with my group. My Orchestra Teacher gave us a pep talk before wishing us good luck. We got on stage and I craned my neck to look for my parents. As usual, I don’t see them beyond the stage lights. Our music teacher talks for a bit; her last words were “These guys have worked really hard. I hope you enjoy their music and thank you for coming out here tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen the 5th grade Orchestra!” she exclaimed.
We started to play. I played better than ever; I played perfectly for the first song. The second song, I’d played better than the first. During the last song, I remembered my mom’s words “It’s up to you what you do with your talent, Ben.”
So I tried to show of my talent to the world. When I was done playing, I felt like a new person. I knew music was my real talent. The audience went wild, so wild you couldn’t even talk without somebody yelling “What?”
We bowed and I think I even saw my dad wink at me. If, of course, that was my dad.
We came back after the applauding, screaming and going wild. My family congratulated me. I knew my mom knew that I knew that music was my talent. We celebrated over McDonald’s that night.
The Ben that walked into the auditorium was different than the Ben that walked out. I had accomplished something I thought I couldn’t do. I thought so many doubtful things. I was so nervous that my hands shook. But now? Now I know that…
Music is me. Music is in my blood. Music is my nature.
And THIS is why we’re taking a trip to NashVegas this summer, just the two of us. It’s time to teach my son the history of music.
I live in an area affectionately known as the “tri-cities,” for reasons that should be obvious: we are three cities. Okay, the name is a misnomer because, quite frankly, we’re more like a cluster of seventy-niner cities, which means you can’t spit without hitting one city or another. Therefore, we’ve accepted the more appropriate moniker of “Chicago,” which runs about forty miles out from the city and abruptly stops.
That dividing line is called “Not Chicago.”
Everything that happens outside of Chicago is, effectively, “Not Chicago.”
Now, I’ve lived here in Saint Charles for as long as my three remaining firing synapses allow, which means that I’m accustomed to suburbia. I’m not exactly a city girl gone country, because, to be honest, Chicago is the most wonderful city on earth, but I like my wide lawns and mornings without seeing seven or eight people peeing on things.
Considering the size of Chicago, it’s probably (like most things that make sense to the rest of the world) just me.
(pointless and non-pithy aside: did you know that “East Chicago” is actually in Indiana? That, my dear Pranksters, is a hot pile of bullshit).
After spending my formative years creating a massive carbon footprint, tooling around in my wee del Sol, playing Summer Car,* smoking cigarettes, and getting lost on the long winding roads, driving just to see where we’d end up, I assumed that when I got the job in a town so small I can’t even tell you the name because you’ll be all, “whaaa-huh?” in the same way most people assume I’m from St. Charles, Missouri, which I assure you I am not, that I’d be well-suited to both the locale and the commute.
(holy run-on sentence, Batman)
The commute, well, there’s no better form of therapy than a fresh cup of coffee, a full tank of gas, and miles of open road. I use the time to compose hilarious tweets I never end up sending because I’m fucking driving. This whole “texting and driving” bullshit confuses me. I may be able to make a sandwich, chug a coke, and paint my nails while driving a stick, but texting (or Tweeting) while driving? It both baffles and annoys me.
It’s the locale of the hospital I can’t quite understand.
I walked into my office on my first day and noted that the mysterious filing cabinets had disappeared while a desk had appeared in its place. Win! There was no computer on the desk. Not Win!
The very next thing I attempted to do baffled me further. I grabbed my i(can’t)Phone and went to tweet something about a time-warp and/or my lack of computer making me feel as though half my body had mysteriously disappeared, when I noted something I didn’t even know existed.
My fucking i(can’t)Phone was roaming.
Pranksters, I didn’t even know phones DID that anymore. I’d honestly thought that roaming charges went the way of Friendster. When I mentioned this to my boss, she said, “Oh yeah, I have to stand in the middle of the road to send a text.”
I’m almost entirely certain that I amassed a large collection of flies as my mouth hung dumbly open.
“No…cell phone coverage?”
She just laughed. I shuddered.
Later that afternoon, as I was leaving, I realized the old tank was on empty so I pulled off to a tiny gas station chain that I’ve only ever seen in the deep south. The wind howling outrageously around me (no buildings around = wind blows sharply from the plains), I tried to grab out my debit card to pay at the pump because, well, duh. You have to do that shit here.
It was then that I noted that for the first time in probably 7 years, I had the option to pump my gas BEFORE paying for it. Underneath that shocking revelation, a sign said neatly, “Only In-State Checks Allowed.” As in, you could pay for your gas via check.
And here I was thinking I was the last person on earth to both take baths (which is neither here nor there) and write checks. I’d always thought it was nearing time for my Murder She Wrote marathons, tripping young people with my cane, and chugging a mysterious substance called “Geritol.”
Apparently, Pranksters, there exists a world OUTSIDE of Chicago that allows for personal checks while banning cell phones.
I also learned that I could buy a shed the approximate size and shape of the FBI Surveillance Van with a free metal roof, which just plain old seems like a bad idea. I mean, metal attracts lightening and shit. Or at least, it does in Chicago. Not Chicago, though, maybe that’s how they cook the wild boars the mens hunt all day long.
All I need is a midget dressed as a hot dog and a diner with a creepy waitress to make this a full-on David Lynch movie.
And the oddest part? I enjoy it.
*A game in which you remove most of your clothes, crank the heat, and attempt to confuse other drivers, who are, no doubt, bundled and shivering from the cold January winter.