We were watching a women’s bodybuilding competition on his 13” TV, my father and I in his studio apartment. A couple next door were going at it pretty good, and their bed kept banging against a common wall. My father waved a disapproving hand, said: “Animals!”
“Rabbits, in particular,” I said. He lit a cigarette.
“I won on a horse named Satan’s Scepter yesterday,” he told me. “Go figure—if it was a horse named Angel’s Harp, I probably would have lost everything.” He was tall, my father, and had a bad habit of slumping. Had developed a dowager’s hump because of it. He Quasimodoed his way to the wall and pounded. “Give it a rest!” he shouted through the parrot-green paint.
I’d come over to tell him Allison and I were splitting up, that no amount of Crazy Glue was going to fix us. And on top of that, I was moving away. Far. Had put in for a transfer nobody wanted. There’d be an ocean between us. He sat back down in that overstuffed chair by the window. The one he sat in when I was growing up—parked in front of the TV, a newspaper always nearby. The control center he barked his edicts from.
“You look good,” I told him. He was hunched over. The excessively greased contestants were all on stage now, each doing their individual routines in a posedown, flexing their freakish proportions, turning this way and that. Their heads were too small for their bodies, smiling for the judges.
“Is that a compliment?” he said. “You giving the old man a compliment? I feel like dog shit.”
“Well, you don’t look it.” I pulled in a kitchen chair and sat beside him, and thought how to tell him, how to begin. He was never one for sharing anything. Anything deeper than a shot of whiskey. He talked more in metaphors, indirect allusions. Squirmed when you got too personal. For all his bluster, he was eggshell thin when it counted and didn’t want to hear what he didn’t want to hear.
I said, “Me and Allison aren’t doing so well…” He studied me. A look on his face like he just took something out of the fridge that didn’t smell right.
“You wanna keep a car running,” he said, “you gotta change the oil. The oil is blood for a car.” He turned back. “Look at the ass on that one,” he said. “You not only could bounce a quarter off it, the quarter would break into a million pieces.” He half-laughed.
“Well, anyway, things haven’t exactly been going—”
He shouted at the wall again but the bed kept battering. The contestants were in full swing and my father stooped over further, looking worse than I’d ever seen him.
“Oxalis,” he said.
“They’re weeds. Stubborn little fuckers. You don’t keep at it, pulling them out, pretty soon they’ll take over the whole lawn. Kill all the good stuff. The grass, you know?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Hey, give me one of those.” I hadn’t smoked in over a dozen years, but he pulled a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. Reached out.
“I like the one in the blue bathing suit,” I told him.
“I like the one in green,” he said.