My father was terribly obsessed with monitoring the regularity of my bowel movements during my childhood. He felt emotionally invested in the knowledge that I was not, as he used to put it, straining myself. In fact, I was regularly straining myself despite the immense discomfort this caused to protest his daily inquisitions that vulgarly preceded my breakfast adventures with Count Chocula and was assured to seal the family’s nightly argument about my biological legitimacy at the dinner table.
My mother often resorted to begging, bribery and occasional threats to get me to finish my plate because I had been a terribly skinny boy, who always to her manic concern was on the verge of starvation. If she had just asserted herself more to put the kibosh on my father's public discussions of my shitting habits, the food would have seemed infinitely more appetizing.
The last time I visited my father was to take my first look at his newly acquired senior divorcé Arizona lifestyle. The gentle heat of the January desert sun against my pale brow turned into scorching rays of hell fire the moment he arrived to pick me up from the curb of Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. Dad rolled down the window to his worn Mercury LeBaron and asked me right off the bat, as one might do with an inexpressive six year old, if I had to make. As cruel fate would have it, I did have to make, and with quite the urgency, but I instinctively regressed back to that childhood rebel within my gut to revive the nearly forgotten art of straining myself.
"There's a New York style kosher deli not too far from the house. I've been waiting to take you there for months. They've got a matzo ball soup and a corned beef sandwich you're going to absolutely love. And the portions are enormous!" My father told me all of this inopportune information with his proudest Willy Loman sales charm.
Casual dining between geographically distant immediate family members is so vital because it preserves a feeling of obligation that tends to evaporate as we grow older and further apart. I didn't have the heart to postpone this meal. Finally, the many years of an incredibly boring yoga practice proved to be of some benefit on the bumpy ride to the restaurant as I consciously relaxed my breathing and engaged my core belly locks to slow down the digestive labor process that was nearing its final delivery.
The early bird dinner shift had stirred up quite a crowd at the deli. My father's regularity as a customer and his friendship with a waitress got us seated ahead of some other customers. This was the only moment I can ever recall when I didn't feel the need to gripe about the inequity of budging a line. The food came in massive portions and was quite tasty as promised, but eating deli on a full stomach eventually proved an Olympic effort that was even too much to bear for a seasoned champion of holding it in like me.
“What's the matter, boychik?"
My father was about to lead up to the dreaded question that I already got wind of at the airport. Before it could pass his lips, I mustered up the courage to reverse my lifelong position and volunteered the truth.
“It’s nothing, Dad. It’s just. Well...I have to make."
My father sat there quite stunned. He affected the general expression of concern I can normally expect from him, but this time there was a glint of victory in his eyes. He had finally heard an affirmative answer to the question that he has been drilling me with over and over for the course of my life thus far. I left the table without any formalities and bolted for the men's room to handle my business, but more so to feel the shame of my defeat in the bogus isolation of a flimsy stall.