Dad called. He talked faster than usual skirting around unimportant topics until he suddenly blurted out. "Come on over and I'll make you chili." I hate Dad's chili. I tried to find a way out, I was coming the next day for Father's day. Then he said "Damn girl, I just want to see your face." He said it with the drawl that he spent years trying to shake. When Dad speaks in shades of Texas, I relent.
I was twenty-something, in my first new car buzzing down the highway. Owing to the potential duration of the visit I packed a bag. Dad doesn't like cards or presents like golf clubs, so I stopped at the grocery store and bought Dad a coffee cake, a six pack of micro-brew beer, and a can of nuts.
When I walked in I knew it wasn't just another long talk about something he saw on CNN. Dad sat in his chair in the living room surrounded by newspapers. He had spent his career going from one place to another with recessions following him. I'd seen this Dad many times before. He had various jobs circled in the want ads. He was a little manic, and managed a big fake smile when he saw me.
"Sue come here! Give your Dad a hug."
I gave Dad a hug, and as I backed away he hugged me tight again. Dad followed the double hug with very loud kiss on the forehead. This is how Dad greets me, not quite letting go and finishing with a kiss on the forehead. I don't remember when this started, but I have lots of memories of his hugs.
Once I was in the mall, and maybe 14 or 15 years old. He was picking me up and instead of waiting in the car, came in where my friends were. Upon seeing me he followed the double-hug-kiss on the forehead with an extremely loud, "Sue I am so proud to be your father!" Dad was wearing blue sweatpants, a stained Garfield t-shirt and slippers. In the Mall. In front of everyone. I died inside a little. Actually I think I may have astrally projected, escaping my body in a wave of teen-angst. At that moment Dad was everything that embarrassed me about my family: loud, unkempt and socially awkward.
After our double-hug smacking kiss on forehead I showed him his father's day loot. He was so happy he hugged me all over again. Then Dad motioned over to his papers.
"Looking for another job?" It didn't make sense Dad had a good job at the electric company.
"Oh hell, nothing's out there." Dad spread his paper across the floor and sat almost cross legged looking at the various marked up pieces of paper. "Who's going to hire a half bald, half crazy, half century, limping guy with a broken tooth?"
Dad made a crazy big smile showing he had jagged broken incisor.
"Dad, you can fix that."
"Six-hundred dollars. I didn't see a dentist until I was 19 years old. I'm lucky to have the teeth in my head. You know, I don't think I actually brushed my teeth everyday until I joined the Army." Dad poked at the newspapers with his cane. "It's a damned shame. Economy makes a man feel useless."
I suddenly blurted "Did you lose your job?"
Dad slowly got up off the floor, he used the edge of the couch for balance clumsily standing for a moment before sitting in his recliner.
"No. Nothing to worry about. Pain's making me crazy. You know what? The other day my boss, who's probably two days older than you, pranced into my office and said we needed to take a tour of a facility. He bounced in like a little retarded deer and expected me to follow him out to his car. But I said to him, 'how much walking do we need to do?' and the bastard said, 'I don't know, maybe a mile or so.' I explained about my knee, and the little smug retarded deer bastard bounced out of my office saying he'd take someone else."
Dad settled into his chair.
"Dad, you want a beer? I want a beer."
"Beer's hidden behind the potatoes, in the back of the fridge. Don't tell your mother." Dad has been hiding beer since I can remember. He's either not allowed to drink it or keeping it secret makes him happy. It doesn't matter. Dad has always hidden beer, just like he's always given double hugs.
I retrieve two bottles that I brought.
"Hell no. Put that away. I want to save that for something special!" Dad lumbers off with the microbrew and comes back with cheap cans of beer from his secret place behind the potatoes. Dad opens his beer smiling from ear to ear.
"Oh this is good!" He takes a few sips. "So I was saying, my little retarded boss, takes someone else. And I don't think nothing of it. A few weeks later, there he is again, all bouncy and tells me I need to do something in some warehouse. I say all right, but when I get to the site, there's this two story ladder that I need to climb to get up to the unit. And I'm looking at the ladder and all I can think is I'm an engineer I should be able to work inside at a desk. That ladder scared the hell out of me. I knew I couldn't do it, and that little bastard knew I couldn't either. He set me up."
Being encouraging I said "What an asshole."
Dad drinks a little more beer, "Little smug asshole retarded deer bastard, that's what he is."
"Couldn't agree more, what are you thinking?"
Dad's face transformed into a huge goofy grin, "Glad you asked. I figure this out last night."
Dad looked downright mischievous and drinks more beer before starting. He pulled out a notepad that he had been using to sketch out pictures and write out his thoughts. "I'm going to go to a halfway house with a wheel barrel full of cheap whiskey and hire a whole group of homeless guys. I want them dirty and drunk. I'll pay them in whiskey and cigarettes to tear his roof off. When the little bastard comes home he wan't have a roof and there will be drunk homeless guys everywhere."
Dad and I laughed. We giggled, conspired and embellished on the story throughout the afternoon and into the evening. We made dinner, and shared parts of the story with Mom as we ate. She shook her head and said "You two are nutty together" a few times. As the evening wore on we finished an entire six pack that dad had hidden in various spots around the house. At one point, I was in the garage on a step ladder trying to locate an ancient mythical can of beer Dad was certain was there. We never found it, but it didn't stop the flow of Dad's ridiculous revenge fantasy. Eventually we determined that when the story hit the newspapers the title of the article would be "Roofers from Hell."
We kept talking and laughing until about ten at night when Mom stood in the middle of the livingroom and said "You've been talking for six hours straight. Go to sleep. You can keep talking in the morning."
I fell asleep on the couch. I awoke to Dad stomping around with coffee and a notepad. In his first waking moments he had sketched out what his boss's face would look like when he saw the roofers. Dad was delighted.
Dad poured me a cup of coffee. He flipped to a different page in his notebook.
"The hell with this, doctor says I'm disabled. I might as well just do it."
I was confused and managed to squeeze out a garbled thought. "What?"
"Go on disability. Sue I can't do it anymore. Disability's not so bad, not really. It's a hell of a lot better than worrying everyday that some little dumbass is going to ask you to do something he knows you can't. I just hate the idea that I'll get bored and my brain will go soft. I don't know. I hurt everyday. It makes me so tired and sad and crazy."
Dad was quiet. He gazed at a page in the notebook. He looked serious, so I just waited for him to say anything.
"I already applied, but don't tell your Mother she'll worry. I have a plan, you know. My doctor has been talking about this for the last 3 years after that surgery didn't work. There's too much damage and he doesn't want to try again. And I found a lawyer. Disability is a lot of paperwork, need a lawyer for that. Once I get it maybe I can even do some little part time jobs when I feel good enough for it. It's probably better than going to jail for sending homeless guys to your boss' house to tear his roof off."
He pointed at the words on the page as if I could read them. I didn't have to. I knew what it was. It was his plan, well thought out but unspoken until just now.
I started the conversation back up mentioning different things Dad could do when he was officially disabled. After a while he was smiling again. He threw away his marked up want ads and heated up the coffee cake I had brought the day before. Mom walked into the kitchen as he was putting out breakfast plates.
Mom looked at Dad, and shook her head. "You woke her up so you could keep talking? What time four AM?" It was true. Dad did wake me up at four just to talk some more.
Dad flipped the notebook to the page with the picture of the tormented face of his boss. She looked over at the sketch, which Dad tried to hide. As she grabbed for the notebook, Dad and I started laughing like little kids. She looked a little irritated then her face softened as she looked at us. "I don't know what's wrong with the two of you, but it works."