This is part of a series of “flash-memoir” posts that stand alone, more or less, but also link together to tell a longer story. The 1st is here. Behold the 2nd:
Dad is in the kitchen, his face obscured by the cabinets that hang from the ceiling, that separate me from him, him in the kitchen, me in the den, on the couch, waiting. His short-sleeve button-down with the sleeves rolled up, his hands as he pulls down bottles, pours his drink, something from this bottle, something from that one. The ice plops in. The pinky finger stirs, always the pinky, then pops into his mouth, can’t waste a drop. It’s what he does. A predictable behavior. A science.
He circles out of the kitchen, around the counter and into the den, joins me on the couch. Points the remote at the projection console in the center of the room. It’s housed under a dark laminate cabinet, sits on the floor, shines three lights — red, blue, and green — at a screen against the wall. Somehow these three lights blend into all possible colors, make a movie. It’s magic.
Tonight’s movie is Arthur. We’d seen it together in the theater, me and my dad, and laughed, man did we laugh. His was the first generation to grow up with movies, to fall in love with them. I fell for them too, he taught me, like some dads teach baseball. It’s what we do every other weekend, how we spend our evenings. We watch movies.
The LaserDiscs at the rental store are stored like vinyl records, stacked in bins, you flip through them looking for surprises, lift them out, put them back, flip some more. That’s how I find Arthur. I catch my breath, show dad, look what I found. He’s in his suit and tie after work, Friday evening, just picked me up from mom’s. Other kids are not even aware of LaserDiscs, projection TVs, a new thing called cable.
On the couch, the projector humming, he hooks his free arm, the one not holding a drink, over the back of the couch and I lean back into his soft belly, a pillow. This is how we watch, every time. Until he grabs the clicker and pauses, time to refill.
The movie is poison, but I don’t know this yet. All I know is laughter. Dudley Moore’s, my dad’s, my own. It’s infectious. The poison will take effect much, much later. Not tonight. Tonight, there’s a short little man with a funny accent stumbling around New York City in a top coat and tails, laughing hysterically at his own jokes, joking with hookers, buying basketballs and cowboy hats. Dad is crying he’s laughing so hard, and so am I. There’s not much better than laughing like this. We will quote these lines, reenact these scenes for weeks. He’ll ask where’s the rest of this moose, I’ll fake a short fuse and suggest he forget the moose. I’ll announce my intention to have a bath, he’ll respond in his snootiest John Gielgud: I will alert the media. I will sip my soda, and the ice will clink in my cup as I sip. I’ll chuckle a bit, and the cup will muffle it, and I’ll wobble. Dad will get the reference, but for some reason his smile will fade, and I will wonder why that one didn’t go over so well.
Maybe he glimpses something there, a possible future that isn’t so funny, something maybe he should have considered before now, because now it’s too late. I’ve made my decision. I’m going to drink like that one day, going to laugh. It’s a decision I’ve made. My first big one, age 11.