No time for
I always wanted to be just like him. I wanted to sign our last name just the way he did: a slashing vertical scribble, the inverted triangles of the W followed by a hasty range of peaks for the n and k. The vowels were left to your imagination: a waste of time, he had no time to waste. I wanted to take up that much space at a table, or in a room. To drive that aggressively, to balance a highball glass against the steering wheel on the way to the Burger Chef, to yell a lot and have everyone listen, to keep the world in stitches with my hilarious jokes.
When my sister and I were little, my parents were like movie stars to us. They appeared briefly, waving, drinking, yelling, then got dressed up in one costume or another and left. We would do anything to get them to stop, to get their attention, especially his attention. Let's have a headstand race, Daddy, please, we would beg, and line up ready to go in the froggie position he had taught us, knees ready to balance on our elbows. Daddy could stand his head for twenty minutes, and that little skinny Olga Korbut sister of mine was just as good. It was almost scary, watching him, so big and heavy and upside-down, his face reddening, his forearms trembling, and when he finally lowered his feet to the floor it would be as if the Chrysler building had toppled — dishes rattling on the dinner table, tidal waves in the milk cup.
Many of my earliest memories of my father are actually memories of waiting for him to show up. Because he commuted from our house in New Jersey to New York each day, and didn't get home till at least seven-thirty at night (and actually his arrival would be greeted not immediately with dinner but with a relaxing cocktail and hors d'oeuvres presented by my mother), my sister and I were fed in advance.
We would be in our smocked flannel nightgowns, little red flowers printed on white, thin and pilly from being washed a zillion times, and dinner would be something like Shake'n'Bake pork chops with applesauce and canned corn. Mom would sit with us at the avocado-green formica kitchen table, drinking her cocktail supervising to make sure that I didn't exceed the recommended portions, and that my sister ate anything at all.
Orange you glad I didn't say banana? Our substitute teacher is so mean! Eat that applesauce, don't sculpt with it! When's Daddy coming? Where's Daddy?
Hours rolled by every minute as we waited for my father to come home and rescue us from our x-chromosome swamp of lugubriousness.
Finally, finally, FINALLY!, the sound of the garage door, the rumbling rolling thunder roiling through the porkchop air, drowning out the constant low hum of our many home appliances. The garage door, however, was manually operated, pre-electric-opener, it was he who forced it open with his own burly shoulder, his meaty palm, throwing his easy might against the corrugated metal to re-enter his cave. Our ears pricked up, we shoved back our chairs, and we tore through the house like hockey players, elbowing in front of each other, stepping on the hems of our nightgowns, slipping on the beige faux-terrazzo linoleum. Just as we reached the foyer, the door to the garage would open and he would appear! We hurled ourselves against him, our whole weight into his arms, his coat, his scratchy face, owie, Daddy, you need to shave! He smells like outside, cold air and New York and cigarettes in the car, and he drops his heavy briefcase and picks us up, his big girls. Who live only for this moment, for his return.
So who would you want to be in this
little vignette? Would you want to be the waiter or the awaited? Do you
want the car and the briefcase and the Second- Coming-of-Christ welcome,
or the kitchen table, the pesky kids and the Shake and Bake? Somehow, I
ended up with all of the above -- the car, the kitchen table, the
briefcase and the Shake and Bake; I bring home the bacon and I fry it,
too. When I sign my last name these days, it sometimes looks like his
writing. I definitely have no time for the vowels.