I come in one driveway, the soon to be ex comes in the other. One of his headlights is out and I tell him so. He's into brightly colored geometric patterned polyester shirts these days, for 2 reasons. One, he's not living with me anymore and he can, and 2, he doesn't have to iron them. I believe somewhere in his consciousness, there's a whole London Mod thing going on. His stepfather was a hipster type. Engaland swings like a pendulum do. I've seen this side of him before, like a beat down herpes virus that can only muster the chutzpah to break out every ten years or so. It will visit more frequently now.
This kid, ours, whatever, he's around somewhere. I can't hear him but I know. I saw him slink in, dreading the whole family dinner thing. Oh, he'd hate it much more if it didn't happen. Certain things are just supposed to happen. The laundry gets done, the refrigerator is filled, the electricity flows through the wires, lighting bulbs, powering computers. And Thanksgiving dinner appears on Thanksgiving. Even if he doesn't feel like eating it, it must appear. It's the way the universe works. It's curved space and electromagnetism.
But I begin to question his presense. Maybe it was yesterday I saw him. Of course, he may have crawled under the carpet in his bedroom. He may have disappeared into a space behind the wall, like the little girl in that old episode of The Twilight Zone. One minute she's laying all comfy in her bed, the next she's been sucked through the bedroom wall and into another dimension.
So I figure I'll go get the mail and think it over. The geometric polyester shirt and its inhabitant have headed to the kitchen with a bottle of 11 dollar wine. He won't even miss me.
In the old days, I never forgot to bring in the mail. These days it happens all the time, primarily because there are bills to contemplate paying. Not that I actually have to pay them, though that's coming; it's contemplating paying them I can't cope with. The soon to be ex has been doing it for so many years I may have forgotten how. I think I can write a check, stick it in an envelope and put a stamp on it. I sort of believe that one day I'll be able to go out and earn the money to back up the check that goes in the envelope with the stamp stuck to it. Someday I might even be able to understand automatic withdrawals.
Anyway, the problem with being an efficient, competitive guy is that mere mortals routinely defer to your superior ability and before you know it, you wind up doing everything. No wonder the marriage blew apart.
Then again, it could have been some universal force. Something like curved space or electromagnetism.
But the point isn't the mail itself, it's what's in the mail, which is a report card. It's not so hot all around, but the stand out is the "C-minus" in European History. C-minus you see, is the new "D." I don't know what calling it a C-minus instead of a D is supposed to do exactly, except reinforce the idea that the kid's not below average. The Lake Woebegone Effect. I don't think it's at all like electromagnetism, but there it is.
"I thought you were doing better in this class!" Me, huffing and puffing. "A "C" is like a B-minus, but a C-minus is a "D." "You got a "D!" You've never gotten a "D" before.
"I did bring it up!" He protests. "He hasn't read the notebook yet!"
I have a feeling the notebook was probably actually due about 2 weeks before he handed it in. "Did he have time to read it?"
"How should I know?"
"You know," I say. "In the real world, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If Dad has work due, then he has to have it in on time or it can be fucking Einstein and it won't matter."
"I know! I'll bring it up."
He doesn't know. He just says that. Teenagers know everything.
"You got a "B" in Graphic design!" (N.B. remember, a B is now a C-plus.)
"I'm never going to do well in that class. I try my hardest."
"Fair enough. But European History... do you even breathe when you go into that classroom. Because if you breathed, you could do better that a "D."
"Whatever the fuck!"
The next morning, he's all nice. For a minute, he's lulled me into complacency. Maybe he feels bad because he's slacked off too much. Maybe his conscience is bothering him for fobbing me off a million times and not doing his work.
"Did you ever cash that 50 dollar check?" He's talking about the one from his birthday, a month ago. I haven't."
I'm cleaning the pool. See, in a week I'm going to lose my right arm to surgery. It will be back after awhile, but I'll be off line for six to 10 weeks. I've got to do all the physical work now that I can. And the fucking Desert Broom has clogged the pool filter. Again. "Yes."
After I finish dismantling the pool, I head out to the Circle K. Okay, the machine charges a 2 dollar service fee, but it's convenient. That's why it's called a convenience store. When I get back, I give the kid, mine, whatever, his 50 bucks.
"How about allowance?"
Well, it's after Friday, so I guess he's owed that too. Even though I had to remind him to bring the recycling bins in, twice. I lay another 20 on him. "Don't spend it on drugs," I say.
"I won't." He's convincing too. But then it doesn't take much. Anything but that "fuck you" attitude makes me roll onto my back and pee myself with joy.
How I long for the days of Lego and Dinosans.