The Change

February 8, 2012

My father used to be a public figure—
one of those locals you could count on seeing
most afternoons in front of Starbuck’s,
but now he’s given it up. Too many people
know me, he says. I can’t even read a magazine
without being interrupted.
Under the shade
of a green umbrella—his sanctuary
of inside jokes, baseball caps,
stonewashed jeans, and conspiratorial
grins. I drove by once and saw
him in the middle of a crowd of men
telling what must have been dirty jokes.
He was red-faced, doubled over
at a punch line he would never have
understood before, and even that moment
probably didn’t quite get. I used to
complain that he dressed in slacks
and a tie when other fathers
showed up to Little League games
in jeans and tee-shirts, cell phones
clipped to their belts. I said Why do you hold
yourself so stiff?
and How come you never
talk to other parents?
I cringed whenever
I saw him at the top of the bleachers,
unsure of the score, checking to see
if everyone else was cheering before
he too joined in. But soon he picked
the lock of relaxed disposition,
discovered his place in the realm
of hanging loose. His hair grew long.
He left the trap of my mother, and bought
himself a house on the beach. Even
the violin—the thing that had irked me
most as a child—vanished from his life.
Too many people know me. A certain pride
lies behind the words, as if, sunburned
and retired, he possessed more than local
notoriety. Raymond Chandler,
The Honeymooners, cowboy folklore
from the fifties. What does he think about
when he passes his oak cabinet and sees
the Roy Rogers LP with a yellow cover
or the old magazine ad with the child
in a Stetson hat? How long does he stare
into the freckles? Does he ever find
despair in the gleam of that ten-gallon
smile? Good for him I still think, listening
to his stories of smalltime fame,
the corner table at Starbuck’s.
He must look happy, alone in a chair
in the back of his house, dozing
over Emerson and Us Weekly
coming as close as he can to a
version of himself who’d never need
to understand a word of Self-Reliance.