I've written here before about the creative process. It's a thing that is a little scary to me in that I'm not always consciously in control of what I write--oh I don't mean I fall into a trance-like state and channel the Almighty--but it's not entirely unlike that, either. Except in this case the Almighty is just me (and let me interject here that I think I just might be the Almighty and that you just might be too but that's a whole 'nother story). In any case, what I'm saying is that I can sit down to write about the weather or what happened at the drive-thru but then find myself for no particular reason at all back in 1974 sitting in my Dad's Gran Torino. Or smoking Marlboro Lights watching the Anita Hill testimony in 1992. I don't know why. I do know that when I write about the past, details that I would have thought were long forgotten come back to me. In technicolor. It's all still there. And writing is the miner's pick that unearths it.
To make a long story longer, the following is an example of one of my flights of fancy into my past. It's totally pedestrian, but it's a page-filler; a blog-safe example what comes out when I write these days.
To assuage my guilty conscience, and because I love you guys, I post it for those of you still pining for my blog fodder. Both of you.]
I was talking to a friend the other day about the changing definition of "Dad". This friend is my age, and we agreed that when we were kids, a "Dad" was something entirely different than it is today. Today? A Dad might quit his job to stay home with and attend Gymboree classes with his baby. Or, today's Dad might whip a delicious gourmet dinner for his family. He might even be a Room "Father". Okay, so I made that last one up. (Does anybody remember Room Mothers anymore? Do they still have those?).
Let me assure you, these are not the kind of "Dads" those of us of a certain age grew up with. Back in our day (the old lady reminisced, one liver spotted hand pressed thoughtfully to a withered cheek), Dads were forces to be reckoned with. They did not cook. They did not play (generally speaking). They were Serious about Stuff.
Dads were all about Work. Going to Work. Staying at Work. Working overtime. Getting Work done.
Weekends were a dangerous time with Dad. Because he might notice you lollygagging around sucking up all the oxygen and put YOU to Work. Your best bet was to slink off and be unobtrusive on the weekends. Just get the hell outta there, hop on your banana seat bike (with a playing card attached with a clothes pin so it made satisfying flapping sounds as it slapped the rolling spokes) and pedal your lazy little butt on over to a friend's house (no cell phones...HA!) until the Dad danger had passed.
Dads got up Early. They Made Good Time. They calculated gas mileage. They Grilled Meat (This is NOT to be confused with cooking. Proper grilling was a manly task.) They tended lush green weed-free lawns.
Dads ate red meat. And potatoes. And fried chicken. If they were feeling REALLY crazy? They ate spaghetti ("eye-talian food").
Above all, back then, Dads were the Keepers of the Car. This was extra Serious Business. The Oil must be Changed. The Tires must be Rotated. Only a certain brand of gasoline could be burned. If another brand of gasoline had to be burned it could cause the worse thing ever. It could cause...KNOCKING.
If the engine knocked? You could be rest assured it was going to be a very, very bad day. And if the dreaded knocking was going to happen? It was usually at start up in the driveway.
The setting here, then, is a brutally cold Central Illinois winter. I am eleven years old. My parents both worked at the same large company and thus rode to work together each day. They also deposited me at school on their way. Which is how the whole fam ended up in the car together M-F at an obscenely early hour. It went a little something like this:
(Turns the key.)
(The engine springs to life. Dad revs the motor.)
What...WHAT IS IT?
(Glancing up from my book in the back seat. I'm reading my latest "Little House on the Prairie" installment: "These Happy Golden Years." For the third time.)
Do you HEAR THAT?
(Putting a palm to her throat and glancing frantically around the driveway outside the car.)
(Now a little red-faced. He revs again. ONLY LOUDER.)
(shouting over the engine revving)
You mean to tell me you don't HEAR THAT DAMN KNOCKING?!
Oh, uh, yes. Yes, I think I do hear it.
(Eye roll. She doesn't hear it. Back to my book.)
Sheeeeit! DAMN MOBILE GASOLINE!
(Dad leaps from the car and pops the hood. Despite it being the dead of a frigid Midwest winter, the heat is not yet on. Because you have to let the car warm up first. Always. )
(She draws a silver tube of lipstick from her purse along with a compact and begins expertly reapplying her bright pink lipstick.)
Oh, GOSH, we're going to be here all day.
No, we won't. It won't be all day.
(She carefully slides a Kleenex between her lips, blotting them with a practiced motion, then purses them into a pout as she studies her reflection and re-checks her eyeliner.)
Do you have any gum?
(She drops the compact and lipstick back in her purse and halves her last piece of Doublemint with me. We begin popping our gum in stereo. Dad returns to the car bringing with him a sub-zero blast of arctic winter air.)
Can we turn on the heat yet?
(Slams the car door, cocks his head slightly left, and with squinted eyes begins listening intently.)
MOM AND I
(Simultaneously stop popping our gum.)
(Exhales a defeated sigh, draws a Winston from the depths of his topcoat and lights up.)
Are we going?
(Peers at her incredulously through the smoke cloud he has just exhaled.)
We can't just drive around in a car that's knocking like this.
I have a test today.
(I liked school. I was a freak.)
Well, we should go back into the house. It's awfully cold out here.
Understand, my Dad is, at this point, facing a veritable "Sophie's Choice". Will he pick work or will he pick the car? How can a man pick between the two?