Archive for the ‘dating’ Category

Boo Boo

The phone rang just before eleven o’clock on a Friday night.

Who could be calling at this hour? I wondered. Collie got to the phone before I did.

“Hello? Oh, hi Mom! . . . Yes, we are still awake. Dad’s letting us watch ‘Back to the Future Three’ . . . It’s good. It’s got cowboys . . . You are? You do? That’s going to make Lillie so happy! . . . Okay, bye.”

Collie hung up the phone and turned to his sister.

“Lillie, good news—Mom is bringing Boo Boo! She’ll be here in fifteen minutes!”

Lillie took her thumb from her mouth. “Boo Boo! Boo Boo! Me want Boo Boo!”

Collie patted her head. “Boo Boo be here very soon, baby,” he said in a singsong tone.

“Did you say your mother is coming over?” I asked from the door.

“Yes. She’s driving and she’s bringing Boo Boo for Lillie.”

“Well . . . great!”

“Can you guys please be quiet?” Jason asked, his eyes on the television.

“Sorry,” I whispered. “Prima donna.”

“I heard that,” Jason said.


“Dad, please!”

Now, this was a curious turn of events. Lucy never stops by, and certainly not at eleven o’clock at night. But it was nice of her to deliver Boo Boo, Lillie’s funky blue blanket and constant companion.

Boo Boo has been loved to shreds. It is barely held together by threads and knots.

Lillie considers Boo Boo to be a living creature that is sometimes, but not always, a dog. She speaks baby talk to Boo Boo, and often talks about her adventures with “him.” She sleeps with him every night, so she was unhappy to have left Boo Boo at her mother’s house.

Lucy called again to say that she was turning into our building’s driveway. Lillie raced for the door.

“Wait, wait, isn’t your brother going with you?”

“No, he’s watching the movie.”

“Hang on, then, and I’ll join you.” I slipped on my sandals and followed Lillie to the elevator. She bounced up and down as we waited.

“You are so excited to see Boo Boo,” I smiled.

“Yes, he’s been so lonely without me,” Lillie said. “Poor Boo Boo!”

I followed as Lillie raced through the lobby.

“Mommy! Mommy! Me want Boo Boo!”

“Hi, Lillie,” Lucy callled from the driver’s seat. “Hang on, let me open the trunk.”

“Hi, Lucy,” I said. I smiled at the man in the passenger seat.

He waved meekly from his open window.

Lillie and I joined Lucy at the open trunk. Lucy reached in and handed Boo Boo to Lillie.

Lillie put her head through the hole in Boo Boo’s center and draped him over her shoulders like a poncho. She wrapped a few loose threads around a finger and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

“I just washed Boo Boo and its not fully dry,” Lucy said. “You may want to put it in a dryer for a bit.”

Lillie shook her head and scowled. “No take Boo Boo.”

“Well, the laundry room is closed by now, but we’ll manage,” I said, stroking Lillie’s hair.

“Okay.” Lucy stood looking at me for a moment before tackling the inevitable. “Tom?” she called, her eyes still on me. “I’d like you to meet Henry.”

I crossed to the car’s passenger side.

“Howdy,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Henry, nice to . . . now, don’t get up.”

Tom was already opening the door. He stood in front of me and took my hand.

He had a gray goatee, slumped shoulders and a potbelly.

“Nice to meet you, Henry.”


Lillie stood by, sucking her thumb.

“Okay, we’re leaving,” Lucy said, buckling into the driver’s seat. “Bye, Lillie!”

“Bye, Mom. Boo Boo says ‘bye’ too.”

Tom settled back into the passenger seat and closed the door. He looked back as Lucy drove off.

I waved.

I took Lillie’s free hand and walked inside, wondering if I had just met my ex wife’s new boyfriend.

I contained the urge to ask Lillie if she had ever met Mom’s friend before. It’s not proper to put children in the position of reporting on a parent. If she had met him, she didn’t register it.

I mentioned the encounter to Bridget.

“Dude, you so busted her!” she said. “Of course that’s her boyfriend. They must’ve had dinner or something in the city, and she was driving him back to her place in the suburbs. What did he look like?”

“Truth is, I barely got a look at him,” I said. “But enough to know that I’m way hotter.”

Bridget laughed.


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“Dad! Hey, Dad!” Lillie broke from her class line and ran to me. She pulled a backpack from her shoulders as she dodged kids and parents standing between us.

“Hey sweetheart,” I smiled, bending on one knee to hug her. “You are so excited!”

“I have a birthday card for you, Dada,” Lillie said, a babyish tone slipping into her voice. She unzipped her backpack and fished inside. “Here you go!”

I looked at the paper she handed to me. On the outside fold she had written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” Inside there was a drawing of the two of us—Lillie with bright red hair, me with yellow hair, no necks on either figure—dancing on green grass under an orange sun. A gray kitten watched next to a flower.

“That’s very sweet, honey. Thank you so much.”

“Look at the back,” she giggled. On the back fold she had written, in brown, “You are stinky just like poop.”

I lowered my arms in mock exasperation. “Why, Lillie? Why must you be such a rotten child?”

She giggled. “You’re old.”

“And you are an ill-mannered cur.”

“Hey Dad,” Collie said from behind me.

“Hey, handsome boy.” I hugged him. “How was school?”

“It was fine. Here,” he shoved a note in my hand. “I made you a birthday card.” He suppressed a grin, trying to play it cool.

“Oh, how sweet is that? Let me see.” On the cover fold, he had drawn a heart, surrounded by other hearts, and written, “Happy Birthday Dad.” I opened the card to find a drawing of stars and planets, with a colorful pyramid topped by the words, “I love you.”

“Now, isn’t that the sweetest thing?” I gushed. I took his cheeks in my empty hand and cooed. “My adorable, tender boy, so sweet to his dear loving daddy . . .”

“Uh, Dad,” Collie grimaced through puckered lips. “Not in the schoolyard, dude.”

“Oh, right.” I dropped my hand. “Gots to be cool, hep cat.”

“Whatever!” he giggled. We gathered our belongings to head to the bus.

On the day after my birthday, after five days apart, I was back with my kids, providing a hiatus and respite from sex with my friends and lovers. Just in time, too: I needed a break. It would be nice to rest up with my progeny.

Jason was meeting us at home later. He had an appointment with his mother, who was taking him for a haircut after school.

Haircuts are a sensitive matter for Jason. At twelve, he is newly attuned to his appearance. For the past two years, he had emulated his cousin, my cool eighteen-year-old nephew, by growing his hair long.

Jason’s straight chestnut hair split at his forehead to cascade to his shoulders, framing his angelic face and deep chocolate eyes. He looked adorably spacey, which rather suited his dreamy, slightly out-to-lunch personality.

Every now and then, his mother takes him for a haircut to trim the edges. Jason endures this glumly, always watching the mirror as his hair is cut, complaining that he didn’t want it to be trimmed too short as his mother directed the barber to take off just a little more here, a little more there.

My ex Lucy insists on supervising the children’s haircuts. She feels I would indulge their preferences too much. Lucy remembers when my hair grew past my shoulders. She thought my long hair was sexy back then, but that history discredits my judgment concerning the children now. She would much rather be in control of the children’s appearance.

I was reading on the couch when the front door opened. I looked up to see a boy’s head pop in the doorframe, grinning. It was Collie. No, wait: it was Jason. With a very short haircut.

“Jason! Oh my gosh, I didn’t recognize you!” I closed my book. “Come here, let me look at you.”

Jason walked in and closed the door. His grin stretched from one newly exposed ear to the other.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

“You look . . . very handsome,” I said, stunned. “But it’s so different!”

“I know. Mom thought I should try it short for a while.”

“She did, huh? Well, what do you think about it?”

“I don’t know, it’s okay, I guess. Do you think it looks, you know, babyish?”

I looked him over. “No, not at all. It actually makes you look older, really. Like, longer. Taller.”

He nodded, still grinning. It was true. He looked very grown and handsome. It was a fine haircut.

I swallowed my resentment. My ex thinks nothing of radically altering my son’s appearance without my input. Here was evidence that my opinion doesn’t matter in the least to her. I can imagine her reaction if the situation were reversed. Of course, the situation would never be reversed. I know better than to question her presumed authority over most things.

Jason stooped over his backpack. “So Dad, did Collie and Lillie give you their birthday cards?”

“Yes, they sure did. Those were sweet. Did you see them?”

“Uh huh, they made them last night. I have something for you too.”

“You do? How sweet, honey.”

“Yeah, where is it . . . okay, here it is.” He pulled a yellow bag from his pack and hid it under an arm. He stood and walked to me. “Okay, are you ready?”

“I’m ready, baby.” I smiled.

“Okay, so here it is.” He swirled an arm to present me with small bag from Tower Records.

“You got me a CD?” I asked, taking the bag.

“Yeah. After my haircut, we went to Tower ‘cause I wanted to get something for you. I used my own money, too. It took a long time, because I wanted to get something I knew you would like, but that we would like too, so we could all listen to it.”

“That’s very smart,” I said. “That way, we can share it.”

“Exactly,” he said.

I took the CD in my hand. “Oh wow, it’s the White Stripes. I do like them.”

“Yeah, I know. It has that ‘doorbell’ song. I know you like that because you always play it.” He paused. “Wait, you don’t already have that CD, do you?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He was so sweet to think of the White Stripes for me, but . . . “Um, well actually, hon, yes, I do have it. That’s why I keep playing it.”

“Oh, that’s cool, I thought you might. That’s why I saved the receipt—you can take it back and get something else.”

“Oh, good thinking, kid. So did you have second choice?”

“Um, yeah. Mom said I should get you the new Death Cab for Cutie, but I didn’t know if you had it.”

“You know what? I don’t have it. So that is just what I’ll do. I’ll take this back and get the new Death Cab for Cutie. That’s a great gift. Thanks!”

I stood and kissed him.

“Well, you know,” he said.

“I know baby. I love you. So tell me about school.”

He talked about a friend at school, eventually sitting on the floor as his story grew more elaborate. We talked for a half hour before I had to get started on dinner.

A few days later, I returned the CD and brought back Death Cab for Cutie. It caught Collie’s ear. He began to sing along. “Hey, did you steal this CD from Mom?” he asked.

“No, actually, your brother got it for our collection,” I said.

“Oh. Well, it’s Mom’s favorite too.”

“Do you like it, honey boy?”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.”


That night, we spun the CD again as I prepared dinner and Jason typed his homework. He was asked to write the first chapter of a fictional story based on a true event. For a source, he went back to the central trauma of his young life. Fiction offered a way to revise an unalterable memory, exchanging one set of facts for another.

“Brett, will you come downstairs for a moment?” As I walked down the stairs, I knew what was coming. I was prepared for it. “Ed, Lisa, you two come down too!”

As my brother, Ed, and my sister, Lisa, rushed down the stairs, I looked in their eyes. I saw happiness and joy. They had no idea that the next words that would come out of our parent’s mouths would crush their hearts and drastically change all of our lives forever

It wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen it coming. My mother always tells me that when her parents got divorced, she had no idea it was coming. My parents had been fighting for what seemed like forever, but in reality had only been three months. At first, it was just petty fights. After that . . . it got much worse.

The first time they ever fought, it was about something small and stupid. My father was home fifteen minutes late, and my mom asked why he was late.

“Traffic was a killer,” he replied, and proceeded in to the kitchen to make dinner. But my mom was not going tom let him go that easily. You see, my father has problems with being late sometimes, and my mother had heard on the radio that there was no traffic.

“But sweetie, I heard there was no traffic.”

I’ll be straight with you about my mom. She’s a fundraiser person, so she’s a bit of a nag. She simply does not leave a conversation without getting the information she wants. And also, she does not lose arguments.

“They must have been wrong, honey,” my father said.

“I heard what the radio said. They would have been wrong three times,” my mother said.

“Maybe you misunderstood them.”

“Are you calling me old?!”

“No, I just said . . . “

“If you are going to speak to me like that, I don’t want to talk to you at all!”

I’m still walking down the stairs. You know how they say that when you’re about to die, your life flashes before your eyes? That’s sort of what’s happening to me, only I’m not thinking about my life, I’m thinking about their life. And I’m not dying, I only feel like I am.

My father is a man who works in a corner office, like one you see on TV. He calls himself the above average man with the world’s most average job. He works for Microsoft, which means he works for Bill Gates, which means his salary is rather healthy. It also means he gets pushed around a lot, which is why he never gets mad or raises his voice. He can’t, or he’d be fired in two minutes. At least, I thought that he couldn’t get mad.

My mother, as I said, is a fundraiser lady. She knows what to do, why to do it and how to do it at all times. She’s not a bad fundraiser person, either. She gets calls from companies everyday asking for her services. You might think that she’s away a lot, but she’s really not. She’s with us most of the time. I thought she could handle anything. It turned out she couldn’t handle one thing: a husband.

Those petty fights lasted for about two months. I never really got worried about them. They made up right after their fights. But for the last month, I was worried. Very worried.

Their last fight, which happened a week ago, pretty much summed up their last month of fighting. It went something like this:

“I’m tired of you being late and lying about why you’re late!,” my mother yelled.

“I’m tired of you not listening to what I say! I’m not a liar,” my dad retaliated.

”You’re an irresponsible old man and I never want to see you again!”

“Fine!” my dad shouted, and grabbed some clothes and his toothbrush and was out the door. My mother immediately began crying. My father spent the night at a hotel. My mother begged him the next morning to come home, which he did. But never was there an apology by either of them. Never.

I get down the stairs, and sit down. I look around me. My brother and sister were anxious to know what they were going to say. I was not. I shouldn’t have been. I knew what they were going to say.

“Kids,” my mother said with a shaky tone. “Your father and I have been thinking, and we’ve decided . . . to have a baby. I’m pregnant.”

This was probably the biggest surprise of my life. As my siblings celebrated, I reflected. I guess I was to pessimistic. It takes longer than three months to decide to get divorced. So our family is safe.

For now.

We ate supper shortly after he finished. The kids bathed before bedtime. I tucked them in and did the dishes before reading over Jason’s homework.

He hadn’t mentioned the subject all night.

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Lillie stuck out her tongue as I walked into the classroom. I blew her a kiss. She giggled.

Another parent nodded to me and smiled as I sat in a tiny chair. I waved back.

“Okay, parents, welcome,” Miss Harper began. “It’s nice to have you here again—Marvin. Hands to self. You too, Gina.

“Now, as you may have heard from the children, we have been reading nonfiction with our study groups. Each group has a basket containing books on a specific subject. So today, we are going to—Sara. Don’t.—we are going to break into our groups and share our books with you.”

One morning each month, parents are invited to join their children in the classroom to be “reading partners.” I have two children in the school, so I begin with Lillie’s first grade and move up to Collie’s fourth grade. When the children broke into their groups, Lillie brought a boy to my table.

“Dad, this is Perry. Perry, this is Dad.”

I stood and took Perry’s hand. “Nice to meet you, son. I’m Henry, Lillie’s dad.”

His grin was like a broken fence. So many missing teeth. “This is my mom.” He pointed over his shoulder.

“Nice to meet you,” I smiled.

“You too. I’m Margaret, Perry’s mom. I love Lillie’s red hair!”

Lillie rolled her eyes. “Oh, thanks. Perry’s a sweet fellow. He always smiles when we see him on the bus.” Margaret Perry’s Mom patted her son’s head. Henry Lillie’s Dad chucked his daughter’s chin. Such are the rituals of greeting when your primary identification is as a child’s parent.

“Shall we . . . ?” I said, indicating the chairs.

“Oh yes,” Margaret Perry’s Mom said. “What are we reading about today? Oh frogs! I love frogs!”

“Frogs lay eggs,” Perry said.

“Thousands of eggs, to make tadpoles,” Lillie added.

“Well, let’s learn about frogs then!” I said. We sat by our children as they debated which book they wanted to read. Lillie agreed to Perry’s choice and let him read first.

“What do you . . . know about frogs?” Perry began. “Did you . . . know that frogs begin life under water?”

My eyes followed Perry’s fingers across the page. I was interrupted by Lillie’s tapping on my elbow.

“Dad? Dad?” she whispered.

“Shh, honey, we’re listening now.”

“But look, over there.”

She pointed across the room.

“Where am I looking?” I asked.

“Over there, that’s Sara.”

“Okay honey, but we are reading now.”

“No look, there’s Sara’s mom,” she smiled. “Now’s your chance.” Lillie is determined to fix me up with Sara’s mom, a woman I’ve never met.

“Shh, sugar, let’s read about frogs now.” I looked back at the page. Lillie’s eyes followed mine.

“The tadpole is growing up.” Perry read. “It will soon loss its tail.”

“Lose, honey,” his mom corrected.

“Lose its tail.”

I stole a glimpse at Sara’s mom.

Lillie read about frogs and the book was finished. I kissed her on the head. “Good reading, sweetheart. I need to go visit Collie now.”

“No, go meet Sara’s mom! It’s now or never!”

“Another time, baby. Nice to meet you Perry, Margaret.”

“You too, Henry,” Margaret Perry’s Mom smiled.

I walked upstairs and found Collie on his way to collect me. “Perfect timing, son.”

“Yeah, come with me.” He took my hand. “We’re reading poetry anthologies.”

“Oh, fun.”

“Yes, but you can’t read mine. I wrote a poem about you.”

“What? Oh, then I have to read it!”

He giggled. “No, it will make you mad and you will hate me.”

“I already hate you. Come on, let me read it.”

“Okay, you can read it.” He led me into his classroom. His bearing stiffened to the formality he affects when he is feeling silly. “Now, be quiet.”

“Yes, sir.”

He led me to his desk. A group of boys huddled nearby. “Dad, this is Harry, this is Jeremy, this is William. And this,” he picked up a book, “This is my poetry anthology.” He handed me a book of loose pages stapled between sheets of green construction paper. It was titled, “My Poems About Family and Friends, By Collie.”

“Oh, okay, thank you. Nice to meet you boys, but I think I need to do a little reading now.”

“Okay,” Harry grinned. Collie giggled. I sat in Collie’s chair and turned the cover. It opened with a poem about my ex wife’s mother.

My Grandmother

All I wanted
Was a nice Christmas vacation
But no, you had to ruin it.
I try to help
But you yell at me
When I do something wrong.
Everyone who knows you
Knows you
Are not the kind of grandmother
Who bakes cookies
Or kisses you good night.

“Well,” I said. “You are certainly, um, an honest writer.”

Collie giggled.

There was a poem about his mother’s cat.


You are a gray cat
You play with my sister
But you scratch me when I pass you on the stairs.
But then you curl with me
When I am asleep
And I don’t feel lonely
I don’t know
If I like you
Or not.

“Oh, you and that cat!” I grinned.

Collie giggled.

There were several more poems, some having to do with kids in his neighborhood, some having to do with kids in school. None concerning his mother or siblings.

I came to the last page. Collie looked on nervously.

Dad’s Friends

Last night
One of Dad’s friends came over
It made me sad
All of Dad’s friends are women
We are split up
I do not want him to love a women
I guess (sigh) that is a problem
For divorced kids.

I looked at Collie.

Collie giggled.

“I do have a lot of female friends, don’t I?” He shrugged.

It’s true. In part, this has to do with the field in which I work; in part, it may be personal preference, or perhaps just a twist of fate.

I pulled him close. “I will never be mad at you for feeling what you feel, or for writing what you feel.”

“I know, Daddy.”

“We’re a family, baby. I love you, and that’s not changing.”

He shrugged in my arms. “I know.”

I lowered my voice to a whisper. “And you are still my favorite.”

Collie giggled.

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“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Lillie.”

“Hey Dad, I made a new friend in school today.”

“That’s great, sweetheart. Watch out for that puddle, please—here, step across on this snow bank. Take my hand, please.”

“Okay, hey Dad, so my new friend? It’s Sara.”

“Sara, huh? Is she—Collie, wait at the corner please!—is she a new kid in your class?”

“No, she’s been there, I just wasn’t her friend before.”

“And now you are her friend? That’s nice. Why now?”

“Well, we were in the yard and she wasn’t doing anything so I asked her why and she said because she didn’t have any friends. It was so sad! So I told her to be my friend.”

“That was very sweet of you, Lillie. What did you do with your new friend?”

“We made friends.”

“I know, but after you were friends, what did you do?”

“We made more friends.”

“And how did you do that?”

“Well, after we were friends, Constance’s class came to the yard. And she’s my best friend. So I told her to be friends with Sara, and she did.”

“How nice.”

“Yes, but not best friends, because I’m her best friend.”


“So then Constance and I made Sara come with us to see Christina and Sasha. We told them to be friends too, because Sara was sad because she had no friends.”

“But now, it seems she has a lot of friends, thanks to you.”

“Yes, now she has . . . well, one is me, two is Constance, three is Christina, four is Sasha. Four. Four friends. All girls who are friends.”

“No boys, huh?”

“No, boys hate Sara.”

“Why do you say that, Lillie?”

“Because you know how girls go up to boys and say ‘mwah, now we are married, you may kiss the bride?’”

“I guess I do.”

“Well, Sara does that so the boys all think she’s weird. Isn’t that so sad?”

“I can see why that might be sad. Maybe she should do less of that if it bothers people.”

“It just bothers the boys, the girls think its funny.”

“Do you think its funny?”

“Dad, hello? I’m a girl.”


“Sara was also sad because she doesn’t have a dad, just a mom.”

“She told you this?”

“Yes. So I told her good news.”

“What’s the good news?”

“I told her that I have a mom and a dad, but my mom stopped loving my dad, and my dad is sad.”

“Oh, well, Lillie . . .”

“And I said my dad doesn’t have any friends, so he can be her mom’s friend. I said you should meet . . . meet . . . meet . . .”

“What, why are you putting your hands together like that when you say ‘meet?’”

“Do you know what I mean? Not ‘meat’ like you eat, but ‘meet,’ like this.”

“Like two hands pressed together.”

“Yeah, you should meet.”

“That’s nice, I’m sure it would be nice to meet Sara and her mom. But you know, Lillie, I do have lots of friends. I’m not so sad.”

“Dad, I mean a girlfriend? You can meet? You don’t have that.”

“Okay, well, let’s see about that. Thanks for thinking of me.”

“Yeah, it made Sara laugh.”

“That’s nice. You are a good friend to Sara. Now, do me a favor.”


“When we get home, show me Sara in the class picture.”

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I was working at my desk, and already on my second cup of coffee, when I heard giggling from my bedroom.

The girls were up. It was a little after ten. I had assumed they would sleep longer after our late night together. I saved my work and went to the kitchen. I opened a cabinet and pulled down two cups.

The girls take their coffee as I do, strong, with sugar and half and half. I stirred, humming as a stream of sugar vanished into a whirl. I tapped the spoon twice on the lip of each cup. I carefully lifted the cups and made my way to the bedroom. I rapped on the door with my foot. “Are you decent?” I called.

“No, never.” More giggles. “But come on in.”

I nudged the door with my shoulder. “I thought you might want some coffee.”

“Oh!” Stevie said, tossing her hair as she sat up. “I could get used to room service.”

“Only the finest,” I smiled, placing the cup on her nightstand.

Stevie was a tourist, on her first visit to New York. Her naive awe of the city made her seem younger than her twenty years.

I made my way to the other side of the bed, the side where I sleep.

“Good morning,” I smiled to Stevie’s best friend. I put the coffee on the nightstand and leaned forward to kiss her. Stevie’s friend was a blond beauty, also a tourist, just a few days shy of her eighteenth birthday. Her braces showed as she smiled. I caressed the hair from her face. “Did you sleep well, love?” I asked.

“Yeah, fine,” she said sitting up. “Thanks for the coffee, Dad.”

My daughter Rachel was in town. Rachel brought along Stevie—and yes, she was named for Stevie Nicks—to introduce her best friend to her “other” family and the city she has come to know over so many visits throughout her childhood

I surrendered my bedroom to the girls, and bunked on the couch.

This was the first time she brought a friend to the city, and I was keen to make it special. It could only bode well for the frequency of future visits if Rachel regarded my place as an urban pied-a-terre for herself and her pals.

Rachel lives in a small town, a place where friendships can be a tad incestuous. Rachel’s best friend Stevie has a younger brother who is Rachel’s new boyfriend. Rachel’s new boyfriend is the best friend of two of her younger brothers.

Rachel tells me it can get a complicated. Sometimes her boyfriend comes over to skateboard with her brothers, and she feels left out. Sometimes her brothers feel neglected when he comes over to listen to music in her room, the door left ajar to allow her mother’s frequent peeks, “just checking in.”

“It’s not like we’re doing anything anyway,” Rachel says. “I mean, he’s only fifteen.”

Their visit was to last only a few days, but the girls had arrived with a hefty agenda. Stevie wanted to see Times Square and the tree at Rockefeller Center, and to go ice skating in Central Park, “if,” she added, “we won’t get mugged there.” Rachel wanted to go shopping at St Mark’s Place, and to visit the “glass mall” we toured on her most recent trip. (It took me a while to ascertain that the phrase “glass mall” referred to the new Time Warner Center.) Somewhere along the way, they would also need to spend time with my kids and my ex.

Their first night was the only one we would have on our own as a trio. I had a few items to add to their agenda. Stevie beamed as we took the subway to Christopher Street. She whispered to Rachel, “Everyone is New York is so fine.”

“I know,” Rachel replied, knowingly. “They walk a lot and wear black.”

“That’s cool,” Stevie said, holding her bag close to her raspberry coat.

As we walked through Washington Square Park, Stevie noticed a sign for New York University. “Oh, too bad the Olsen twins dropped out, we might see them.”

“Yeah, keep your eyes open for celebrities anyway,” Rachel said. “They all live down here.”

“Actually, my boyfriend Peter Sarsgaard lives nearby,” I said.

“He’s my boyfriend, not yours,” Rachel corrected. “Can we stop by and see him?”

“I though you had Jake Gyllenhaal?” I asked.

“Him too, he’s mine too. Hey, can we see Brokeback Mountain up here? I really don’t think it’s going to come to the Podunk Palace Multiplex back home.”

“If we have time, I’m game,” I said.

Rachel looked at me, smiling. “What did you say?”

“Game. I said ‘I’m gay-MUH.’ Listen for the final consonant.”

Stevie listened to our banter. “Wait, who is Peter . . . ”

“Oh cool, look,” Rachel interrupted. “A tattoo store. Can we go in?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s browse the flash.”

“Wait,” Stevie asked, “What’s flash?”

“Stevie’s got two tattoos, you know,” Rachel said, raising an eyebrow to me.

“Really? Let’s see,” I asked. “Here, under this street lamp.” I will always take that bait. Stevie lifted her jacket and shirt and bent forward to show the ornate sprawl on her lower back, then turned and lowered her waistband to show the flower on her lower torso.

I stooped for a closer look. “Nice work,” I admired, politely.

“Thanks,” she said, lowering her shirt in place. “My fiancé talked me into the second one.”

Twenty, tattooed and betrothed. There are times I miss the South.

We stopped in shops as we walked towards dinner, the girls admiring overpriced hand-painted jeans and cheap mass-produced sunglasses. I fell back, allowing them time together. I was content to be the third wheel.

Though I did my share of steering. “Hey, a friend of mine is doing some editing over at that Starbucks,” I said. “Mind if we say hello?”

“Sure,” Rachel shrugged.

“We’ll make her buy us coffee,” I elbowed her.

“Hmmmm,” Stevie smiled. “Caffe mocha light.”

At the Starbuck’s, I knocked on the glass. Bridget looked up. “Well, hello, Henry,” she smiled, as we entered the door. I kissed her cheek, and introduced the girls.

“Hi Rachel, I’ve heard so much about you,” Bridget said, scooting over to make room for more chairs. “Nice to meet you Stevie. You girls want anything? Some hot chocolate?”

“Well,” Rachel’s eyes scoured the menu. “We were thinking caffe mocha light . . .”

“Sounds good.” Bridget palmed a twenty my way. “You, boy. Go get coffee. We have girl talk.” They were laughing as I returned with three cups. They talked as we drank our coffee. Now I was a fourth wheel.

Bridget was taking to her new privilege as an insider in my family. Rachel was no doubt filing queries about Dad’s friend.

We finished our coffees and took our leave. Bridget had her work to do, and I wanted to get the girls fed reasonably early. We had a full night ahead. As the girls put on their coats, I leaned over to kiss Bridget. “Rachel is adorable, and yes, she looks exactly like you,” Bridget whispered. “And by the way—the girls just saw you kiss me.”

“People kiss in New York,” I smiled. “It’s sophisticated.”

“Just be ready for questions.”

“We’ll see. Take care. Good luck with your work. Thanks for the coffee.”

“Have fun, sweet boy.”

I walked a few steps behind the girls as they admired windows and vendors’ stalls. That was okay, I thought. Short but sweet. Maybe my secret life can be not so secret with Rachel. At least a little bit.


I turned. It was Thomas.

Thomas: my bisexual twink comedian who loves the trannies.

“What brings you to my neighborhood?” he asked.

“I’m here with my daughter,” I replied, pointing ahead. “And her friend.”

“Really? Huh. Man, I have to meet your daughter.”

“If you behave,” I intoned.

I was kidding, but half serious—for two years he has admired Rachel’s photographs on my refrigerator door. He stands naked in my kitchen and asks, “So how long before she’s legal?” I usually reply that I am not setting up my daughter with anyone I’ve been with, so eyes off, boyfriend.

Perverts are lost without scruples.

“Rachel? Stevie?” I called. “Hang on, I want you to meet my friend Thomas.”
We caught up. He shook their hands and introduced himself. The girls smiled that smile girls smile when meeting someone very cute.

“So what are you guys up to?” Thomas asked.

“Nothing much,” Rachel said. “Just looking at stuff, on our way to get something to eat.”

“Yeah, I was just on my way to grab some dinner too.” Rachel and Stevie looked at me. Thomas looked at me.

I supposed this would be all right. “Thomas, if you don’t have other plans, would you like to join us? We’re going out for Indian.”

“I like Indian,” Thomas said, nodding at the girls. “I know a good place on Avenue A.”

“That’s very likely the place we have in mind,” I said. “Come on.”

As we walked, Rachel described the restaurant to her Stevie, who was a little trepidatious. She had warned me that she didn’t like “weird” food, as all tourists will say, but she was open to all the major food groups, so Rachel and I were determined to broaden her horizons a bit.

I could imagine that Thomas was also willing to broaden her horizons. We climbed the stairs to the restaurant. We had warned Stevie to ignore the shouts of competing maitres d’, encouraging us to choose their doors over the one we selected. We were seated. Stevie marveled at the dense tent of lights overhead. “Cool, right?” Rachel giggled.

“Weird, but very cool,” Stevie agreed.

I described a few dishes, as the girls had decided I would order for them. Thomas made his selection.

He was very quiet. Thomas is funny like that. He’s a performer with a great sense of humor, yet he is also shy with new people. That’s as true at a dinner as it is at a party. He tends to listen and watch, observing people and their interactions. You know he is at ease when he begins dropping well-placed one-liners into the conversation. I knew to take the lead until he warmed up.

After we ordered, I remembered that we had failed to pick up beer for dinner. The
Indian restaurants of Sixth Avenue generally lack liquor licenses, so diners must bring their own beer or wine. “I think I want beer,” I said. “Thomas?”

He said that would be great and started to stand. “No, sit,” I said. “Talk. I’m just walking downstairs I’ll be right back.” I excused myself, nodding to Thomas. He would just have to fend for himself with these chatty tourists.

“So, how do you know Dad?” Rachel asked after I left.

“Oh, we just know each other,” Thomas gulped. “So, how was the trip?” Thomas was listening to the girls talk when I returned.

“Everything all right?” I said, unpacking two Kingfishers.

“Yeah, cool,” Rachel said.

I poured the beers. The girls excused themselves to the restroom. Thomas took a sip. “Man, you didn’t tell me Stevie was engaged. How am I supposed to score here?”

“You aren’t supposed to score. You are just here to pretty up the joint. Be nice and make nice talk.”

“Your daughter looks just as Aryan Nation as you.”

“Yeah, if I were young and pretty, I’d be her.”

“Too bad she’s not a slut like you.”

“You want to take this outside? Behave.” The girls joined us. We had ordered a round of appetizers, including the sweet crunchy banana pakoras Rachel likes. Thomas relaxed and kept the girls laughing. When dinner arrived, we passed around silver trays heaped with rice, chana saag, chicken tikka masala, and lamb vindaloo. We tore at the poori and nan, dipping it in daal.

The lights were dimmed in favor of flashing sirens and disco birthday music as the waiters brought Rachel her birthday mango ice cream. “This place is pretty awesome,” Stevie shouted over the music, clapping along.

“Yeah, I love it,” Rachel nodded.

There was a line of hungry diners waiting as we left. The tiny restaurant was so cramped we had to put on our coats outside. The maitre d’ thanked us profusely, as if we had been the only prospective customers that night. “Nice schtick,” I said to Thomas as the girls walked ahead. “They don’t charge much, but you know they do very well.”

“I’m convinced all these restaurants share the same kitchen,” Thomas said, gesturing at the street lined with Indian places.

“This is widely rumored. Like the cole slaw that is ubiquitous in Greek diners. It’s all the same, so it must come from the same source.” We talked until we reached Thomas’s corner.

“Well, this is where I live,” he said.

“Thanks for joining us,” I said. “We are off to be tourists.”

“Have fun.” He nodded to the girls. “Very nice to meet you. Have fun while you are here.”

“Thanks, you too,” Stevie smiled, flirtation dripping from her drawl.

“Nice to meet you too,” Rachel said. She reached to shake his hand. Stevie followed suit.

“Cool.” Thomas took their hands in turn. “Okay, have fun.”

“You too,” I said. He turned and crossed the street. Stevie watched his back.

“What’s up with that?” she said. “I thought for sure we’d get sex off him.”

“I know, what’s up?” Rachel drawled. “He’s just too cute.”

“You want me to set it up?” I teased. I turned toward the corner and raised a finger. “Oh, Thomas . . .”

“Dad!” Rachel punched me. “We are kidding!

“Oh, whew,” I said. “Good thing you stopped me.”

“Were you really . . . ?” Stevie began.

“Don’t encourage him,” Rachel laughed.

“Come on now, no more cute boys,” I said. “We’re off to Times Square.”

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Hot Dog Man

Each year, the PTA sponsors many fundraisers. First up on the academic calendar is Oktoberfest. Parents are expected to volunteer for the event. There are numerous jobs—barkers, coordinators, vendors, clean up.

I pride myself in being a skilled face painter. Alas, that task had been taken when I arrived for my shift. I was assigned to another.

I was the hot dog man.

I stood a booth offering hot dogs for the price of two tickets, with bottled water and Capri Sun going for one ticket each. I offered a full complement of condiments, offering to fix them anyway you like, or to allow you to fix them yourself.

My ex Lucy was tending another booth near the entrance. The kids begged us for tickets and busied themselves with the attractions.

As I prepared for my shift, I restocked an ice chest with drinks. I was bent over the chest when Lucy and Lillie walked by, on their way to the restroom.

“Ugh, there’s a pleasant sight,” Lucy sniffed as she passed me.

I looked up. “Hi, Dad!” Lillie smiled and waved.

God, I thought, that woman really can’t stand the sight of me. Here was a moment where she might have said something pleasant (“Hey, Hot Dog Man!”), or neutral (“Nice day”), or nothing at all. Instead she has to be nasty. She just can’t control it.

There was nothing unusual in her invective, and anyway, I didn’t have much time to ponder it. Hot dogs were a popular item, being cheaper than pizza (four tickets) and subs (a bargain at six tickets).

I was soon tending a steady stream of customers. I was putting ketchup on a fourth grader’s hot dog when someone called my name.

“Henry? What are you doing here?”

I looked over and saw a woman I had not seen in about a year. Not since the time we had sex. “Oh hey,” I smiled, putting down the ketchup and wiping my hands. “What brings you here?”

“I have a booth with a friend of mine,” she said, gesturing toward an adjacent street fair. “We make puppets.”

“Well, cool. I’ve got kids in this school, so I’m serving as the hot dog man. You want one?”

“No, no, I just need two waters . . .”

“I can set you up. That will be two tickets, please.”

“Oh,” she said, looking at her palm. “I only have one . . .”

“That’s fine,” I said, winking as I took her ticket. “On the house.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, no problem.”

Kids were clamoring for hot dogs.

“Looks like you are busy,” she said. “Come by our booth when you are done. I want to see what you think of our puppets!”

“Will do! Nice to see you!”

“Yes,” she held up the water and mouthed, “thanks.” I smiled and returned to the hot dogs.

Gosh, I had not thought of her in a while.

We met through a personals ad she placed on Craig’s List. In the course of a very pleasant exchange, she revealed that she had formerly been a peep show girl in a Times Square grinder. Back in those days, she was a junky living with a dealer, trading ass for horse.

She had been sober for years now, she reported, but remained fascinated by that life. She was interested in compiling oral histories of sex workers who knew Times Square. She certainly got my attention. Oral histories, local color—she was driving right to my hot spots.

I proposed meeting for drinks. She was shy about sending her photo, but said I would know her by her long curly hair and her black leather jacket. That night, I was sure to have sex with this woman, and that expectation had me adjusting my pants as I walked to our date. The plan changed somewhat when I spotted her at a table. She had told me a good deal about herself, but omitted one detail:

She was not that attractive.

My pants required no further alterations.

I introduced myself and kissed her check. I sat and smiled. We ordered margaritas and chatted.

She was certainly a talker. I listened to her talk about her long deceased grandmother, her home improvements in the inherited house, her job, her cat. I nodded and interjected clucks of sympathy or chuckles of amusement as appropriate.

Some people talk a lot when they are nervous, and first dates can fray anyone’s nerves. I was willing to wait for her to relax a bit. As she talked, I watched her face, looking for things I might find attractive.

She had nice skin.

Her teeth were nice.

She had a Hobbit quality that was sort of endearing.

It was happy hour. A second margarita followed the first.

She discussed her interest in science fiction. I gamely led her back to our subjects of common interest. She talked about those as I listened.

I drank down my margarita. The waitress returned and asked if we’d care to stay for dinner. She looked at me and shrugged.

“Uh, sure,” I said, smiling. “That would be nice.”

During dinner, she talked about baseball, shopping and returned again to the subject of her dead grandmother.

We split the bill.

As we left the restaurant, she asked if I was in the mood for something sweet. No really, I replied, as I rarely eat desserts. Oh, she said, disappointed. But, I offered, I will be glad to join you, if you want one. She said that would be great. She knew a super place near her office.

We began to walk north. Midtown was largely abandoned by this hour. I’ve always enjoyed that sense of having the city to myself. Or, in this moment, to share the city with my new friend, the monologist.

We walked about ten blocks to discover that the place she had in mind was not open. She suggested we try another place. I agreed. We walked five more blocks to a deli. After some searching, she found a muffin she liked. “I wonder if I should eat it here,” she said, “or on the train home.”

I detected an exit. “We’re near the station. I’m happy to walk you over.”

“Oh thanks, that’s nice.” We walked four blocks to Grand Central.

When we reached the door, I stopped and turned to her. I listened as she concluded a story about her boss. “That is a pretty funny place to put a copier,” I agreed. “Well, I guess I should say goodnight.”

“Yes, here we are. I had a very nice time.”

“Me too,” I lied. I kissed her cheek.

She continued to talk for twenty more minutes. It was a chilly evening. I swayed to and fro for warmth. Finally, she said she really did have to go. I leaned over and kissed her cheek again. This time, as I pulled back, I turned and walked away.

“Nice to meet you,” I waved. “Keep in touch!”

“I will, thanks!” she waved.

I walked around the corner to another entrance. I checked to see the coast was clear. It was, so I entered the station and hopped the subway home.

Now, I was still pretty new to dating then, but I knew enough to know that when you aren’t interested in someone, it’s really just best to say so. No hard feelings, one should say, but I think I would prefer to leave things as they are. Best of luck. See you in the funny pages.

It’s really not that hard.

But yes, it can be hard.

So instead off being direct, I found myself being too nice, keeping up an email exchange with her, albeit a correspondence of considerably less ardor. One day, she wrote and asked me, point blank, to fuck her.

She told me I was the only decent fellow she had met lately, and she was just insanely horny. It had been over a year since she had been laid. Could I please do her this favor?

Well, what could I say? I invited her over.

She arrived after work, and quickly changed into an oversized open necked t-shirt. “I always sleep in one of these,” she said.

It was just after five in the evening. Surely she wasn’t planning to sleep over? I needed to develop an exit strategy. “Let me show you what I sleep in,” I said, undressing. “Because we only have a while before I need to leave.”

“Oh, you have to go somewhere?”

“Yes, but we have plenty of time.” I stepped out of my pants. “And by the way, I sleep in the nude.”

The sex was fine, but did nothing to dissuade me of my original assessment. She was easy to orgasm, which was fun, but it took stamina to continue past my general disinterest.

We lay back afterwards, allowing our bodies to cool.

“Hey, want to watch TV?” she asked.

“Um, sure,” I agreed, handing her the remote. “What’s on?”

“They do a great lineup on Sci Fi,” she said, clicking on the set.

We watched a made-for-television movie about a homely man who managed to steal the physical appearance of his handsome friend. Another feature began. The room grew dark as evening settled.

“Well,” I stretched, “thanks for coming over. This was nice.”

“Sure, I liked it too,” she said, her eyes on the movie.

I stood and began to dress. “I guess I should get going,” I said.

“Oh,” she sat up. “Then I guess I should get going, too.”

Good—I was well served by the Obi Wan Kenobi powers of persuasion.

“Want to walk with me to the subway?” she asked.

“No, thanks, I need to make a call before heading out.”

“Okay, well thanks again.”

“Oh, thank you.” I kissed her, and then opened the door.

“See you,” she said.

“Later!” I smiled. I closed the door and locked it.

I went back to my room, ditched my street clothes and settled in to write for the rest of the evening.

We continued to trade emails. Gradually, she got the idea that I wasn’t all that interested, and we let it go.

Then she showed up at my hot dog stand.

Oktoberfest was blessed by perfect weather at the end of eight straight days of rain. The clouds rolled back in as the event drew to a close.

Everyone scurried off to beat the storm. I shut down my stand and put away the condiments, buns, unsold drinks and folding table. I gathered my kids and hurried toward the bus stop.

My eyes made a cursory scan of the street fair, but I saw no sign of her. Most of the vendors were hurriedly dismantling their booths.

Saved by the storm, I thought. At least I was spared the awkwardness of introducing my kids to her. That would have been embarrassing.

For the life of me, I couldn’t recall her name.

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“Do it again, Dad, like Kermit!” I did it again, like Kermit. Lillie laughed.

“Okay, now do it like the Martian!” I did it again, like the Warner Brothers’ Martian. She laughed.

We came back from our southern sojourn with a fresh batch of inside jokes.

Collie and Lillie developed my favorite. Whenever someone did something that didn’t quite go over—like a joke that wasn’t so funny, or a dive that went awry—they would curl a lip and affect scorn by saying, “Tee of the hee.”

“Tee of the hee” is the funniest thing I know.

One afternoon, as we sat on the pier, I absentmindedly began to sing “Hollaback Girl” in the voice of Johnny Cash. Collie giggled.

“Dad, you are singing that like a man!”

“Son, I am singing it like the Man in Black. Want to hear me sing it like Bruce Springsteen?”

That became my main contribution to the family act: I could sing “Hollaback Girl” in ridiculously matched voices. I pulled out my standard repertoire of imitation, including, but not limited to, the following:

Bill Clinton (“I did not hollaback to that woman.”)

Squidward (“SpongeBob, would you please not hollaback?”)

Bert and Ernie (“Hey, uh, Bert old buddy, old buddy Bert, wanna hear Rubber Ducky hollaback?”)

Shaggy (“Zoinks! I’m sure I heard something hollaback from that way—so I’m going this way.”)

And so I went, though Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Elmer Fudd, and the rest. (For the record, I could also do Lurch, Roy Orbison, Richard Nixon and Iggy Pop, but they don’t play so well with the elementary school set.)

It was a long drive north. I needed all the material I had. We were scheduled to return the kids to their mother on a Monday. That was the end of my allotted vacation time. It also happened to be Lillie’s sixth birthday.

Of course we threw a party for her down south. Of course we celebrated again with Rachel. Lillie was going to get one more party from my folks before she went to her mom for yet another party.

Children of divorce suffer some deprivations. On the up side, they sometimes get the lions’ share of birthday parties.

My dad was concerned about making good time on the drive back, so we left the south with a few days to spare. After our visit with Rachel, we were scheduled to return to New York on Saturday night.

Dad proposed that we have dinner in Chinatown. He craved the grilled sea bass at Nha Thrang on Mulberry Street.

“I love that fish,” Jason drooled.

“It has eyes!” Collie recalled.

“Next stop: Chinatown,” I called from the driver’s seat.

Nothing stood between us and dinner except the Holland Tunnel. And an hour of stop-and-go traffic.

“Dad, I’m sta-aa-aarving,” Lillie moaned. My father plied her with cookies. The cell phone rang. It was Lucy.

“Hello, Henry. Are you still in Virginia?”

“No, actually, we are stuck in traffic in the Holland Tunnel.”

“You are already in New York?”

“That’s right. We plan to be in Chinatown for dinner.”

“Well, were you going to invite me?”

“Uh, would you care to join us?”

Mom rolled her eyes.

“Henry, I haven’t seen the kids in so long! Please! I really need to see them!”

“Lucy, you are more than welcome to join us.”

“Thanks. Can I talk to the kids?” I passed the phone back.

“Is the bitch coming to dinner?” Mom whispered.

“Looks like sea bass is not the only fishy thing on the menu.”

We finally made our way to Mulberry Street. We parked in a lot. Lucy had scored street parking outside the restaurant.

“Mom, mom!” Lillie called, running along the sidewalk. “Look at the unicorn I got for my birthday! She’s a cheerleader, like me.”

“That’s so nice, Lillie,” Lucy said, dropping to her knee. She took her daughter in her arms. “I really missed you!”

“I missed you too.”

“Mom, look at my tan!” Collie shouted, running behind.

Lucy hugged the kids, then my parents. “You made good time,” she said, standing apart from me.

“We did indeed. We didn’t want to be in a rush for the weekend.”

Funny thing about Nha Trang. If you go single or as a couple, the wait for a table can be very long. But when we go as a large family with children, we are seated immediately. We were guided to a square table squeezed against a wall. I instinctively took a chair against the wall, leaving the more flexible seats to my parents and the kids.

Lucy began to do the same before noticing that we would be sitting next to one another. She grimaced. “Here, Lillie, you sit next to your dad, and I’ll sit next to you.”

Mom raised an eyebrow in my direction. I shrugged. That’s right, Mom, I replied telepathically. Lucy can’t sit next to me. ‘Cause I’ve got cooties.

“Mom, Dad can sing ‘Hollaback Girl’ like Squidward,” Collie grinned. “You want to hear?”

“I think I’ll pass,” she said, looking away,

Lillie leaned to me. “Tee of the hee,” she whispered.

Lucy and I ordered beer with dinner.

We passed around plates full of dumplings, sugar cane and mint. We devoured chicken, pork and shrimp. Lillie was mesmerized by the grilled sea bass. She stared at its eye. “Can it see me?” she asked.

“No, dear, it can’t see you.”

“Can I take the bones home? I want to investigate it.”

“Uh, sure, that’s fine,” I said. “My birthday gift to you.”

“Dad! You can’t give bones as a birthday present!”

After dinner, as we walked into Little Italy for dessert.

As we waited for our vehicle to be retrieved, Collie burst into tears. I was holding his hand. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” I asked. Lucy looked over.

“I want to go home with Mom,” he cried.

“Oh that’s fine,” Lucy said. “You can go home with me.”

“But I want to go home with Dad too.”

Collie’s dilemma. He was tired. He wanted to go home with Mom and Dad. But Mom and Dad don’t live together.

Technically, according to the custody agreement, the kids were supposed to be with me for another couple of days. But now Lucy had introduced the prospect of staying with her—and he had not seen her in a couple of weeks.

“Lucy,” I said. “If you want to take Collie, that’s fine.”

“Okay, I’ll bring him back in the morning.”

“But I want to go with Dad, too.”

“Honey,” Lucy said. “You can’t do both things. It’s not possible. So you are coming home with me.” My permission became Lucy’s direction: Collie was to go with her.

“Okay,” he sniffled.

Of course, Lillie wanted to go where Collie went. If they were going to Mom’s, Jason said he may as well go too. I didn’t object. The kids missed their mother and I already had an apartment full with my parents.

We drove off in the same direction. I could see Collie crying in the back seat of Lucy’s car, the car we once shared, the car my dad found for us.

Lillie waved. Lucy kept her eyes locked ahead. We parted ways on the West Side Highway.

At home, we unloaded the car. By a miracle, I found a great parking space near my building. The car would not have to be moved until Tuesday when my parents were heading back. The parking space saved us a bundle in garage fees.

The next morning, I awoke about ten. I was worn out from the trip.

Mom and Dad were up. They wanted to go out to brunch. When we returned, there was still no word from Lucy. I assumed the kids were beat and sleeping it off.

Noon passed. We read the paper. No word.

I finally called her around two.

“Lucy, is everything all right? We were expecting the kids this morning.”

“Everything is fine.”

“Did they sleep late?”

“No, we’ve been up since before eight or so.” I could sense where this was going.

“Well, okay, so what time are you bringing the kids?”

“Actually, Henry,” she sighed. “I have a lot of work to do, and it’s not really convenient for me to bring them.”

“Well, Lucy, you know I am supposed to have them today. We have plans with my parents . . .”

“The kids have been with your parents for over two weeks. They can be with me now.”

“Lucy, my parents are only here for another two days, and we have plans for Lillie’s birthday.”

“It’s really not convenient for me to bring them. Sorry.” When she begins to repeat herself, I brace for the next thing—she will hang up on me.

“Lucy,” I said, calmly. “I know you missed the kids. And they are back with you tomorrow. But right now, we have plans with the kids.”

Sigh. “Look, fine. You come get the kids, and I’ll get them later tonight.”

“Well, actually, they would be here overnight. And I don’t want to move our car. It’s in a great spot, and if we lose it, we’ll have to put the car in a garage.”

“Henry, why are you being so difficult? You bring the kids, I pick them up. It’s easy. Why can’t you compromise?”

How did I wind up being the difficult one?

“Lucy, that is not a compromise. We had a plan, and you changed the plan. And now you say your new plan is the compromise solution.”

“Look, that’s the way it is. I really have to go.”

“Wait, are you there?”


“Good, you didn’t hang up. Look, let me talk to my parents and call you back.”

“Fine.” Click.

I explained the situation to my parents. “Next time you get married, would you please not marry a bitch?” my mother said.

“You can pick my next wife. Obviously, I can’t manage that. So what do you want to do?”

“Well,” Dad said. “It’s kind of late to do much anyway. Can we see them tomorrow, on Lillie’s birthday?”

“It’s Lucy’s day,” I said, “But I can ask.”

I called Lucy. She liked the plan. She would bring the kids in the morning, and spend the day with us. Of course. That way, my parents pay for the birthday thrills and she wouldn’t have to.

“And you will really bring them?” I said. “Not like today?”

“Yes, Henry, I will bring them,” she sighed.

“Ten o’clock?”

“Fine. Look Henry, I’m sorry this is so hard. One day we’ll be friends again, and it will be easier. Okay?”

“I’d much prefer that.”

“Fine. See you tomorrow.”

“Wait, can I talk to the . . .”

She was gone.

I really do hope, in my heart of hearts, that Lucy and I become friends again. It was so painful to lose the best friend I had for fifteen years, only to have her replaced by this . . . well, bitch. Mom called it right.

But for now, with her behavior, I am watching the clock. By court order, we have to remain civil co-parents for twelve years. On Lillie’s eighteenth birthday, we have legally fulfilled our obligations toward one another. After that, with things as they are, if I only see Lucy at weddings and funerals, that is fine with me.

That night, my parents and I went out for Mexican and saw The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

The next day, we took Lucy and the kids out for pizza and bowling. We strolled the Village and had coffee and cake at a café.

Lillie had a splendid birthday. Lucy took the kids home that night.

The next morning, I helped my parents pack. I kissed them, hugged their necks and thanked them for everything.

“I love you, Hank,” Mom said.

“I love you Mom. I love you Dad.”

“I love you son. Party on!”

“The party continues!”

Dad turned up Willie Nelson, and they were on the road again.

I waved and watched as the car drove south.

I felt relieved as I walked to the subway. The vacation was over. Now I could rest.

I went to Mitzi’s apartment.

We were up all night.

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