Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Man, Lesbians!

Bridget took us out to celebrate Lillie’s seventh birthday. We were a little belated in this, as the big day was last month. But Lillie didn’t mind. It just meant her birthday wasn’t over yet.

Per our custom, Lillie got to choose the restaurant. She opted for Patsy’s, where the pizzas are covered in fresh basil and cooked in wood-burning ovens. She can also order–if not readily pronounce—what she considers her “favorite pasta I ever ate in my whole life,” paparadella alla tuscana.

As we passed through a sidewalk art fair, Collie laughed at a painting of Yoda as the Mona Lisa, entitled Yoda Lisa. Bridget loved it too, and bought a magnet with a reproduction of the painting to give to Collie.

We also went bowling at Bowlmor, which, I realized, was exactly what we did for Lillie’s sixth birthday. The thing I most remember about that afternoon is my ex wife debating my exact height. My doctor and I agree with the height given on my driver’s license. Lucy is certain I am one inch shorter.

I am certain it’s a pointless thing to debate. Bring the measuring tape or drop it.

Bowling is among our favorite family outings. You can make as much noise as you like, you get to knock things over, and the grown-ups can drink.

At Bowlmor, you get the added attraction of waitresses in short skirts and fishnets. They call it “retro,” I call it “hotcha.” Puts a little extra wood in the pin, ifyuhknowwhutuhmean.

We always play with bumpers on the lanes, which, I have to admit, has tremendously improved my score. The kids will have to make adjustments as they mature as bowlers. For now, they use the bumpers like flippers in pinball.

Collie broke one hundred. Lillie achieved her two best scores, and even beat her brother Jason in one set. He was not in top form, as he was still hung over from a sleepover that apparently included very little sleep.

Afterward, we had s’mores at Cosi and made an excursion to Forbidden Planet, where I most certainly did not flirt with the ethereal blonde waif who checked my bags. We were just talking, that’s all.

Bridget would have teased me had she noticed, but you put that geek in a comic store and her blinkers go up. I could’ve balled the girl on the counter without Bridget looking up from the new releases.

Instead, I let the girl ponder her awakening interest in FILFs and busied myself with reading American Virgin.

Loaded with comics and action figures—it’s fun for me to watch Bridget struggle with the word “no” when the children ask for things, as it morphs faster than a speeding bullet into “maybe,” then “just one,” before settling into “yes, okay, get both”—the kids were worn out and ready to head home. Bridget went to retrieve her car from a garage. Wanting the children away from the garage entrance, I shepherded them down the sidewalk.

It was a lovely summer afternoon, and the sidewalks were full of Villagers, New York University students and protesters gearing up for the arrival of President Bush, in town to commemorate the anniversary of nine eleven.

I was watching people go by when I realized that the kids had found their own show.

Two young women braced against a corner, their bodies entwined and their tongues deep in one another’s throats.

Now, this presented a sticky wicket.

I hadn’t intended for the kids to see a live sex show, but here it was, and those girls were working for tips. The hands of the woman with the short cropped hair and tattoos were devouring the tanned skin of the long-haired brunette.

They were really going to town, and much too far gone on their way to notice three gawking children.

Lillie looked at me and giggled. Jason shrugged and rolled his eyes.

Collie stared straight at the women.

I didn’t want to make too big a deal of this by ushering the children away. But I did wish Bridget would hurry up with the car.

In the fullness of time, she drove up. The kids climbed into the car and began to buckle up.

“Bridget, there are two lesbians over there, if you want to see them,” Collie said, snapping his seatbelt into place.

“Wha . . . well, Collie!” Bridget sputtered, her ears not attuned to the sound of the word “lesbian” in the voice of a ten-year-old boy.

“Your gaydar is fully operational, I see,” I said to my son.

“It’s obvious, Dad,” he replied. “I mean, they were kissing.” He looked back to the women as we drove by. “Man, lesbians!”

I’m sure Bridget was glad to get past the public display of Sapphic affections. As she drove out of the Village, she put the lesbians out of mind and focused on traffic.

We passed a billboard showing a man wearing no shirt.

“Look, Dad,” Lillie pointed. “He’s got a six pack.”

Bridget guffawed. “Who are you people?” she laughed.

Advertisements

Book the Potato

It’s the first Friday night of the new academic year. Collie and Lillie are being schooled in the fine art of playing hooky by “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” while Jason is sleeping over at a friend’s place after his third straight afternoon of after-school pick-up football in the park.

I believe my twelve-year-old son has matured into the peer socialization phase of adolescence. Or, to put it another way, I can’t be far from debating such venerated topics as, “I don’t have to do that! Michael’s mom never makes him do anything!

Collie wanted a pair of back-to-school shoes with wheels in the heels, called Heelys. Wheels are forbidden during school hours, but before and after, he pops them in and glides the sidewalks like the Silver Surfer. He will no doubt be discovered and spirited away by Shaun White, if Peter Martins doesn’t snatch him first.

Lillie’s second grade teacher, Ms. Lowenthal, happens to have been Jason’s fourth grade teacher. In the public schools, fourth grade social studies focuses on local history, a subject near and dear to my heart, so Ms. Lowenthal and I have had many discussions of New York City history.

Apparently, her interest carries over to teaching her new charges.

As we rode the bus home from school, Lillie said, “Did you know that so many Irish people died because there were no potatoes? Isn’t that so sad?” Her voice was a solemn whisper.

“In fact, I did know that,” I said. “Did you learn that in school today?”

Lillie nodded. “Ms. Lowenthal said that. She said a lot of people came from Irish because there were no potatoes there. And now they are all babysitters.”

I laughed.

“It’s true,” she insisted. “Four kids in my class have babysitters who are from Irish.”

“They are Irish, smart girl,” I smiled. “But they are from Ireland.”

“Ireland, right, right.” Lillie looked out the window. “Potato. Puh-TAA-to. Potato, potato, potato.”

“You like that word, huh?”

“It’s funny.” She paused a moment, thinking. “Hey Dad, how do they cook potatoes in Irish?”

“Ireland, honey. Well, these days, they cook them lots of ways. But back in the old days, I guess they boiled them or baked them. I think they made potato pies, maybe? Maybe they mashed them. They probably didn’t cook french fries or potato chips, because I’m not sure those things were invented yet.”

Lillie nodded, not really listening to my extemporaneous and unschooled lecture on potatoes and their history. She hummed, and then repeated, “Potato, potato, potato.”

She sat looking out the window as I finished and watched the streets go by.

“And Dad!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Did you know the world’s oldest lady lives in New York?”

“She does? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes! She’s so old and no one is taking care of her. Isn’t that so sad?”

“That is sad. Why wouldn’t anyone take care of . . . oh wait, do you mean Brooke Astor?” I recalled recent tabloid headlines about a lawsuit concerning the care of the aged philanthropist and socialite.

“Yes, yes!” Lillie replied, bouncing in her seat. “Book Astor.”

“I didn’t realize she was the oldest living woman, but yes, she’s very old—I think she’s a hundred and four or something.”

Lillie laughed. “That’s so old! Does she have any hair?”

“She had hair the last time I saw her.”

Lillie looked at me. “You know Book Astor?” Her voice was low and serious.

“Well, I’ve met her, yes. She was very nice.” I wasn’t sure how to explain that Brooke Astor has spent eight decades or so meeting everyone in New York City. She was bound to get to me at some point, even if she was just working her way through the phone book.

Lillie’s eyes were locked on mine. “Dad, can we please meet her? Please?”

When we arrived at home, Lillie asked me to Google a photograph of Brooke Astor.

“Is that your friend?”

“Yes, that’s Brooke Astor.”

Lillie looked for a moment. Then she scooped up Boo Boo and went off to zone out to television. When she grew bored, she arranged her stuffed animals into a classroom. She asked me if she could “borrow” two Idaho baking potatoes from the pantry.

With a red waterproof marker, she drew a face on each potato, designating one a boy and the other a girl. The girl potato was given a red dot on her forehead.

“Everyone, pay attention,” she said, holding the girl potato before her menagerie. “This is Book Astor, the world’s oldest lady. She is Dad’s best friend.”

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.

“Bossy.”

“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.”

“Likewise.”

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.

Re-Fi

Lucy shielded her eyes from the sun as she reeled off instructions for my weekend with the kids.

“Oh, and before I forget, you need to come to a meeting next Tuesday at four,” she said, her voice rapid and clipped. “It’s downtown on Water Street, can you be there?”

“I’ll have to look at my calendar, but I suppose I’m available,” I replied. “What is the meeting about?”

“The house. I’m refinancing it.”

“You are? Is now a good time for that? Wait, when did you decide to do this?”

“Yes, I got a good rate. So can you please come to the meeting? You have to sign some papers, that’s all. Please don’t make a big deal of this.”

Our divorce was final, but there were still some loose ends that needed tending. A number of these concerned our house.

The divorce settlement stipulated that Lucy would retain residence in our house, but I would remain co-owner until our youngest child’s eighteenth birthday—in the year two-thousand-seventeen—at which time Lucy would be required to sell the house or buy me out. I agreed to give over the title once the divorce was final.

It was a complicated arrangement, but the best we could manage. Lucy was not in a position to buy me out at the time we divorced, and I was not going to force her to sell the home she shared with our children.

The whole thing left Lucy perplexed and anxious.

Lucy’s rash decision to end our marriage was made in anger after she found herself unable to win a fight about a business trip I had been asked to make. She threw divorce at me early in the fight, as she had often done in the past. I thought she was being shrill. I told her it was foolish to hurl threats of divorce over so minor an issue. I made the business trip.

When I returned, she moved into the basement and refused to speak to me. After the children and I had endured several months of her stubborn fury, I agreed to move out at the end of the school year.

As our separation approached, Lucy’s mood changed. She seemed happy as she insulated herself in a fantasy of life without a spouse. As she saw it, life without me would be pretty good. She had a lovely pre-war home, three wonderful children, and a good career. The only aggravation in her life was the continued necessity of compromise with a husband who could not be entirely controlled.

One afternoon, she passed me in the hall. Her face was twisted with concern.

“Henry,” she blurted out. “I’m so afraid that when you move out, you won’t support me and the kids.”

I stammered reassurance that we would do what we had to do to keep the house and take care of the children.

As I reflected on her concern, I realized just how little she comprehended the reality of divorce.

Lucy apparently believed that her life would be exactly the same as it was, simply minus my presence. She would have full custody of the children and access to at least half of my income. In this scheme of things, I would go off someplace else and no longer be a problem for her. She would live the life we created together, without the aggravations of being with me.

I have to say, I was surprised that so intelligent a person as Lucy was capable of being so very naive.

But such is the ability of divorce to make idiots of otherwise competent people. Divorce stands out as the only life-changing decision made in anger.

Other decisions may cause nail biting, but when you decide which college to attend, what job to take, who to marry, which place to live, which medical treatment to undergo, and so on, you are generally capable of rationally balancing pros and cons in order to make the best possible choice.

Lucy, like so many others considering divorce, could not see past her own spite. She dreamed of getting me in front of a judge and proving, once and for all, for all the world to see, just what a bastard I truly was.

Her family advised her to calm down. Her lawyer told her she would not get the arrangement she sought. She didn’t care. She dug in her heels and steeled herself to fight to the bitter end.

The bitter end came more quickly that she expected, with a result she dreaded, and at a far greater expense than anyone anticipated.

She would have to share custody equally. She would get no financial support. And she would have to continue to compromise with me on issues concerning our house and children for at least the next eleven years. If she failed to do so, she could face legal consequences.

Lucy had allowed her rage to destroy her family. She spent a fortune she could ill afford. No one thought I was a bastard. She looked pretty stupid.

In the process, I learned this sage advice: if parents are considering divorce, they should sit down calmly to determine whether or not they can comfortably afford to buy and furnish a second home of comparable size within the same school district. They should ask themselves if they could continue to work together in the children’s best interests, because, as soon becomes apparent, if you think you spouse is a jerk now, just wait until you are no longer married and you still have to be parents.

If parents fail this litmus test, they should probably get over themselves and live up to their responsibilities.

When Lucy told me that she had decided to refinance our mortgage, I was irked that she had made this decision without me. Not only did it affect a property I owned with her, but within our relationship, I was generally the one who researched such matters and helped her to weigh options. She was prone to making sudden decisions without thinking through the consequences.

As witness our divorce.

Lucy was asking me to sign off on the mortgage as I stood there, hearing about it for the first time. She presented it as a done deal, while I had no way of knowing if this was a good or bad idea.

“Well, Lucy, I can’t say I’m opposed to the refinancing,” I said. “But I can’t sign papers concerning shared marital property without my lawyer’s advice.”

“Come on, Henry,” she said, exasperated. “Don’t make this difficult.”

“It’s not difficult. Just have the papers faxed to my lawyer. If she says it’s kosher, then it’s kosher.”

“Fine!” Lucy spit out. She turned and walked off.

I emailed my lawyer and told her to expect the papers.

Tuesday came and went. The papers were never sent.

I called Lucy to ask about the meeting.

“We rescheduled the meeting because you fucked it up,” she said. “I lost the rate we had, and so now we have to negotiate it again.”

“I didn’t fuck anything up. If you make decisions affecting me without my input, they aren’t really decisions, just proposals. If you send the papers to my lawyer, then I will . . .”

I stopped speaking, realizing that Lucy had already hung up on me.

A couple of weeks later, my lawyer emailed to say she had received the papers.

I’m not a real estate attorney, she averred, but it looks like a standard re-fi. I don’t see any reason not to sign.

I thanked her and forwarded the email to Lucy. “Looks like a go!” I added.

A week passed before Lucy responded.

Please be at the Water Street office Monday at four.

Ten words, including “please,” forming a complete sentence. Lucy was trying hard to be polite.

I arrived at the office to find Lucy already sitting in a conference room with a bank representative who introduced herself as Miranda Valdez. We shook hands and I sat down. Lucy and I were each presented with a copy of the refinancing agreement. Each stack was at least half an inch thick.

“All right,” Miranda began to explain. “If you open your copy to page three, you can see that the value of the house is . . .”

“Wait, wait,” Lucy interrupted. She pointed to me. “We’re divorced and I’m not comfortable discussing my finances with my husband—my ex-husband—in the room.”

“Well . . .” Miranda explained, “We are only discussing information that is in both copies of the re-fi agreement.”

“Still . . .” Lucy began. “I would prefer that Henry leave the room.”

“I don’t mind leaving,” I said, standing.

“Well, if you don’t mind,” Miranda said. “I’ll call you back in a moment.”

“Thanks, Henry,” Lucy said.

I went to the reception desk and helped myself to a paper cone of water. Of course, I knew the value of the house. We had just had it appraised during the divorce. But whatever.

When I was called back to the conference room, Lucy was signing at the indicated pages.

I began to read the contract.

I got no further than the first page. There was my name, next to Lucy’s, as cosigner on the loan.

“Excuse me,” I asked Miranda. “But doesn’t this put me on the mortgage?”

She looked at her copy. “Yes, it does. Is that a problem?”

“I’m afraid so. See, I’m not obliged to take on Lucy’s mortgage.”

Lucy blanched. “Please don’t make this difficult,” she said.

“I’m not being difficult, Lucy. But this is a problem. I’m not supposed to be on the mortgage.”

“You don’t have to actually pay it,” Lucy said. “Just sign.”

“I can’t sign a contract and simply not pay . . . “

“No, wait, he’s right,” Miranda interjected. “This is a mistake. But hang on, are you on the title?”

“Yes, he is,” Lucy replied, as if that settled the matter.

“Well, that also complicates this. If you are on the title, you need to be on the mortgage.”

“I’m supposed to come off the title, now that the divorce is final,” I explained.

“Yes, my lawyer is supposed to take care of that,” Lucy nodded.

“Okay. I think that needs to happen before we can do the re-fi.” Miranda stood up. “Hang on, let me talk to my supervisor. I don’t want to give you inaccurate information, and this is the first time I’ve encountered this.”

“It’s our first divorce, too,” I joked.

“Yeah, well, divorce is complicated,” Miranda said. “I’ll be right back.”

Miranda left us alone. I continued to read my copy of the contract. Lucy continued to sign hers.

“Did you want to authorize the bank to take payments directly from your account?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” Lucy said, not looking up.

“Then you shouldn’t sign page fourteen.”

Lucy flipped back to page fourteen. “I already signed it.”

“We can ask Miranda how to change that,” I suggested. Lucy returned to signing pages. “The kids are in after school?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Ten minutes passed.

Miranda returned and introduced us to her supervisor, Jack Rollins. He shook our hands.

“Okay, so Miranda has explained your situation to me. Now, if I have this right, you two are recently divorced and you, Lucy, want to do a re-fi on your house. And you, Henry, are on the title now, but won’t be for much longer.”

“That’s right,” Lucy agreed. I nodded.

“Okay,” Jack went on. “In that case, we have to draw up another agreement.”

“Oh no, really?” Lucy said.

“Yes. See, this rate was set with the understanding that the owners were refinancing a shared property. But once the title is transferred, we need to set up a different kind of mortgage. Essentially, it’s as if the two of you are selling the house to a new owner, who happens to be one of you. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“But wait, will I get the same rate?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, you should, assuming that the title is transferred promptly. But unfortunately, there is a surcharge on the new mortgage. It’s going to set you back, say, depending on the value of house, about five or six thousand dollars.”

Lucy fell back. “We both have to pay that?”

“No, only the borrower is responsible, so it would come from you.”

“Oh no!” Lucy laughed nervously. “This is terrible news.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Jack said. “But you still come out ahead in the re-fi, so you will ultimately save money.”

“Okay, I guess that’s good,” Lucy said. “I have some questions, but are we done with Henry? I’d prefer it if he wasn’t here.”

Jack looked to Miranda. “Yes, I think he’s done. But we’ll need him to come back when we do the re-fi signing.”

“Okay,” I said, standing. “Lucy will let me know when that date is set. Nice to meet you, Miranda, Jack.”

We shook hands.

I waved goodbye to Lucy. She waved back.

She looked as though she might be sick.

Two weeks later, we returned to the office and signed the corrected forms.

Lucy now had a refinanced thirty-year mortgage on the house. She was still obliged to sell or buy me out in eleven years.

I left the office having ended my first stint as a suburban homeowner.

Key

“Henry? Henry, may I speak with you a moment?”

I was crossing the lobby when my elderly neighbor Mr. Lansky called me into the mailroom. “Good afternoon, Mr. Lansky, what’s up?” I asked, my voice tempered with neighborly bonhomie.

“Just a moment, please,” he replied. He took an envelope from his mailbox and glanced at the return address. He carefully placed it on the shelf below his mailbox. He then reached in to take another envelope.

“Bills. Junk.” he said, looking at the return address. He tore the envelope in half, placing it next to its intact twin on the shelf.

“Yes,” I responded. “Mail.”

Mr. Lansky looked at me, his face expressionless. He then reached again into his mailbox. He looked at an envelope and placed it with the first one he had fished out. Another was retrieved. He looked at the front, and then the back. He began to tear it in half. The tearing proved to require more effort than he thought. He took his other hand from the mailbox key and, with both hands, tried to rip the mailing.

I shifted my weight, waiting.

Mr. Lansky focused his strength on the recalcitrant envelope. He decided to tear it from the opposite side. The envelope refused to give. Mr. Lansky looked again at the envelope. The bright yellow color gave it away as a mass circular of coupons. We all received these mailings every month or so.

A nearby wastebasket was full of them.

I jingled my keys in my pocket.

Unable to tear through the stack of coupons, Mr. Lansky added the yellow envelope to his pile of saved mail. His hand reached back into his mailbox. He found it empty. He looked into the mailbox, confirming that there was nothing left.

He took up his mail, and closed the mailbox. He locked it, returning the keys to his right pants pocket. With his hand free of the keys, he took up the ripped envelope and walked to the wastebasket. He dropped the torn envelopes into the trash.

I stood smiling placidly, as though I had nowhere else to be.

“Henry, please, I want to speak with you.” He gestured toward the elevator.

I allowed a measure of concern to enter my voice. “Yes, Mr. Lansky, what’s on your mind?”

I walked slowly beside him, matching my pace to his. “I think you know, Henry.” He stopped and looked at me. “It’s about your door.”

“Yes . . .”

“We have spoken before about your door,” he said, his voice rising to a well-modulated pitch. “You made a promise to me.”

I nodded, stepping back to his side. “Yes, we spoke about the door.”

Mr. Lansky stood still. “I don’t take promises lightly,” he said, training his eyes on mine. “I can’t afford to. I’m not a young man.”

“ None of us is getting any younger,” I offered.

What the hell are we talking about, I wondered.

Mr. Lansky has been growing increasingly more eccentric. When he hears me coming or going, he opens his door to greet me, or to glare. I never know what he will say, if anything, when his door swings open. I always wave and smile.

He recently took me aside to express his concern that my ten-year-old son Collie was “too close” to our three-year-old neighbor Holly. He felt that it wasn’t natural for a boy his age to play with a girl her age. He feared the possibility of sexual molestation.

I said I would keep my eyes open. He told me he doesn’t like to talk, but he “sees things.” I noted that discretion is the better part of valor.

Mr. Lansky may be eccentric, but I suppose he earned the right. He survived the Holocaust by repairing clocks and watches in a series of concentration camps. Most of his family wasn’t so lucky.

He often offers to repair any clocks I may find running slow.

As we stepped into the elevator, Mr. Lansky returned to discussion of my front door.

One afternoon last October, I had noticed that Collie and Lillie were being suspiciously quiet. I investigated and found them with Holly at our door. “Look, Dad,” Collie smiled. “We’re getting ready for Halloween!”

“Yeah, now kids will know to trick or treat here!” Lillie added. The door was covered with stickers. SpongeBob and Patrick cavorted across the door in orange and black costumes. Holly smiled at me as she added a pumpkin to the group.

“Hang on, kids, hang on,” I winced. “Maybe we should be sure those stickers come off, okay?”

“Oh, they do, Dad. Look.” Collie peeled away a sticker of SpongeBob dressed as a ghost in a sheet. “I tested it, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” I said, warily. I tried another sticker and it came off without effort. “All right, go ahead—let’s make it look good and spooky.”

“Yay!” Lillie shouted.

Holly’s mother joined us. She shook her head. “You are an indulgent father, Henry,” she smiled.

“I know, I just can’t help myself. Say, you want some stickers? Your door looks pretty drab.”

“No thanks,” she laughed.

As the kids and I ate dinner, there was a knock at my door. “Yes, Mr. Lansky?”

He frowned. “I see you have your door decorated.”

“Yes, the kids put up some stickers for Halloween.”

“Well, I don’t grudge the children. You know this. But these need to come down after Halloween. I am putting my apartment on the market. I can’t show the apartment when there are stickers on your door.”

I leaned on the doorframe. “Oh sure, you can show your place, Mr. Lansky . . .”

He held up a hand. “Please. I appreciate your advice. But you will take off the stickers?”

“Yes, of course, after Halloween”

“So, November first.”

“Well yeah, after Halloween.”

“Good. November first. We have an understanding.” He turned to his door. “Enjoy your dinner. Your children are a blessing.”

“Thanks, Mr. Lansky.”

He closed his door. I closed mine.

Just after Halloween, Mr. Lansky reminded me of my pledge to remove the stickers. One day after school, I delegated the job to Collie. “Hey Dad,” he called to me. “Come here, okay?”

“Okay, just a second.” I put aside the dishes I was washing and dried my hands. “How’s it going?”

“Look, the stickers are really stuck.” Collie held fragments in his hand. He had managed to remove a few stickers—taking layers of paint with them. “Oh, no! Wait, wait, don’t take off any more. We need to use some kind of solvent or something. Those things are really stuck.”

“Is it bad?” he asked.

“No, it will work. We just have to get the right stuff to help us.”

Mr. Lansky asked about my progress a few days later. “Oh right,” I said. “I need to get some solvent. Thanks for reminding me.”

The next week, he mentioned it again as I headed out to work.

“Right, I need to get on that. Thanks.”

Thanksgiving came and went.

I bought a solution at the hardware store. It didn’t work.

Christmas had passed by the time he pulled me aside in the mailroom.

“Now really, Henry, I have been very patient. As you know, I am waiting on you before I can show my apartment to sell. I am not a young man.”

I apologized, adding, “But really, my door doesn’t affect the selling of your apartment.”

“Your advice is taken,” he said, cutting me off. “But I know better.”

I nodded. Mr. Lansky would indeed know better than me. He puts his apartment on the market every six months or so, always asking far more than its value. Perhaps he could sell it one day and make a killing. That is, if my door was presentable.

Finally, one day in January, Bridget and I found a trick that worked. Following advice I found online, we painted vegetable oil on the stickers. After soaking for a few hours, they slipped off like wet paper. “Thank God,” I sighed. “Our long nightmare is ended. Mr. Lansky can now cash in his million-dollar property and rest easy.”

“Maybe the new neighbors will like Hello Kitty,” Bridget said. “Because I’ve got the coolest stickers to give to Lillie . . .”

“Not funny,” I laughed.

I later passed Mr. Lansky in the lobby.

“Thank you, Henry, seventy-five percent.”

“Come again?”

“Thank you for removing the stickers. But you still need to repaint the door.”

“Well, it needs some touch up . . .”

“You can hire a painter. I know a good one in the building.”

I looked at him. “Okay, well, I’ve got to pick up the kids now. I’ll see about the paint.”

“I’ll leave the painter’s number under your door.”

Now, I’ll confess, I forgot about this. I have three kids, lots of work and a very active social life. I did not make a priority of dabbing a few strokes of paint on my door.

Mr. Lansky did not forget. I had made a promise. We had an understanding.

I’m sure he looked at my door every day, fretting about its effect on the value of his property.

One afternoon, I arrived home with the kids. I was hot and tired. I had been up much too late the previous night, and then woke early to work before walking to get the kids.

I unlocked the door. When I pulled the key back, it refused to budge.

“Shit,” I muttered, wiggling the key.

“Dad!” Collie admonished.

“Sorry, sorry,” I said, pulling the door back and forth with my key, to no avail. “The key is jammed.”

I oiled the lock. Nothing.

I had no patience for this. I left the key in place and closed the door, bolting the three other locks. This could wait.

I helped the kids with their homework. I made dinner and did the dishes as the children bathed. By ten, they were in bed. I was exhausted.

I poured a bourbon and took my book to the couch. I expected to be dead asleep within an hour. Just then, I heard voices in the hall. It was Mr. Lansky and a woman I couldn’t place. They reached my door. I heard bits of their conversation.

“. . . this key in the lock . . .”

“Not safe . . .”

Mr. Lansky rang the bell.

Jesus, I thought. Can’t I get a moment’s peace? I know about the key. I don’t want a conversation about the paint job. I don’t want to spend any time trapped by Mr. Lansky. And so, in a time-honored New York tradition, I ignored the bell. I would pretend to be otherwise engaged until the two of them gave up.

Mr. Lansky rang again. He knocked.

“ . . . father with three children . . .”

“Not safe . . . robbery . . .”

Mr. Lansky tried the key. Please don’t fucking toy with my door, I thought. Just go away.

Mr. Lansky tried the doorknob. It’s locked, I thought. Thank God, since apparently you wouldn’t hesitate to barge in.

Mr. Lansky and his companion continued to worry my door for ten minutes. Then fifteen.

Twenty minutes passed.

Now I felt stuck: would they ever stop without me telling them that I know about the key, and my other locks are secure? What would they think if I opened the door now, after all the ringing and knocking and scraping, to reveal that I was home the entire time?

My phone rang. I answered in the bedroom.

“Henry?”

“Yes?”

“This is Jim Friedman, we’ve met before. I’m president of the co-op board. I hope I’m not disturbing you?”

“What can I do for you, Jim?”

“Well, I just got a call from one of your neighbors. Apparently your key is stuck in your door.”

“Yes, I know. It’s stuck. I plan to get a locksmith tomorrow. For now, my other locks are secure.”

“Oh. He was worried because he had knocked several times.”

“I guess I missed it,” I yawned. “I turned in early.”

“Oh, well, then sorry to bother you. I’ll let him know everything is fine.”

“Thanks Jim. Good night.”

“Good night, Henry.”

The next morning, I tried the key again. It slipped out with no resistance.

Of course, I thought.

I ran into Mr. Lansky that afternoon. He was stepping into an elevator as I was stepping out.

“Henry,” he began slowly, holding the elevator door open. “I tried your door last night. The key was stuck . . .”

“Yes,” I interrupted, hoping to curtail prolonged conversation by speaking rapidly. “The key was stuck but it is fixed now. How about that, huh? First the stickers are stuck, and then the key is stuck. It’s like, one thing and then another, right?”

“I’ll tell you what’s ‘one thing and another,’” he said, raising a finger to me. “Seven concentration camps.” He pointed a finger to his chest. “Remind me, I’ll tell you sometime.”

I nodded. “Well, yes, I will.”

“Think about it,” he said as the elevator door shut. “Seven camps.”

“I hear you.”

Mr. Lansky quietly took his apartment off the market two weeks later.

Child Services

“Hey Dad, get a picture of me with the football!”

I raised the camera and aimed it at Collie. He held back the football as if he were prepared to throw it to me. I crouched, bringing into the frame the backdrop of skyscrapers over the verdant tree line. We were lucky. The annual fourth grade class picnic was blessed by a beautiful summer afternoon. It was hot, but breezy in the shade.

“Okay—smile, handsome man!” Collie grinned. “Ooh, nice one,” I admired. “Take a look; we can put this one on a bubble-gum card, dude.”

Collie giggled. “Hey, can I take some pictures of the soccer game?”

“Yes, if I can take a picture of you and your teacher.”

“No way,” he said. He had no reason to refuse me, really, other than his immaculate control over the use of his image.

“Fine,” I said, beginning to put away the camera.

“Oh, fine, you can do it,” Collie said, throwing back his shoulders. He turned on his heels and marched to the side of Mrs. Ferenzi.

“Oh, hello Collie, what’s up?” she asked.

“Just look at my Dad,” he replied, staring straight ahead.

“Your Dad . . . oh, hello, Henry.”

“Hey, mind if I take a picture of you two? Collie is only doing it to appease me—he says he doesn’t want a picture with you.”

“Oh, he doesn’t, does he?” she smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

Mrs. Ferenzi bent forward, taking Collie into a hug. He was giggling as the shutter snapped. “Oh, that looks sweet,” Mrs. Ferenzi said as we reviewed the photograph.

“Whatever,” Collie said in his toughest roughest tone. “Now, give me the camera, old man.”

“’Old man, please,’” I corrected.

“Whatever,” he laughed, taking the camera and running off.

“I really deserve better children,” I sighed.

Mrs. Ferenzi laughed. “He’s too much. I’m going to miss him.”

“So keep him,” I offered. “He can lead your new baby astray. How many more weeks?”

She rested a hand on her belly. “She’s due in mid-July.”

We fell to talking about childbirth, and the way teachers plan to have babies in summer. It makes for a memorable Thanksgiving, if you get my drift.

As we walked back to school, we passed a park worker watering flowers. He offered to mist the students. The kids squealed as the water rained down over them, washing away the sweat and heat. They were covered in dew as we returned to the school for dismissal.

In the yard, I found Lillie standing still in the sun. She didn’t run to me as usual. As I approached, I could see she was crying. I picked up my pace. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“My head hurts,” she sobbed. Her sob gave way to deep coughs. She gagged and vomited at my feet.

“Baby, you are burning up! Let’s get you in the shade.”

A nearby mother asked another, “Oh God, where is her teacher? Someone should get her teacher!” I ignored the mother’s panic, and put aside my annoyance about the presumed ineptitude of fathers. I overhear this kind of thing fairly often, actually, as if a man alone with children were the most appalling aberration of social norms.

Thanks lady, but I can take care of my sick child without the assistance of a teacher.

In the school, I put a cold compress on Lillie’s forehead and gave her a water bottle from my picnic bag.

She cooled down and her stomach settled.

Collie carried her backpack as we left the school. We hailed a cab.

Once we got home, Lillie stripped to her panties and crawled into bed. I cranked the air conditioning and retrieved Children’s Tylenol to bring down her fever. She soon felt much better. She told me that she had felt bad during gym, her last class of the day, then worse at dismissal. “Must be the heat,” I said knowingly, exuding parental confidence in the diagnosis. “So you are going to drink water and take medicine. And no school tomorrow.”

Lillie giggled. “I have to get a sick day?”

I nodded. “That’s right. And I want you to watch a lot of television, young lady.”

A grin took over her face. “And we can play Uno?”

“Yes. And Sorry.”

Lillie was delighted to be sick.

That evening, her mother called to check on the kids. She wanted the details on Lillie’s illness, so she spoke at length with the co-parent she most trusts.

My twelve-year-old son Jason.

“Yeah, Mom, what’s up?” Jason spoke into his cell phone. His eyes watched the television as Collie battled against Obi Wan. Collie generally prefers to play for the Dark Side.

“Uh yeah Mom, she threw up, but she’s fine now . . . watching television . . . yeah, Dad gave her something . . . no, I don’t guess she’s going to school tomorrow . . . I dunno, soup, I guess . . . no, Collie, behind the cantina, behind the cantina!

“Beast!” Collie shouted. “I’m a beast! Oh yeah, oh yeah.”

“Yeah Mom . . . so, you want to talk to Dad? Okay . . . one sec.” Jason came to the kitchen and handed over his cell phone.

“Mom,” he reported. He walked back to his game.

“Hello?”

“Henry? How is Lillie?”

“She’s much better. I gave her Tylenol for the fever, so it may be back, but . . .”

“What was her temperature?”

“Well, unfortunately, we broke our thermometer, so I don’t know the exact temperature. She was warm to the touch, though—not broiling.”

“You don’t have a thermometer.”

I readied myself. “No, it’s broken. But as I said, her fever is down, and . . .”

“Henry, you have to have a thermometer. It’s important to know the exact temperature. You can get one delivered. Or call the pharmacy and have it put aside—maybe Jason can go pick it up. That’s faster. You can have it put aside, and give him the money. He can go get it and bring it back.”

“Uh huh.” I rested the phone against my shoulder and continued chopping mushrooms.

“Don’t get one of those digital ones, you know, like the one we used to have that goes in the ear? Those aren’t accurate. You want one of those that goes under the arm. You know the ones I mean?”

“Uh huh, under the arm.” I lowered the heat on the chicken stock.

“Henry, it’s very important to do this.”

“Okay. So anyway, I’m keeping her home tomorrow. I think she’s improving, but she can’t be in school if the fever returns.”

“Right.” Lucy sighed. “So can I talk to her?”

“Sure, one sec.” I put down the knife and took Jason’s cell to Lillie. I returned to the kitchen and dropped mushrooms into the soup.

Of course, I wasn’t calling the pharmacy.

When the kids are sick, Lucy’s anxiety disorder takes over her maternal instinct. She wants desperately to be in control of the situation, which forces her to go the extraordinary length of speaking directly to me.

In these moments of familial crisis, she most regrets that she is required to share parenting. As her father once said, Lucy forgets that she is not a single parent.

She’s a co-parent. Her children have a father.

Unfortunately, Lucy sees me not as a partner, but as a delinquent subordinate who cannot be relied upon to do as instructed. If only I would follow her directions, she could be sure that responsible decisions are made and acted upon. Otherwise, she has no alternative but to trust me—and that is an untenable option.

I just don’t get it, she tells me. I will never understand how a mother worries.

Of course I won’t. How could I possibly understand a parent’s concerns?

Around midnight, Lillie woke up crying. She was burning up. I gave her more Tylenol and a glass of water. I rubbed her back as she returned to sleep, holding her blanket and sucking her thumb.

The next morning, she woke feeling fine. She wasn’t going to school at any rate, but she was in good spirits. She felt very “big girl.” She wanted to stay home as I got the boys to school.

I knocked on the door of my neighbor, Trish. It was just after seven, but I knew she would be up: she has two young children as her alarm clock. We put into action the plan we had devised the night before.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said, “But sure enough, Lillie wants to stay here while I’m gone. She’s okay, and I won’t be long . . .”

Trish waved her hand. “It’s fine, we’ll keep an ear out.”

“I’ll leave my door unlocked,” I said.

“Me too,” Trish said, “Now go!”

Lillie knew that she was staying in our apartment so she wouldn’t expose Trish’s kids to germs. But if she felt bad, or got scared, she should go to Trish immediately. “I know, Dad,” she smiled. I gave her the phone and made sure could call my cell. “I know, Dad. But I won’t call unless I throw up.”

I tucked her in bed and turned on the television. I made sure I had cab fare. I did what one has to do with one sick child, two healthy children, and no other adult in the home. I relied on my support network.

The boys were at school and I was on my way home when my cell rang. It was Lucy. “Henry, where are you?”

“I’m in the park, heading home. So, Lillie woke up last night . . .”

“And where are the boys?”

“At school, Lucy.”

“Where’s Lillie?”

“At home. She woke up last night with a fever and . . .”

“You left her at home? Henry, she’s six years old. You can not leave her home alone!”

“Trish is across the hall and Lillie knows that . . .”

“Trish is home? You swear to God?”

“Yes, God knows, Trish is home. So, yeah, Lillie woke up around midnight . . . “

“So if I go to the apartment right now and bang on the door, Trish will be home?”

I sighed. “If you are going over there, want to swing by and pick me up?”

“This is serious, Henry. I swear to God, if you ever leave that little girl home alone, even for a minute, I swear to God I’m calling Child Services and hauling your ass to jail so fast, you won’t believe it. You have to be responsible, Henry, you just don’t get . . .”

I closed the phone and put it in my pocket. If she wants to talk about Lillie’s fever, I’m here. If her priority is to act on her anxieties by chewing me out, I have other concerns.

“Dad?” Lillie called as I closed the door. “You’re home!”

“Yes, dear.” I went to her room. She was watching Nick, Jr. “How are you feeling, big girl?”

“Fine. You were fast!”

I kissed her forehead. It was cool. “Yeah baby, it just took a minute. You want some oatmeal?”

Lillie improved throughout the day.

That evening, I phoned her mother to give Lucy an update on her condition. When Lucy answered, I could hear birds in the background. I assumed she was sitting on the wrought iron furniture in the backyard of the home we bought together, where she now lives. I pictured the azaleas in full bloom. The grass probably needed its first cutting. I told Lucy that Lillie was much better, and would be back at school the next morning.

“That’s good,” Lucy said. She sounded tired. “Hey, Henry, about this morning . . . I’m sorry. You know how I get.”

“I do,” I said, surprised that she had brought this up. “But you have to know, it doesn’t help. I didn’t make Lillie sick, so there’s no need to blame me.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

We paused. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You want to talk to Lillie?”

“Yes, please.” I took the phone to Lillie. I stood at the door, listening as she told her mom that she was not sick any more. She didn’t even throwed up, not even once.

Imagine that, I thought. Entirely of her own volition, Lucy had apologized.

Physical

I closed my eyes and concentrated on the tone, listening as it grew louder and then receded. I detected faint modulations in pitch. Each time I heard the tone, I pressed the red button on the stick I held in my right hand, as instructed. After a while, I no longer heard anything. I sat still, leaving the earphones in place, my thumb on the button. I wanted to be ready if the tone returned. The nurse entered the examination room and turned off the machine. “You been sitting like that long?,” she asked. “It’s been over for a few minutes, you know.”

I opened my eyes and removed the headset. “I thought so. It’s kind of relaxing, I guess. I kind of zoned out there.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, looking at the read out. “Okay, so the doctor will be right in. You can undress and sit on the table. There’s a robe on the hook.”

“Okay, thanks.” She closed the door as she left. I tugged off my fleece, wondering if that “hmm” meant anything. I undressed to boxers and slipped on the robe. Paper crinkled under me as I sat on the examination table.

The doctor looked up from my chart as he opened the door. “Good morning, uh, Henry,” he nodded. “I’m Doctor Berkowitz.”

“Good morning, doctor. We’ve met before.”

He offered his hand. “Of course, we’ve met. Old habit. I always announce myself like that.”

“I’m naked and you’re the nervous one,” I grinned. My feet swung as they dangled from the table. I was a little nervous myself, as one is when getting a physical. I felt fine, but one always wonders: what if they find something?

“Yes, I suppose so,” he chortled. His eyes returned to the chart. “Now, let’s see . . . ah, you just turned forty two. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.”

“Any particular complaints?”

“Nope, I feel great.”

“Good, good. That’s what we like to hear. You seem to be in fine shape. Your weight is good, your cholesterol is terrific . . .” I smiled, as though I had earned a gold star for eating well.

He pulled out the results of my hearing test. “Let me ask you: do you find it increasingly difficult to distinguish sounds? Like, is it harder to hear a specific voice in a crowd?”

I felt a jolt of panic. “Uh, yes, it is.”

“And do you find it increasingly difficult to read fine print, or to make out objects at a distance?”

Oh my God. “Yes, yes I do.”

“Do you wear glasses?”

“No, I never have.”

“Hmm, well, you might want to get your eyes examined.” He joted a note.

“Why?” I asked. “Is there something wrong?”

“No,” he smiled. “You’re just getting older. Things change on this side of forty. You’ll notice things are different as you age.”

“Oh, well . . . I guess that’s to be expected . . .” I tried not to sound crestfallen. I’m just getting older, that’s all. Big deal.

Doctor Berkowitz continued. “Let me just ask you some more questions, running down this list . . . do you smoke?”

I sat upright, folding my hands in my lap. “No.”

“Good. Did you quit or . . .”

“Nope, never took it up.”

“Even better.” He made a check on my chart. “Drink?”

“Yes, please. Cabernet would be nice.”

Doctor Berkowitz looked up. He laughed. “No, I wasn’t offering a drink. I was asking if you drink.”

“I do, mostly wine and bourbon.”

“Much?”

“More than I should.”

“Hmmm.” He made a note on my chart. “Let’s watch that. Are you sexually active?”

“And how!” My legs swung a little faster.

Doctor Berkowitz looked up. “Are you married or single?”

“Single.”

“Multiple partners?”

“Oh yes.”

“Male or female?”

“Yes, please.”

Doctor Berkowitz was momentarily confused. “Oh, you mean ‘both?’ You have relations with men as well as women?’

“Yes, and occasionally both at the same time.”

“So you are bisexual.”

“Yep.”

He wrote a “b” on my chart, then paused again. “And may I refer to you as bisexual?”

“Yes, please do,” I smiled. He continued to write “isexual.”

“I assume you are safe? You use condoms?”

“Yes. I’d like to get a battery of STI tests too, while I’m here.”

“I’m just noting that as we speak,” he said as he wrote. “I’ll send the nurse back in to draw blood.” He took a moment to write, then closed the chart. He clicked the pen and slid it into his shirt pocket.

“Okay,” he said, standing. “This reminds me to check your prostate.” He reached for lube and a latex glove.

I hopped from the table and turned. “My bisexuality reminds you to check my prostate?”

He looked taken aback. “No, I meant . . . it’s just that you are over forty, and therefore at increased risk . . .”

I laughed. “I’m kidding, Doctor Berkowitz!” I lowered my boxers and bent over the table.

“I forget what a comedian you are. Okay, so let’s take a look, funny man . . .”

“No extra charge . . . huh?” I grunted.

A moment later, the glove hit the trash canister. Doctor Berkowitz washed up, offering off-handed advice about being safe and healthy. We shook as he headed off for another patient. A nurse came in and told me to get dressed before the next tests.

I peed into a cup. I bled into a vial.

A week later, I opened my mail and learned that I was in fine health. Of course, I expected that.

Each night as I lay in bed, wondering.