“Turn left! Turn left here!” he boomed with near airbag-launching loudness. “Jesus Christ! You missed the turn! Now what in the hell are we supposed to do?”
“Take this next turn into the exact same parking lot?” I ventured?
“What are you doing?! Oh, God, now look what you’ve done! What is the matter with you? Is this the first time you’ve ever driven a car? How in the hell do you ever expect—”
“Dad, we’re here. See? The store’s right here. This is the parking lot.”
“Fine. Whatever. Just park. I don’t care where you pull in. Just pick a spot. Anywhere will do. I don’t care. Any spot. Here? This is the spot you pull into? Are you kidding me? Jesus, why doncha’ make your old man walk half a mile? Don’t worry. I only just got out of the hospital. Are you sure there isn’t a place across town you might want to park in?”
“This is the closest one with an empty spot on the driver’s side. I figure that way …”
“Now where are you going?”
“I thought I’d back out and try to find a spot closer to the front door.”
“Will you just park, already? You’re unbelievable! Jesus, but it must be nice in whatever land you live in. But back here on earth, people are trying to get things done, all right? There. You’ve parked. It’s a miracle. Now let’s see if we can catch a cab to the store.”
After we’d purchased some adult Depends, denture cream, and a half-priced Whitman’s Sampler, my dad stopped just outside the CVS. “Here, hold these packages,” he said. It took him about fifteen minutes, but eventually he pulled from his wallet the receipt for our purchases. Once he’d also managed to get his eyeglasses in the general vicinity of his face by at least hooking them onto one ear, he said “These people screwed this thing up. I know you won’t care about it, because you have no concept of the value of money. But some of us live in the real world. Now lemme figure out where they got this all wrong.”
A crowd had begun to gather around us. “Dad,” I said gently. “You’re blocking the door.”
“What? What the hell do I care? What are you, the CVS fairy? People can go around. It’s good for them. They’re old. They need the exercise. Fine. Here. Now I’ve moved. Are you happy? Jesus, you’d think they’d put a chair out here, wouldn’t you? A little bench. A barrel. A large rock. Anything where a person might sit down for a second. But they don’t. And do you know why they don’t? Because they’re dumbasses who don’t give a rat’s ass, that’s why.”
“Why don’t we go to the car? You can sit there and figure out the receipt.”
“Don’t try to have ideas, son. You’ll just sprain something. Let’s go back to the car.”
Walking so slowly I saw some snails laughing at us, we finally made it back to the car. My dad took his seat, and with his one good eye attacked the receipt. “Now shut-up and let me see this thing. Here. Right here. Look at this. They screwed this up right here. I knew it. Goddamn morons!”
“Do you want me to take the receipt back in and check it out with them?”
“No, I want you to build an airplane out of it, so we can fly to Brazil. I can’t wait to visit Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Of course I want you to take the receipt back, you lump. And no ‘checking.’ Nobody said anything about ‘checking.’ I want my money back. You hear me? Money back. Go.”
When about a minute later I returned to the car, I found my dad locked in a wrestling death match with the clear wrapping of his Whitman’s Sampler.
“The receipt’s okay, Dad.”
“Jesus Christ, will ya’ look at this thing? All I want is a piece of candy. They seal these goddamn boxes up like the crown jewels of England are in here. I’ll starve to death before I ever get my hands one of these stupid chocolates.”
A few minutes later, on the second leg of our Crazy Old Man tour of Wilmington, we were driving toward a Home Depot, there to secure a towel rack to replace the one in his bathroom my dad broke when he mistook it for a couch, or whatever. Having finally solved the infernal complexities of the Whitman’s packaging, he held out to me the open box of chocolates. “Want one?”
“Sure,” I said, taking the first one I saw. “Thanks.” I bit the chocolate in half.
“I can’t believe you took the molasses chew. That’s the best one.”
“Here,” I said, offering him the other half. “You’re welcome to it.”
“No, no, you have it.”
“Are you sure? Because I … ”
“Just eat it all ready, will you? It’s not a national tragedy or anything. It’s just that you took the best one in the whole box, is all. You latched onto that thing like a hawk on a mouse. If I could have just one of the chocolates out of this entire box, that would be the one. See? See the inside of the lid here, where the kinds of chocolates are shown? Here’s the one you grabbed, right here. See? Molasses chew. That’s the best one. If they made a whole box of just those, I swear I’d never buy anything else.”
“Mmmm,” I said. “These are good.”
“I know they are! I was looking forward to having that one. Guess I’ll have to wait now. God knows when I’ll make it back to CVS.”
“So creamy and chewy. And they have that slightly burnt, perfectly balanced molasses flavor.”
“Oh, shut-up,” he said.
So we drove in as much silence as my dad can tolerate without exercising his bass profundo voice.
“If I came home with this whole box of chocolates,” he said, “do you know what you would do? There’s no question about it. I know you, and I know exactly what you’d do. You’d sit down in front of the TV, and you’d take that whole box in your big mitts, and you’d eat half of it, right there. Without even thinking about it, you’d go right through half the box. Just polish it right off. You’d barely breathe before you’d inhaled half of the box. I know it. I know you’d do that. Because that’s just how you are. You never think of anybody else, or what anybody else might want. You just know what you want, and, by God, you take it. Half the box. Gone. Just like that. I know it. That’s exactly what you would do.”
We leave tomorrow.