In honor of Valentine’s Day, and in celebration of true love, I thought today would be a good day to share a few stories. Reader Ryan Driscoll asked, “Rob: When did your dad get the most mad at you?”
Great question, Ryan! Thankfully my dad never got as mad at me as he was at you when you stole a Chicken McNugget from my little sister. But there were certainly times when I did things to bring the ire of my father (aka the Gentle Giant).
(I don’t want to gloss over details, so I think these will work best as a top ten list over ten posts. Or this will be the only one I ever do. Who knows?)
10) The Watermelon
Each time my mom opened the stove to check on her honey mustard chicken, I watched the waves of heat ripple through the air and land on my ten-year old brow.
“It’s like a sauna in here,” I said, not having any idea what a sauna was.
My mom laughed. Nailed it. But things took a turn for the serious when she changed course. “Can you set the table, Sweetie?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said. But only because setting the table was my only responsibility in the world.
I opened the drawer to grab the utensils, but it was empty, so “setting the table” became “empty the dishwasher and set the table.” What bullshit. I thought through my options. I could try to trick my sister into emptying the dishwasher.
As if she was watching the inside of my brain, my mom moved first.
“Laura? Laura? Can you come down here and help with the chicken?” Before I could react, Laura was standing next to me, basting the chicken. I didn’t know the word “smug” at that time, but if I had, I probably would have said, “why don’t you wipe that smug smile off your face, you little bitch.”
I opened the dishwasher and, with the surgical precision that I learned from playing Operation, extracted exactly five plates, five knives, five forks, and five glasses.
“Robert,” my mom said, somehow stretching my first name into seven syllables.
Before I could fight back, I heard the front door fling open. My dad stood there momentarily. He looked scary in his cutoff jean shorts and nothing else. Sweat raced down his face as he slammed the door shut and moved to his runner’s stretch. Of all the days for the air conditioning to conk out, this day was probably the worst.
Without a word, my mom somehow alerted him about my attempts to shirk my responsibility and manipulate my sister. He caught my eye and I knew I was done for. I grabbed the rest of the knives out of the dishwasher to try to regain some credibility.
“Where the fuck’s the air conditioner guy?” he said. “I’m gonna shower.”
“Hi dad, I missed you today.” I took a shot.
“Hey Bruiser.” He called me that during baseball games. I was in the clear.
“You want to help me set the table?”
He patted me on the head and caught eyes with my mom.
“I’m going to shower,” he said again.
He grabbed a paper towel from the table to wipe the sweat from his face and stomach. Instantly, it reappeared. He wiped again, then reached for one of the knives that I had laid out in my piles of five. He inspected it, scrutinizing each speck of water that the dishwasher left behind.
He pointed the tip of the knife towards my face and said, “I gotta shower. Just set the table.”
So I did. A few minutes later, we were sitting in silence eating the hot chicken in our hot kitchen as the stove radiated hot heat across our hot house.
“It’s like a sauna in here,” I said again. But this time, no one laughed.
My mom didn’t laugh because she was realizing I inherited my dad’s ability to run any joke in the ground. My dad didn’t laugh because he only laughed at jokes on the Honeymooners. My older sister didn’t laugh because she was 13 and hated everyone in the family. My little sister didn’t laugh because she didn’t understand jokes.
We finished eating. I refused to clear the table because I had set it. Rules are rules. I leaned back in my chair and watched my sisters do the dirty work.
As they cleared, my mom looked my way and asked, “Robert, can you get the watermelon out of the fridge?”
“Fine,” I said. Apparently I had earned nothing by setting the table. I took 30 seconds to march the 8 steps from the dining room table to the refrigerator. My insolence was rewarded with a blast of cold air from the fridge.
A lone yellow tupperware container sat on the top shelf, covered only by an ill-fitting sheath of plastic. The plastic cover made the hundreds of equally sized cubes of watermelon visible to the whole family. Each cube promising a brief reprieve from the hot.
I walked back towards the table. With each step, the watermelon juice sloshed back and forth in the tupperware. It reminded me of melted Jolly Ranchers. I could feel it sticking to my fingers through the plastic.
My dad said, “hurry up.”
So I started to scurry. But my mind was focused on imaging how many watermelon squares I could fit into my mouth at one time.
“You’re so annoying,” Lindsey said.
Laura smiled at me. That stupid smug smile.
“Come on, Robert.” My dad repeated.
I looked up to shut him up, but as I did, I caught my foot on the tile of the kitchen floor. The tupperware leapt from my hands and floated delicately towards the floor. It landed precisely on the flat bottom part, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But a second later, the tupperware bounced back into the air and flipped itself upside down. Watermelon juice rushed onto the floor and filled the tiny crevices between the tile. Watermelon pits cracked off the ground, and then binded with the juice to become irremovable from the floor. Those perfect cubes splattered onto the ground and spread from room to room.
My dad exploded. “Oh great, Robert! Bring on the ants! Why didn’t you just call a parade of ants? You could be the grand marshal! Wouldn’t that be nice? If you could be the grand marshal of an ant parade?”
“Get some paper towel already! Start cleaning it up already.”
But I couldn’t move.
I just stood there and watched as he got up out of his chair and did it himself. Glaring at me the whole time.
I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted some watermelon.