Dad liked being treated like a dumb twit. He didn’t read because reading required too much thought and concentration. He enjoyed movies and TV shows that were flashy with lots of action. Comedy was all right, as long as it wasn’t jumbled up with a whole bunch of thought, like the Three Stooges. Even the music he listened to was full of cliché and comfort. His favorites were Boston and Huey Lewis and the News—in other words, love songs and lush harmonies, but little substance. As a teenager, I tried to introduce him to the irony of the B-52s; he balked. Driving home from shopping one Sunday afternoon, he insisted playing the cassette of their self-titled debut I had picked up that day, even though I told him he wasn’t going to like it. Side One played completely, from “Planet Claire” to “Rock Lobster,” before he popped the tape out and said, handing it back to me, “You’re right! I didn’t like it!”
Subtitles? Forget it. I think the only non-English, non-dubbed film he ever watched from beginning to end was the French suspense-thriller Diva, and that was only at the insistence of my brother. Dad finally agreed to watch it after being convinced that the magic of VHS would allow him to pause the film, rewind if he missed any of the dialogue, take bathroom breaks as needed, etc. In the end, he enjoyed Diva, but not enough to watch other films with subtitles.
Today, Dad stares at me through the third and fourth fingers of both hands in a goofy pose he made at a restaurant table. My mother snapped the photo on a trip to Boston in the last few years of his life. Before Dad died, they also vacationed in Hawaii, which was my mother’s dream since the day they married in 1964. At their wedding reception, she refused to let Dad smoosh cake in her face in the oft’ done if never warranted marital tradition. Dad had promised retribution by saying that he would, on their 25th anniversary, hit her in the face with a banana cream pie. My mother told him the only way he would get away with that would be to do it on the volcanic sands of Hawaii’s beaches. Although they didn’t make it for their 25th, my mother never did get that pie in the face, either. Still, there’s the photo of them posing beneath palm fronds in Honolulu, overlooking the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. They look happy. Dad looks happy.
Yesterday, as I looked at Dad’s photo, I wondered what he would be like today, were he still alive. His hair would probably be thinner, grayer, receding farther. His ever-present beard would be completely white. He would still never use his dentures, and his sunken upper lip would still be hidden by his bushy mustache. He would still wear aviator-style bifocals. His arms might be skinnier, but his belly would be bigger. He would still wear pocket t-shirts exclusively, and blue jeans held up by a thick leather belt with a brass buckle of Boston’s logo. He would still never answer the phone, though when handed the receiver by my mother, he would still always say, "Herro." He would really like the Iron Man movies. He would still shop at the Berlin Auction once a week. He would still complain about his mother and Nancy Not the Ninny. He would still complain about nearly everything. Instead, his ashes mingle with the remains of strangers in Hess Memorial Cemetery in Indiana. My mother and brother and I spread his ashes there seven years ago, across the street from the home he called his favorite (even though he and my mother only lived there briefly). There is no gravestone, no monument or marker to visit. I only have the photographs of Dad and the memories they stir.