Dad Flies His Dragon
First Place in Group 81 • Comedy / Exercise / A snow plow operator
Synopsis: Jasper Moody’s idea of exercise is mowing the lawn, so it’s no wonder his daughter gets concerned when he shows up in her yoga class with a mat and a can-do attitude.
I new something was up with my dad when he showed up to my 4 p.m. vinyasa. I was burning sage to offset the feet-smell left by the previous class when I heard a commotion outside the door.
“What do you mean I have to take my shoes off?”
I couldn’t hear exactly what Starla responded with, likely because she was using her everyone is a beautiful sunflower voice that drives me nuts, but a moment later I caught a gruff, malcontented “fine, I’m taking them off.”
I deposited the sage in a broken pottery shard that served as an ashtray and made for the door. My father stepped through it, his stance like a Spartan warrior. He wielded my retired purple mat with the aqua dolphins in one hand and a Double Big Gulp in the other.
He saw me and his mustache twitched.
“Hi, Sam. Um. What do I do?”
I think this is a good time to explain my dad. He’s fifty and stubborn as a mule. A hobbled mule. A hobbled mule with an attitude problem. He likes pot roast and thinks Jiffy Lube is for sissies. He’s worn the same aftershave since he was fourteen, the one my grandpa also wore. He drives a snowplow in the winter and a CalTrans truck in the summer. His idea of exercise is mowing the lawn.
“Are you sure you can handle this?”
In a confused daze, I set him up in the corner furthest from the mirrors and closest to the bathroom. He sat, looking uncomfortable, his legs only sort of crossed, and snuck peaks at the regular next to him. Her spine was straight, one hand over her heart and the other on her abdomen. My dad stretched straighter, tucked his feet a fraction of an inch closer, and tried to figure out what to do with his hands. He settled for cracking his knuckles loudly and repeatedly.
In my four years as a yoga instructor, I’ve never been so challenged. I wanted to help my dad with explicit instructions the rest of the class didn’t need. It only drew attention to him. That, and the fact that he muttered expletives and frustration under his breath with every new pose.
At downward dog, when his sweatpants came untucked from his socks as he tried to get his feet flat to the floor: “Whaaa-aat the heck?”
At fly your dragon, when he ditched the socks all together: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
When I circled the room to help adjust his stance during dancing warrior, he rubbed a fist to his sternum and whispered, “Does unbearable heartburn mean I’m doing it right?”
“Yeah, Dad. And the buckets of sweat too.”
His mustache twitched again.
I knew something was really up with my dad that same night at dinner.
He was actually reading the menu when I arrived. He hadn’t read the menu at Paulie’s. Ever. He always ordered one of two meals. The pot roast—calorie count 1390, or the bacon cheeseburger—calorie count 2200. He washed this down with two mugs of coffee and somehow crammed a wedge of pie in afterwards.
I slid into the booth and perused my own menu, looking for any changes that might have heralded his newfound interest. But it was the same battered blue and white menu it had always been, even the grease stains were the same.
Nancy, Dad’s least favorite waitress, showed up at our table looking annoyed as usual. “What ya havin’ tonight, Samantha?”
I ordered the Soup of the Day. Then, my dad ordered a salad.
I choked on my water. Nancy scribbled on her pad, unfazed. “You want that medium, Jasper?” she asked, as if my dad had said cheeseburger. I thought, maybe he had said cheeseburger and I was hearing things.
Then he asked for the dressing on the side, and I knew the world was ending.
“Dad. You know a salad is made of vegetables, right?”
“Har har, Sam.”
He handed his menu to Nancy who cracked her gum as she stared at him. It turns out she’d even written cheeseburger on her notepad. After a small debate about whether or not she’d heard him correctly—wherein I tried to describe salad to my father as several pieces of lettuce tossed together with other things that grow in dirt, to which my dad argued that he knew precisely what lettuce was, he’d picked it off his burger many, many times—Nancy huffed back to the kitchen and hollered that Jasper Moody had ordered a salad. Bob Paulie stuck his head out the kitchen window, eyes like the sturdy diner plates he normally served my dad’s artery-killing meals on.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was Armageddon.
“Are you sick?”
“Been to the doctor?”
“Dad seriously. Has something happened?”
He pulled a sugar packet from the container and fwapped it to and fro before putting it back. “No. I’m just. Well, I’d like to maybe lose a few pounds.”
This from the guy who repeatedly told me his bulk was muscle. And to be fair, most of it was. He worked hard and had never been a big drinker. But there was definitely a soft layer over his bullish frame.
“Why?” I asked, even as it occurred to me that it could be motivated by a woman.
“Why do I have to have a reason?”
Definitely a woman.
“Who is she?”
His cheeks pinked as he scowled.
“Fine, don’t tell me. What did you think of yoga?”
He scratched his eyebrow. “I thought…it smelled like feet.”
He had me there.
I knew it was about a woman when I stopped by his house a few days later and discovered a fat burm of newly plowed snow blocking his neighbor’s driveway. I might not have noticed it, except Gina Garcia was working industriously at it with a shovel and cursing my father.
As soon as I stepped out of my car, she told me in no uncertain terms that my dad could go straight to the devil.
“You tell that fat bastard there’s a vacant house right there!” She pointed down the block.
I think this is a good time to explain the neighborhood where I grew up. My father’s house is situated at the apex of a small cul-de-sac. It’s not county maintained, so when my dad plows the roads he does his neighborhood as a favor. He parks his snowplow in his driveway. He’s been doing it since I could remember, which is about eight years or so before Mr. and Mrs. Garcia moved to our block.
Mr. Garcia died a few years back, but while he lived, he and my father had engaged in unspoken car-wash competitions wherein the undisputed winner washed his car most often; stereo volume square-offs wherein the loudest music proclaimed the victor (my dad usually lost this contest); and lawn care beauty pageants wherein the most shapely shrubberies and greenest grass were the surest sign of superiority.
“I’ll do that, Mrs. Garcia.” Noting her use of the word “fat” to describe my dad.
“If Jasper thinks I’m going to tolerate this horseshit, he’s got another thing coming. As if I don’t have enough to deal with around here!”
I wasn’t going to incite her temper further by informing her that it was snow, not horseshit. Not that she would have heard me anyway. She brushed her dark bangs back from her face and went back to shoveling, huffing white clouds of breath into the gray day with every muttered insult.
It was warm inside my dad’s house, and I found him at the dining room table moving scrambled egg whites around on his plate.
“Mrs. Garcia, huh?”
He put a forkful into his mouth.
“You know, you could just talk to her like a civilized person.”
“I’m not civilized.”
I looked at him. “Yeah, I know. You’ve got egg in your goatee.”
He brushed it away with his napkin.
“She told me to tell you to plow the snow to the old Anderson house, it’s vacant.”
He chewed, then swallowed. “Be happy to do that. As soon as she takes her monster of a dog there to void his bowels.”
I would’ve argued with him, but it just so happened that a few weeks back, just before the first snowfall of the season, I’d caught sight of Mrs. Garcia using that same shovel to huck a pile of suspicious putrescence into my father’s backyard.
I thought that, when I’d brought it up to him, he might go next door and speak with her about it, but instead he went to the shed, grabbed his own snow shovel, and pitched the pile back over the fence.
“She started it.”
I’d blinked at him. “How’d she start it?”
He’d looked like he was formulating an explanation but never gave it to me. I think it had something to do with a run-down ’68 Chevelle that had been towed away a few years back, but there was no proof Mrs. Garcia had been the one who’d reported it.
I followed his gaze out the kitchen window to where Mrs. Garcia made a determined dent in the four-foot wall of snow.
“You know, Dad… shoveling snow is great exercise.”
He slurped his coffee. “Helping her keep fit.”
“Go help her shovel her driveway. Offer an olive branch.”
He ran his tongue over his teeth and appeared to consider it. Then said, “No,” and got up to pour himself more coffee.
I knew my dad had lost his mind when, the following weekend as we picked up supplies for Thanksgiving dinner, he grabbed a Kombucha from the cold case at Raley’s and shook it.
My hand shot out. “Dad, no.”
“What?” He twisted the bottle to read the label.
“It’s like soda, you don’t shake it.”
“Hmmm.” He put it in the cart.
“Where are your reading glasses?” I asked as we wheeled the cart over to the gourmet cheese island. “What do you think, Saint Agur? And maybe a brie?”
He pursed his lips. “How about cheddar? And I don’t really need them.”
I looked for the price on a Cambozola. “You do need them, and you know Mom likes stuff that stinks.”
“Hmmm. That explains Jeffrey.”
He meant mom’s husband.
I think this is a good time to tell you about Momfrey, which is how I mentally refer to my mother and my stepfather. My mom and dad were married for about twelve minutes, and I firmly believe it was an endurance run for both of them. How did I get here? You know the story. Drunk at a party, beer-goggles, trying to do the right thing. Failing. My mom found her soul mate in Jeffrey a few years after leaving my dad.
Mom and Dad get along well enough, mostly because my dad doesn’t talk much and—along with cheeseburgers and apple pie—his feelings are the other thing he eats most often.
I tossed a block of cheddar into the cart and noticed my dad focused on something a few islands away. It was Mrs. Garcia carefully bagging potatoes. I glanced at the fifteen-pound bag in our cart, contrasting it to the three lonely potatoes she’d added to hers. Together, with the single turkey breast in cellophane, it could only mean one thing. Thanksgiving alone.
She brushed past us with a huffy, “Mr. Moody. Samantha.”
I was going to say “hi,” but she was gone, striding up the center aisle. My dad watched her go.
As we loaded the groceries into the back of my Subaru, Dad popped the cap on the Kombucha and held it under his nose. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he took a big mouthful.
His cheeks bulged, his eyes watered. I thought he’d spit it into the snow, but he didn’t.
“You said it was like soda. How do you drink this?”
“It’s really good for you,” I answered.
“I had to chew it.” He looked violated, his eyebrows furrowed in great dismay. “You shouldn’t have to chew a soda.”
“It’s the chia seeds.”
“Chia. As in chia pet?”
I nodded. He stared at me, dumbfounded, then handed me the bottle. “Your generation is really weird, Sam.”
“Says the man who puts ketchup on his macaroni and cheese.”
“Ketchup prevents scurvy.”
I just laughed.
I knew my dad was up to something when I came to pick him up for Thanksgiving and his toolbox was just inside the front door. I tapped it with my foot as he shrugged into his parka.
“What’s this about?”
“Just had a few small repairs. Nothing major.”
“My gutter and downspout were loose.” He zipped himself up and flipped his hood over his salt and pepper hair. “Ready?”
“Not really,” I confessed. “You?”
“Well. Remember why we’re going.”
“Grandma Jean’s pecan pie,” we said together.
I think this is a good time to tell you about my Grandma Jean and her pecan pie. Grandma Jean is my mom’s mom. She’s still a pistol at almost ninety years old, despite the handful of strokes she’s suffered over the last ten years. She calls Jeffrey “the bozo” both to his face and behind his back, and when her computer acts up she slaps the monitor and calls it a communist. Her pecan pie is pure magic.
As I backed out of the driveway I noticed Mrs. Garcia at one corner of her small white and green house, struggling with a twelve-foot ladder, her gloved hands working to fix the stabilizing crossbar in place.
“If I remember correctly, wasn’t Mrs. Garcia having a problem with her gutter and downspout?”
“Was she? Hmmm.”
“Maybe you could help her.”
He stared out the window as we drove past. I glanced Mrs. Garcia’s direction and saw that she’d abandoned the ladder and was examining her downspout in amazement.
“She looks like she’s got it under control.”
He sounded smug.
I knew things were going to work out okay when I stretched my arm long in a reverse warrior and found that my hand pointed right at a familiar face. I hadn’t noticed her when she’d come in, too focused on helping my dad get situated. He was starting to get the hang of it. After a month of sporadic attendance, he could almost cross his legs.
I dropped my pose and wound through the class, stopping here and there to adjust posture and form. When I reached Mrs. Garcia, she looked at me with something akin to panic in her eyes, sweat rolling down her face.
She pressed a fist to her chest and asked, “Samantha. Is it okay that I have incredible heartburn?”
I patted her shoulder. “It’s more than okay,” I said, and went to borrow some Tums from my dad.
© IReen Weiss 2017