There was no one else in the bar except for Max, my dad and me. John Denver was breaking my heart singing about leaving on a jet plane. The way his voice rose when he sang about leaving and not knowing when he’d be back again. That last kiss. First it was the kiss but as I got older it was the smile.
I was 6 years old and sitting at the bar in Max’s Village Inn and couldn’t wait for the day my feet finally touched the floor. Growing up is all about the up. It was 9 am on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc., you get the idea. I was finishing my breakfast of Swanson grilled cheese and a side of Planter’s peanuts with a glass of Coca-Cola. I had put the sandwich in the toaster oven, pulled the coke, and grabbed the peanuts all by myself. Told Max, put it on my tab, OK, Mutt, he said. Big spender.
A growing boy like me needed his energy to play pool and electronic shuffle board against his old man and now there was this thing called Pong. Christ, we were like the fucking marines getting more shit done before 9 am or whatever the hell time it was the marines got shit done. My dad was in the army back in Korea. That’s where he fucked up his leg though he never really said how. He told me about shooting empty beer cans on a frozen lake with his buddy from California, about how much he liked eating soba noodles from the street vendors in Tokyo (so much he made up a song “Soba Soba so vely vely good to me”) and about a party for all these newly released ex-Red Chinese POW’s including his older brother and how the poor bastards hadn’t any pussy or booze in years and went so fucking nuts at the sight of the geishas they started fighting and throwing shit around that the MP’s closed it down in fifteen minutes.
He always said the jarheads were all fucking gung-ho nutjobs, the Air Force guys sat around all day and the navy guys were just plain pussies. Since we shuttled between Max’s and the VFW most every adult I knew was a veteran.
I asked Max, Did you serve?
Coast Guard, he said.
Jewish Navy, my dad added with a laugh knocking back a shot of Crown Royal, Not one Jap sub got within 3,000 miles of Philadelphia with Max on watch. Then he went off to take a piss.
Not anything against your dad but Jewish Navy, meh, look at me, I got all my limbs, brains and don’t walk with a limp. If you got a go, go there.
Fuck that I thought to myself, I’m going to play second base for the Phillies.
I looked at my dad’s drinks, his cigarettes, some nickels and dimes, the lighter from Atlantic City with an embossed dollar sign on it that never worked well but he kept using because I got it for him. The only times he had been on an airplane was when they shipped him home and he got waylaid at a psych ward in Hawaii and then flown back to PA. He was on a stretcher or in a wheelchair most of the time so he couldn’t even go outside in Hawaii. It wasn’t even a state then he used to say.
I watched him walk out of the can and back to his seat. A slow steady limp. Rising and falling. Like a piston on an old, tired engine always thirsty but always a few quarts low. Seasons in the Sun started playing on the jukebox. I had selected it.
Jesus Christ I said out loud and grabbed my dad’s Pall Malls and started to tap one out, who plays this depressing shit?
Easy, my dad said, Watch your mouth, and took the butt from my lips. I spit a little bit of tobacco from the tip of my tongue. Puh.
There was no one else in the bar except for Max, my dad and me.