Sins of the Father (a short story)

Sins of the Father

 

            From the moment I heard that second rumble, I knew my self-respect would be forever altered.

            The cost of food has always carried the same weight for me as did its taste.  This was of course thanks to my father, and his father who came up during the depression.  Growing up, whenever it came time to sit down for our six o'clock family dinner ("If you're late for dinner, you're a sinner," my mother always used to say.  It's not very original I admit, but at least it rhymed and reminded one of hell; the same could be said of those dinners, I suppose), I would inspect the various dishes, and determine “where from” and “how had” my mother combined their ingredients.  "Let's see the cheeseburger soup must be that left over packet of alfredo sauce, those chunks of powdered milk that could cut diamonds, and the dusty can of chipped beef from behind the saltines on the second shelve of the pantry.  That can, by the way, was more "chipped" than the beef; most all of our cans were, ever since The Ding n' Dent opened up behind the used furniture store off Third and Broadway[1].   Now, no matter how "eccentric" the combinations on my mother's dining room table, they paled in comparison to what my father would contribute on his walk in from the kitchen.

            My father had nerves of steel, and apparently a gut to match (though if ever one was to be privy one of my father's expulsions, one would realize that that gut's armor was surely corroding).  Whilst my mother may have been creative in the way she'd stretch-out that food dollar, my father was downright Stretch Armstrong - dangerously so.  There would be no food leaving the house if not through one of our digestive tracts, and he'd check the trash-bin daily to be assured of this fact.  While my mother would throw in the towel, and into the trash the blued beef from the back of the freezer; my father would disguise that blue “red flag” with A1 and choke it down.  While my mother would deem the fish to be too fishy for the fish; my father would walk it to the table holding the plate high over his head with his fingertips like a fancy French waiter in a Parisian Brasserie.  As he'd set it down the smell could make mustard gas seem as innocent as a pine-tree air freshener.  Ignoring the gagging and retching around him, my father would squeeze a bit of lemon over the carcass and exclaim - "you know I think people forget that it was fish like this that kept our ancestors alive on the ships to the new world."

            "Dad, that's probably why the mortality rate was like ninety percent," I'd reply.

            "Ah, don't be such a cynic," he'd respond.  "Besides it just needed a little salt and pepper" (and a prayer, I suppose).

            Nevertheless his frugality in its many forms has stuck with me.  I save my chewing gum in its foil for later (ruining many a load of laundry), I grab books I'll never read off of the street (only two cases of "slightly-severe" bed-bug infestations), and I can't help but mistrust the expiration dates on canned-goods.  Which brings me to that can of pickled beets that I ate last night, which the label clearly warned should have not been since March of 2014.  Which brings me back to that second rumble, and my loss of self-respect.

            I'd never relieved myself in public before.  Well, I should say I may have drunkenly peed on a subway platform once or twice, but I think we all know what we're talking about here.  Yet what had to be done had to be done.  I was too far-gone from the miracle that is modern plumbing and the bad beets had me beaten.  I tried my best to find an adequate place to hide and do my shameful deed, but the time for disgression had come and gone as quickly as one could say "blast-off."  In the fewest swiftest moves I released my jeans, grabbed an old Chinese food container lying by the curb, and my bowels took over.  My shame was being held down momentarily, bound and gagged by sweet relief.  Then I looked up and saw him, glaring at me from across the street, badge glistening in the sun.  Our eyes locked, and we shared a moment...

 

[1] The Ding n' Dent, though some might say noble in its purpose of providing empty caloried, sodium spiked, bizarrely experimental (I'm referring to items such as "cucumber dill cola," and "chicken fried Cheetos), and banged-barely recognizable food products to those in need:  But others like myself would say it gave their fathers an opportunity (like locking the thermostat at sixty-one degrees in December) to save a few more bucks on those life's essentials.