Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
The Creep On The Borderlands
I survived another holiday season in retail and capped it all off by attending a Christmas evening gathering with my father's side of the family. The Brunos are a big family, with each member sporting a rich and complex backstory. Since my parents had divorced when I was just 18 months old, and my mother got custody, I only got to see them about once every month or two. I felt like a minor character in their family drama. I just never got a chance to truly bond with any of them. Was it because of my limited contact? Or was it because my Dad was the runt of the litter and even when I was his only child I was still somehow the runt of his litter?
Over the years I could never keep my uncles' and aunts' names straight, despite my ability to remember the name of just about every Doctor Who villain ever.
And why didn't they ever bring back Count Grendel of Gracht? He had so much potential!
This year the gathering was at one of my aunt's homes, I wasn't sure which one it was then and I still don't now. I was trying to get a moment alone with my Dad so I could talk to him about what had gone wrong with Tallulah. My old man and his current girlfriend had been together for almost two years so I knew there were a lot he could teach me. Besides he always had a few spares waiting in the wings so I was hoping he could set me up.
(No luck to be had there... The man is a miser when it comes to booty.)
The entire house was done up with festive decorations and a whole room had been given over to plates of hot food, cold cuts and desserts that would kill a diabetic in one bite. Christmas music was playing but you could barely make out a single note over the shifting murmur of conversation punctuated with laughter. I could see my Dad in the next room, I started to approach him.
“Albert!” One of my Uncles called me over, “Long time no see.”
I nodded, “It was Easter I think.”
“Yeah it was.” He smiled, “I hear you're in college, your old man is real proud of you.”
“Oh thanks, I'm glad to hear that Uncle... Uncle... Hey how have you been doing?”
“Oh good. Business has been keeping me busy 24-7.”
“I bet it has.” I racked my brain trying to remember what the Hell it was he did, “Well I suppose in this economy you have to get customers wherever you can.”
He laughed at that, “Yeah sure, there's never a slowdown in the funeral business.”
That was my cue to back away with a festive smile before I revealed I didn't know the names of his wife and children. “Catch ya later.” I said as I tried to find which room of the house my father had retreated to.
So many familiar faces, so few names to put to them. I felt like the world's biggest jerk. I wondered, Am I some kind of a self-obsessed sociopath?
“There you are son.” My Dad said from beside me.
“Oh hey. I was just thinking about you.”
“Are you having a good time?”
“Oh yeah.” I said, “But I wanted to know if I could talk to you for a minute. You see Tallulah broke up with me and-”
“That's great son. You're too young to get tied down.”
“Actually we used pink handcuffs... hey where are you going?”
My father lost himself in the crowd of Italian Americans, I began to follow him but was caught in a hug by one of my Aunts, “Merry Christmas Albert.”
I hugged back, “Merry Christmas... you... you look younger every day!”
“Your father said your girlfriend was coming tonight. Where is she?”
“She's... she's got other plans. In the long term.”
“That's nice, it's so important to keep busy.”
“I don't think there will be any getting busy in he near future.” I said, “Oh there's my Dad. I'll catch ya later.”
My Dad was at the deli table making a sandwich for himself, I had to navigate the crowded parlor to get to him. I wondered what these people thought of me. I wondered if they shook their heads and rolled their eyes whenever I left the room. I wondered who the Hell that Asian guy sitting by the fireplace was. I mean sure we're of Eastern Italian descent but not that eastern.
“When are you going to get a haircut son?” my Dad asked.
“You don't think it looks cool?” I said, “I thought it looked cool.”
“Cool is something that comes from inside you son. How you look doesn't matter.”
“Oh.” I paused thoughtfully, “Then why does it matter how long my hair is?”
“Because you look like a fat hippy,” my father explained.
“I think you will find my curves are sensuous, but I wanted to talk to you about what I'm feeling...”
“All you should be feeling is that your whole life is ahead of you.” My Dad lectured between bites of pastrami, “You should spend a little less time hanging around with your goofy friends and go out there in the bars and meet normal people.”
Then he was gone again before I could explain that whenever I went to bars no one would talk to me and people would put cigarettes out in my Strawberry daiquiris. I started wandering around again, spending some time talking to my Dad's girlfriend Tracy, she had reddish blond hair, wide deep eyes and a sweet personality. How sweet was she? She actually read one of my novels and back then my books were poorly plotted, poorly written and unpublishable.
As opposed my current mediocrely plotted, mediocrely written and unpublishable works.
Once I had left my Dad's unnervingly hot girlfriend behind I mingled some more pausing to joke around with some cousins I might not be able to pick out of a police lineup by New Year's. Then I talked to my Grandmother and Grandfather Bruno- no problem getting their names straight there. We went over the usual questions and I was able to get a few laughs out of them- I had good material back then.
I decided to try and talk to my Dad one last time, as I moved through the crowds of relatives and relatives' spouses, cousins and hangers on I happened to catch a few snatches of conversation
Was that one of my Dad's brother's making jokes about him?
Yes, yes it was and they sounded a little mean and unfair.
Kind of like what I've been doing for the last thousand words or so.
I thought about all the petty humiliations my brother Phil was responsible for and realized that my old man and I were alike in a lot of ways. I wondered if he felt like an outsider too, if he ever felt that no matter what he did he would never be good enough.
My Dad was out on the porch having a smoke. Cigarettes were a habit he would abandon and return to many times over the years and it was always a good time to talk because he was pretty much cornered.
“Well,” I said sitting on the stoop beside him.
“Not bored are you?” he asked.
“No never. Every time I visit it seems like the first time.”
“Good,” he exhaled smoke, “you still worrying about what's her name the redhead?”
“I'm sad about it. I still don't know what I did wrong.”
“And you never will.”
We were both shivering, me from the cold and my Dad from the pleasure of the nicotine racing through his system.
“I wish I could accept that.” I said, “But I just can't.”
“You will. You'll get burned enough and you will,” he explained. “Besides she was too mouthy. You don't want a mouthy one, they just wear you down.”
“I thought she was great.”
“You think if they talk to you they're great.”
“There is that yes.” I agreed, “But what do you think I should do?”
My Dad stubbed out his cigarette on a plastic reindeer and stood, “You should play the field, enjoy yourself. Bide your time until you're thirty or so and you have a little cash in the bank. By then the girls in their twenties will start looking at you with interest. Assuming you get a haircut.”
“Oh.” I said.
“Now come on, let's help your Aunt Joan hand out the grab bag gifts.”