Cottage Cheese

24 Nov 2022

You’re a God Damned FOOL!!” my father thundered. He stood and stormed out of the coffee shop. I suppose the other patrons stopped eating and watched. I was too stunned to notice.

When I say, “stormed,” I mean it. My father didn’t drizzle. He didn’t rain. He stormed.

He was a huge man. Towering, he was built like a solid oak door. But he moved with the grace of a ballroom dancer.

His hair, kept dark with Grecian Formula, was short and slicked straight back. It gleamed like onyx. But he had “cow eyes”.

His body was toughened from years of hard physical work. His arms were like pistons. His hands were like calloused dinner plates. They could swat your ass so hard your eyes watered and your nose ran. Or they could stroke your head so tenderly that you fluoresced with pride.

He was Odin, Thor, Zeus. And when he bellowed, walls shook.

So, I guess the other patrons noticed.

June, his second wife, and I just sat, stunned.

I suppose I should have been embarrassed. I was starring in the Lounge at the Riverside Hotel, in Reno, Nevada. And here we were in the coffee shop — not twenty feet from a large, glass-encased billboard — featuring my picture, gaping after him as he roared out of the room.

Nothing untoward had occurred to precipitate his outburst. June and he had flown out from New York to spend a week with me and preen with pride at “their” son. Until that moment everything had been idyllic.

* * *

My father had not approved my dropping out of college to become an entertainer. But after I’d served a year or so of apprenticeship in the bars of Greenwich Village, he sneaked in to see what I was doing with my life. The techniques of entertainment were a mystery to him, but he was amazed at my ability to move a room filled with total strangers. He became, in truth, my biggest fan.

Performing is an itinerant trade, so we didn’t get to see much of each other. But on rare and special occasions, he and my stepmother would come visit on the West Coast. He had a way of not cupping his palms when he applauded and, on tapes recorded from that period, I can clearly hear those dinner-plate hands crashing together like gunshots.

That afternoon, we’d been having a late lunch. My father knew I ate lightly before my evening show – usually just toast or cottage cheese. When the waitress brought the menus and he scanned his, he noticed that “diet plate” was roast beef with a side of cottage cheese.

“Mmmm,” he said, smiling at me, “roast beef and cottage cheese. Would you like that, Raymond?”

“No, thanks Dad. But you go ahead.”

He did.

I don’t have the faintest recollection of what June ordered but, when the waitress got to me, I ordered “just a plain side of cottage cheese, thanks.”

She took the order and left.

My father scowled at me. “Why you damned fool. I offered you that.”

“No you didn’t. You asked me if —”

That was as far as I got. It was then that he exploded.

* * *

In the silence that followed his exit, June and I looked, questioningly, at one another. Neither of us had any idea what had touched off his outburst. She just raised her eyebrows, and gestured emptily with her hands.

After puzzling for a while, I realized what had happened. My father had simply meant that he would share his meal — eating the roast beef, and giving me his cottage cheese — a custom born of a life of enforced thrift.

I waited a respectful time, then folded my napkin, and told June I’d be back in a few minutes.

I took the elevator up to the floor where their room was, and knocked on his door. He opened it, and let me in.

“Look Dad, I don’t know what I said, but I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

He grabbed me in that giant bear hug of his. We held each other for a few moments, then he held me at arms length.

“It’s OK, Son.”

Then a terrible thing happened. His eyes grew moist. He said, “Just don’t ever tell me I don’t know what I just said.” As he did, his voice cracked.

Like the room was being shaken, my world tumbled — cascaded end-over-end. When it settled down again, I had lost my childhood — and our positions were reversed forever. I saw my father as he really was: just a man, aging, shrunken, stooped. A man who knew with certainty that time was stealing his life … and was dreadfully afraid.

I pulled him to me, and held him. Through my own tears, I comforted him — I the parent, he the child. After a while, we went to join June for desert.

My feelings for him hadn’t changed — just my perception of him. And I think I loved him even more as a mortal, than I had when he was a god.

Write & Read to Earn with BULB

Learn More

Enjoy this blog? Subscribe to brother3009

1 Comment

No comments yet.
Most relevant comments are displayed, so some may have been filtered out.