My Father does not have a pokerface. No. He has a straight deadpan so convincing, so finessed that in it’s in full effect it extends to his face, his very body language. For example when I was young the lab he managed in Pennsylvania caught on fire.
Actually it caught on fire very badly.
When my father got the call he turned to us at the dinner table after calmly setting the phone back in it’s cradle and in an even tone said:
“The lab is on fire.”
And my mother said:
“Haha! Oh, Chris…”
“No.” He said, putting on his coat. “The lab is on fire.”
My mother paused and I squinted over my grilled cheese.
Dad sighed and had to use the particular enunciation that was necessary for us to believe him.
“The lab is on fire.” He picked up his car keys and headed out to deal with the situation.
“Oh.” My mother said into the new silence. “I guess the lab is on fire.”
You really can’t blame us though. My dad has honed his dry comedic skills to a razor edge and he uses these skills almost exclusively to annoy the shit out of his women. You had to learn in my house that if you said, “X really bothers me.” He’d find a way to subtly do X. One time on the way home from a movie theater I made the mistake of saying:
“God, I have to pee SO BAD. I can’t waiiiit to get home.”
My Dad immediately slowed the car to 15 miles per hour, engaged the child safety locks on the back seat and hit every single pot hole on the last 10 minutes of the car ride.
“Dad! DAD! What are you doing?? What are you doing I have to pee, Dad, I have to PEEEE….”
“Traffic safety is very important, Punchkin. You’ll be sixteen soon and I want you to learn by example.” He put the turn signal on and sloooowly turned into our subdivision. He still wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
Sweet childhood memories of my father’s loving brand of antagonization were what made me certain that when Mark met my parents for the first time in the summer of 2010 he and daddy would get along just fine. Mark shares my fathers love of button pushing. You can see it in the way Marks face lights up, Lights up with joy like a baby’s when first tasting ice cream, every time he finds a new annoying way way to poke my face or when he drinks my water glass I just sat on the coffee table when my back is turned.
“Mark, did you… did you drink all of my water?”
“Yes you did!”
And no amount of arguing will make him admit his wrongs.
I had called my father a few days before before their flight to gab excitedly about all of the fun stuff I had planned for their visit.
“It’s going to be great, Dad! I got us ticket to the Academy of Sciences for Nite Life and we’re going to go to the best restaurant….”
“Is Neal…uh, Kenneth? Is that guy coming with us?”
I took the phone away from my ear and looked at it. I put it back up to my ear and said, “Do you mean Mark? The man I’ve been seeing for over a year? The one who stayed in your house with your daughter for eight days?”
“Oh, Yeah. That guy. Mark.”
“Dad…You can’t…Do you want me to write you a helpful series of flash cards? Here’s an idea, Write his name on the inside of your wrist in permanent marker. If you get confused at any point just pull your sleeve down a little and look at it.”
“That is a good idea.”
“Maaark.” He said slowly as if committing it to memory.
Of course he knows Marks name. He just pretends he doesn’t to freak me out.
It was a lovely visit. I put them up in a nice quiet room in Das Hotelenstien, we looked at the little fishies at the Academy of Sciences. Mark and I took my father to a late birthday dinner at House of Prime Rib. We drove around town and laughed and drank wine and stood by helplessly as my mother put together a bookcase for me.
That’s not true. We didn’t stand. We took naps while she put that bookcase together.
On the night before my parents departure I took them to Parma, an excellent Italian place on Steiner Street afterwards we opted to take a drive through the scenic Russian Hill neighborhood. The night was clear and lit with the glittering city lights and twinkling christmas lights strung from the fire escape. We rode in peace and happiness, remarking on the excellent architecture and pointing out the ice cream shops.
Then, for some reason I’ll never understand, my mother opened her goddamned mouth.
“Daddy and I were driving around earlier today and I just can’t get used to going down hill here. You feel like you are driving off the end of the world! Ooof! It makes me car sick!” She said with her tinkling laugh as we drove steadily up hill on Greenwitch Street.
She’s been married to my father for going on 32 years and she still goes and shoots her self right in the foot.
“Mom. Do you remember that time we were in the car and I told daddy I had to pee…?” I said slowly.
“Well, I bet there are some good hills up here, Gwen.” My dad revved the engine gleefully.
“Chris, don’t you dare.”
“Don’t worry, Gwen.” Said Mark. “I know a way to get back to my house with out going down the really steep ones.”
Now Mark has been a San Franciscan for as long as I have, about eight years now. As far as I knew no, there was no way back but down a sharp incline but I thought positively that perhaps he knew a back way I wasn’t aware of. We drove peacefully for through the lovely art deco streets of Russian Hill for a bit longer until it was time for Mark to return home and get ready for his Monday night audit.
“Take a right here, Chris.” Mark instructed.
My father did and five yards away the road dropped sharply into nothingness.
“No!” My mother wailed.
“Oh, Mark! YES!” My father crowed.
“Oh, Mark, you knew!” My mother grabbed the handle over the passenger side window. “You KNEEEEEEEEW!” She howled as the car dropped over the edge of the street and the world tilted dramatically downward.
“Yes, Mark!! I LOVE IT!” My dad braked at the very top of the hill as my mother desperately protested that she was going to be sick.
“Huh. You can see the Trans America building through the sunroof.” Mark stated. Then as an aside he said, “I’m sorry, Gwen. I didn’t think this way was so steep…”
“YES, YOU DID.”
“Mark! Alright, Buddy!” My dad rolled down the hill and my mother shut her eyes.
Mom’s eyes stayed shut until we pulled up to Marks house on Green Street. He said his good byes to my parents, my mother hugged him despite of his treachery and my father gave him a firm hand shake. I climbed out of the back seat to give him a good bye kiss. Once the door was shut I looked at him.
“You knew that was a steep ass hill.”
“Incidentally that’s the second steepest grade in the city.” He said brightly and kissed me.