Jeff is the kind of guy who likes to call the women he dates broads. “Yeah, I got laid by this broad last night,” he told me once at the diner. I flinched. “What is this, 1942?” I told him. “Who talks like that?”
It reminded me of when my grandmother used to tell stories about the war and say outrageous, politically incorrect things out loud — really loud because she was deaf — in restaurants. I remember once when all the customers in Friendly’s — probably the people out in their cars in the parking lot, too –heard her say, “And then … those God-damned Japs bombed Pearl Harbor!”
Jeff lives with his father, Morty. He hates him because he drinks — not just one or two beers, but wine out of the box … and all day long. Jeff hates Morty because of what he does when he gets drunk. When he’s staggering from too much vino, he goes to the bathroom and leaves little drops of shit on the floor.
One time Jeff looked out the living room window and saw Morty walking up the block all bow-legged, like a cowboy who just got off his horse. Jeff thought: “Looks like he’s got something stuck up his ass.” Later that afternoon, Jeff found out that it wasn’t what Morty had stuck up his ass — it was what he had let loose from it: a load of crap. The evidence: boxer shorts — all 10 pounds of it — left in the sink in the downstairs powder room.
In the summer, Morty leaves the air conditioning running full blast on the hottest days — but with the windows open, too. Jeff gets electric bills for $500 and more a month. He’s tried to get Morty to stop, but the man refuses to change his behavior. About the only thing Jeff can do is take money from his father’s wallet to help pay the bills.
Morty tries to help cut the household’s carbon footprint by dropping kitchen waste out the backyard window onto the patio: banana peels, coffee grinds, egg shells and sometimes things that are harder to decompose — like used condoms.
When Morty drinks too much he says strange things — like the time he let 4 Vietnamese kids from down the block swim in the pool in the yard, talking to them the whole time about how he had to tough it out with his Marine buddies during the Tet Offensive. Jeff overheard Morty tell the kids that he helped protect their country from communism when he was stationed in Saigon.
Morty was never in Vietnam, and never in the service. The only uniform he ever wore was in the 80s: tight short pants and red-striped tube socks. It was his get-up, as he went around in endless circles to the beat of disco at RollerWorld, an indoor rolling rink not far from the family home.
Not long ago, Jeff called me up. “I’ve got to get out of this house. I can’t live here anymore,” he said. “I’m going to tell that bastard that if he doesn’t stop drinking and go to rehab, I’m going to sell my share of the house.”
But Morty didn’t want to stop drinking Chardonnay. So Jeff contacted a lawyer and started the legal work to get out. Once Jeff made his decision, he felt better about his future, and he started talking about finding his own place and the “right woman” to help fill his days.
Still, Jeff felt he had a lot of work to do to resolve issues with his father. That was the contradiction about Jeff; he could use words like “broad” and call people “butt-nut,” but if you were sitting in the diner with him, and he was talking about something deep, something that hurt, he’d start to cry. He could give two shits that Mrs. Weinstein from down the block was sitting in the next booth listening to every word he said.
After an Alanon meeting, on a night so bitter even the Russian guys who cut my hair would have been cold, we went to the diner. Jeff told me that his father used to beat him. “He came home from fixing TVs, and he was totally fucked up in the head — angry about something,” Jeff said. “I think I was about 6; he dragged me down the basement to make me clean up my toys.”
Jeff paused and drew a deep breath. “Then, when I was done, he took me in the laundry room and stuffed me in one of those canvas laundry bags. He closed it up so it was dark in there, and then he kicked and kicked me.”
You could tell it bothered Jeff a lot — 33 years later. The whole time he was telling me that, he was looking down at his cheeseburger. Little drops of tears were falling in his french fries. Then, as though his soul had been cleansed a little, he started talking about how lousy the Yankees were playing.
About a month ago, Jeff called me to say that he felt like drinking again. “Listen, douche bag,” he said. “I need to start going to more AA meetings. So, I won’t be able to come to the Friday night Alanon meeting anymore.”
I felt sad that we wouldn’t be spending as much time together. But I learned in Alanon that you have to take care of yourself … because the drunk you live with won’t take care of you. So, I told him that I respected his decision…but I was sure things wouldn’t be the same.
It wasn’t long before I got text messages from the colostomy bag himself asking to meet for breakfast. We were back to unloading … laughing … and sometimes — even if Mrs. Weinstein was listening — crying.