I woke him up at 3:30 a.m. I walked into his room, looked at the black pair of boxer shorts he was sporting, decorated with swiss cheeses that had smiley faces, and repeated the phrase “Dad” four times until his arm spasmed and smacked me on the side of the head.
“Get up,” I said, and walked out of the room, cradling the left side of my face. My mother had passed away a few months earlier, and I was taking my father, or as I affectionately like to call him, “Bitch Tits,” to Costa Rica for two weeks with my friend Shoniqua and her mother, Latifa. I was expecting to bond with my father on this trip. What I wasn’t expecting was for people to think we were a couple.
His descent down a flight of stairs makes the same sound a gorilla would make if he came upon a staircase, except that a gorilla would make better use of its arms and legs. Slow, deliberate, and confused is the best way to describe his gait. Stairs require him to negotiate his weight from one foot to the other while also steadying his corpulent frame with one hand on the railing and one hand on the wall. Due to the arduousness of the task, he makes sure only to come down once in the morning and to go up once at night.
After he took five minutes to walk down ten steps, and then a smaller set of five steps leading into the kitchen, I watched him sidle up to the medicine cabinet and take one pill each out of fourteen separate bottles. After he had compiled his collection, he placed each of the seventy-five pills into a white, letter-sized envelope, licked and sealed it, and then placed it in his back pocket.
“Are you planning on mailing those to someone?” I asked him.
Without responding to my question, he barked for me to get his pill bag out of the hallway. Bitch Tits’s pill bag turned out to be a red duffel bag large enough to carry a golden retriever. I looked outside and saw a black Town Car in the driveway with its headlights on.
“Do you have a toiletry kit?” I asked, thinking of his shaving supplies and oral hygiene accoutrements that I would surely be overseeing.
“I use a towel.”
Excluding one trip to the Dominican Republic that my mother had strong-armed him into the previous year, he hadn’t been out of the United States since their honeymoon forty-seven years earlier. Prior to that trip, he claims to have traveled all over the world, but only by boat. He talks incessantly about how he lived in several different countries and is constantly announcing that he speaks eight languages. If saying, “hello,” “good-bye,” and “thanks for nothing,” constitutes being fluent in a different language, then I speak three: English, Hebrew, and Jive.
Bitch Tits opened our front door to find the driver standing there. “Hola, se~nor. ?Como est'as?”
The driver, who looked like he was straight out of The Sopranos, looked quizzically at my father and replied, “?Bueno?”
“Dad, we’re not in Costa Rica yet. Cool it with the Spanish.”
After we arrived at the airport and checked our larger bags, we came upon the metal detector and were abruptly stopped on the other side by a large black woman with penciled-in eyebrows and fingernails long enough to fight off a porcupine. She held up my father’s red duffel bag and asked if she could search it. I told her yes and looked at my father, who threw his hands up as if he was being asked to submit to an anal cavity search and exclaimed, “Do what you gotta do. I don’t know what you think you’re going to find!”
Seconds later, the female security officer grabbed a pair of my father’s shorts from the top of the duffel bag and emptied out the contents of his pockets. A lighter, three nail files, a pocket wrench, a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, and a nectarine fell onto the folding table. I looked at the woman, looked at my father, and then looked around to see if anyone else was watching.
“What’s the problem?” my father asked the woman.
“Sir, I’m going to have to take this lighter away from you,” she said.
“The lighter?” I asked her. “What about the bomb kit he’s carrying around? He could do a lot more damage to a person with that wrench.”
“I need the wrench!” he shrieked.
“For what?” I asked.
“What if something goes wrong with the plane?”
The woman put everything back in his bag except the lighter. Three miles later, we found our gate.
“Well, this is a joke,” he huffed as he sat his oversize body down. “What kind of airport is this, with gates miles away from the entrance? It’s a good thing I had that quintuple bypass surgery last year.”
Good for who? I wondered. “Dad, why don’t you go up to the ticket counter and try to get us upgraded?”
My father has about as much shame as Star Jones and, being the Jew that he is, loves to get something for nothing. My negotiating skills are on par with George Bush’s reading ability. And, just like Dubya, every time I’ve tried to put forth an effort, I am reminded that my only true strength lies in drinking.
I was engrossed in an issue of Us Weekly when my father sauntered back over to where I was sitting and sat down without saying a word. Just as they started boarding I heard my name over the loud speaker, and with a huge smile on her face, the woman handed my father and me our first-class tickets. “Wow, Dad, I’m impressed.”
“Quiet, don’t say anything,” he said through clenched teeth as he poked me in the ribs. “Just smile.”
There were twelve seats in first class. Nine of them were empty, and the only other person in the section was a black man wearing three large gold chains. After my father barked something in Spanish at the male flight attendant, he turned to the black man covered in gold jewelry and said, “Where ya’ headed, Q-Tip?”
Bitch Tits primarily watches two networks-CNN and MTV. The only thing he’ll turn Christiane Amanpour off for is Total Request Live, or, as he and Justin Timberlake refer to it, TRL.
“Dad,” I said pleadingly while looking over at the black man seated across from us. “I’m sorry. He’s retarded.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” my father jumped in.
“Well, retardation is a very serious affliction and no one has ever confused me with being one.”
“With being what?” I asked.
“A retard, Chelsea. Please try and follow the conversation.”
I realized that this flight alone could send me over the edge, so I took an Ambien out of my purse, bit it in two, swallowed my half, and dropped the other half in the orange juice Bitch Tits had just been handed.
Five hours later we were landing in San Jos'e. I slipped off my eyeshades to find my father with his bowling-ball head resting on his shoulder and a steady flow of drool coming out of his mouth and pooling on his stomach, where most of the contents spilling out of his mouth usually end up.
“Geez, I don’t know what the hell happened,” he slurred, completely out of sorts. “One minute I was awake and the next minute I was zapped, just like that,” he said as he tried to snap his fingers, but he was too disoriented to make the necessary connection between his middle finger and thumb. “!Me gusta agua!” he yelled out to the flight attendant and then turned to me. “?Te gusta agua?”
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” he yelled. “Do you want some water or don’t you?”
I could tell already that listening to my father speak Spanish for the entire trip was going to get really irritating. The only advantage I could think of was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with him.
“Hey, Chels,” he said as he shoved his Lacsa Airline map into my lap. “You were wondering where Costa Rica is located, and here it is. Right between Nicaragua and Panama. Your lack of geographical knowledge is truly astounding.”
“Well, I am an American, and we’re pretty stupid,” I reminded him. “Besides, I knew Costa Rica was in a general southerly direction from Mexico; I just didn’t know where exactly.”
“Sometimes, Chelsea, I really wonder how you get by from day to day. It’s a good thing you’re voluptuous.”
“At least I asked where it was,” I said. “And please don’t refer to me as voluptuous. Can you please go back to speaking Spanish?”
Just as I turned to look out the window, the flight attendant handed my father a bottle of champagne and grabbed my hand. “Congratulations, dear. I’m sure the two of you will have a wonderful life together.”
It took a full minute of hand-holding with a perfect stranger to realize we had been upgraded to first class due to them thinking my father and I were on our honeymoon…because that’s what my father told them. This was my first trip alone with my father, and so far, I wasn’t having a good time.
Once in Costa Rica, we rolled off the airplane and through customs without any major setbacks. I was in charge of carrying my father’s passport, which isn’t much more reassuring than giving it to an illegal alien. We walked outside into the smoldering heat while fifteen local taxi drivers gathered around us, yelling things in Spanish.
Then a homeless man with a dog approached us and put his hand out. This happens to be something that I have a real problem with: homeless people with pets who approach you for food. How can they have the nerve to beg for food when they have a perfectly delicious dog standing right there? I didn’t care if this guy understood English or not. “Tell me when you’re out of dog, buddy. Then we can talk about splitting a falafel.”
I heard someone yell “Papa Handler!” from across the street and looked over to see Shoniqua waving her arms at us. Her mother was parked on a bench beside her, looking like she had just given birth to a water buffalo.
“There she is!” my father exclaimed. “How’s my Black Magic?” he said, dropping his duffel bag and suitcase next to me and crossing the street, stopping traffic. I picked his bags up and stumbled over to where they were standing. They were embracing each other like mother and child penguins.
My father loves Shoniqua because she can listen to him talk for hours on end. But mostly he likes her because they both share the belief that the less money they spend, the better. They met when she and I were on a television show together years earlier, and their fondness for each other was based on the fact that they are the two cheapest people I have ever met in my life. My father also revels in the fact that, by having a relationship with Shoniqua, he is somehow in with the black community.
Her mother, Latifa, had never met my father before, and when he went in for a kiss on the cheek, he somehow managed to spray the entire side of her face with his saliva. Latifa grimaced, looked at me with her glasses pulled down on her nose, and without whispering said, “Well, that was disgusting.”
I’ve known Latifa for as long as I’ve known Shoniqua, and consider her to be my black mother. Mostly because I only have one black friend, and Latifa is her mother. She has raised ten children of her own, has fostered more than a hundred other children, and runs a childcare center. She supplements this income with donations from Shoniqua, myself, and anyone else stupid enough to give money away to someone just because they ask for it. “It’s fucking hot,” she said as she wiped her forehead.
My father started speaking Spanish to one of the drivers and before I knew it we were in a cab on the way to a smaller airport, where we had to take a puddle jumper from San Jos'e to Tambor. We pulled up to a single-engine, five-seater plane.
“What the fuck is this?” Latifa muttered upon seeing the size of the plane. My father’s head jerked around with wide eyes upon hearing the word “fuck” come out of her mouth.
“It’s a private plane we have to take to Tambor,” I told her.
“Nobody said any motherfucking thing about a private plane.”
“The language!” Melvin said, looking shocked. “This one’s worse than you, Chels.”
“Mama, I told you we had to take a little plane; driving there would take eight hours and a one-hour boat ride,” Shoniqua told her.
“I love boats,” my father declared.
I walked my father, who didn’t take his eyes off Mama Latifa, over to the seat next to the pilot, assuming that was the only seat with enough room to fit him. The pilot and I helped him step up into the seat, and after trying to get his seat belt around his stomach for a full two minutes, I gave up and walked to the other side of the plane to sit down.
“Hold up,” Shoniqua said. “When are we going to check in with the embassy?”
I looked at her and then looked back out the window, shaking my head.
“Chels, I’m serious. We need to check in with the embassy. What if our asses get kidnapped?”
“Shoniqua, you are six feet tall with an ass the size of a giraffe. Who the hell is going to kidnap you? And furthermore, I doubt there is an embassy where we’re going.”
“First of all, bitch, my ass has gotten a lot smaller since I started acupuncture.”
“Fine,” I replied exhaustedly. “A baby giraffe.”
“That’s better. And of course there’s an embassy. Every country has an embassy.”
“Yeah, I know that, but they’re not usually on the beach.”
“Listen, if one of these little Costa Ricans fucks around and tries to get my ass, don’t think for a second I won’t fork the motherfucker.” Apparently, along with my father’s bag of artillery, the dinner fork that Shoniqua travels with everywhere in case of an attack also managed to make its way through airport security.
The plane took off with about as much control as a whitewater raft in a Category Five hurricane. I put my headphones on and stared out the window, trying not to vomit.
Forty minutes later, the plane started its descent and, from what I could tell, looked like it was headed for a landing strip not much bigger than the ones you see in Playboy.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” Latifa said with a moan, looking out the window.
Minutes later we were on the ground. We were greeted by a young Costa Rican boy who led us all to his mini-SUV. Right before my father got in, he walked ten feet away to a tree, turned his back to us, and peed.
“Shit, I gotta go too,” Latifa said as she hopped out of the car in the direction of another tree and squatted behind it.
“Well, looks like we got a pair of fuckin’ winners here,” Shoniqua said. “These two must have been separated at birth.”
The dirt road leading us to Santa Teresa couldn’t have been more bumpy if we were driving through the outback in a rickshaw. Ten minutes into the ride, I grabbed my carry-on bag, rifled through it until I found two sports bras, and put them both on over my shirt. During this time, my father and the driver were deep in a Spanish conversation, with the driver hysterically laughing at everything my dad was saying-a clear sign that he couldn’t understand a word of it.
An hour later we arrived in Santa Teresa, and pulled up to the two villas I had rented. The villas were one hundred feet apart from each other in front of a beach, and separated by several dirt paths and what looked like a mini rain forest. At least a dozen dogs gathered around our taxi, wagging their tails.
“If one of these motherfucking dogs comes near me, I’m gonna kick him in the fucking neck,” Latifa mumbled.
“Relax, will ya?” my father said as he craned his neck back to look at her. “These dogs aren’t going to do anything to you, they’re all half-breeds. Look at ’em. That one in front of the car looks like he’s got a little horse in him.”
Isabel, the property manager, greeted us and gave us a tour of the two villas. Each one had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a sitting room that looked out onto the beach. Each villa was beautifully crafted from the most gorgeous wood I had ever seen and, once you got upstairs, hot as fucking hell.
“I’m going to need a cocktail,” I told my father as I came back downstairs covered in sweat.
Isabel was in my father’s room showing him how to turn on the air conditioning, which was only available in the master bedroom of each villa. Upon discovering this information, I spent the next thirty to thirty-five seconds considering sleeping in the same bed as my father. I wondered if it would be possible to avoid any and all physical contact if I slept on top of the covers and positioned myself at just the right angle. It seemed plausible, but after serious consideration, it was not a risk I was willing to take.
After settling in, we collected the girls, and the four of us made the three-minute trek along the beach to the “hotel” that Isabel had recommended for lunch. The “hotel” consisted of four bungalows, a swimming pool, six tables looking out over the pool onto the ocean, and fifteen Costa Rican gardeners. The one thing I could tell for sure was that Costa Ricans are very serious about their gardening.
Four hours later we were on our fourth pitcher of the best margaritas I have ever tasted and about two drinks away from making a four-person pyramid. My father has never been a big drinker, and I’ve certainly never witnessed him having a margarita, never mind eight of them. Latifa really starts to loosen up after a couple of drinks, and in the past hour had used the word “pussy” three times, and followed that up with her theory that men are good for one of two things: “dick or money.”
Bitch Tits sat there frequently widening his eyes and elbowing me in the ribs, as if we were at a live concert performance or the circus. It’s very rare to see my father so quiet, as he has a very high opinion of his own opinion and loves to share it with anyone who is breathing. To see Mama Latifa having such an intimidating effect on him was more than mildly amusing. Only upon hearing Latifa’s assessment about men and dick or money could he contain himself no longer.
“Well, I think that’s a bit of an overstatement,” he said, crossing his arms with the same seriousness a congressman would use when trying to pass a new law.
“Shit.” Latifa moaned. “I didn’t get ten kids from not knowing what men are good for, that’s for sure.”
“You got that right, Mama,” Shoniqua chimed in as they high-fived each other.
“Well, Papa Handler, why don’t you tell me what your forte is?” Latifa asked.
“Well, that’s private, darling,” my father said in a very flirtatious tone-one he unfortunately usually reserves for my sisters and me.
“I know you got that summer house in Martha’s Vineyard, so I guess that answers which you’re good for,” she said, inferring that my father was either bad in bed, or wasn’t well endowed. I didn’t know which was more nauseating: the thought of my father having sex, or the thought of my father having a small penis.
“Let me tell you girls something,” he said as a gob of spit flew out of his mouth and landed in my eye. “My wife was a very passionate woman, and she and I would make love for days.” Then he raised his voice so all six of the other people in the restaurant could hear too, and repeated, “Days! We would go for days, and-”
“I’m going to bed,” I said as I got up and headed for where we were staying.
“She really needs to relax. Let her go to bed and sleep it off. She’s very stressed out,” I heard him tell them as I walked away.
I walked back to the villa, popped another Ambien, and sent off an e-mail to my brothers and sisters.
Shamu and I have arrived safely in Costa Rica. He was stopped by airport security because he carries enough artillery in his pants pockets to construct a sawed-off shotgun. Evidently, he thought we were headed to Iraq.
I just left him at dinner with Shoniqua and her mother, who he now calls Black Magic and Black Magic’s Mama. For the third time today, he has referenced his lovemaking with Mom, and the only respite I see from these conversations is to physically tape his mouth shut. I will have to ask him how to ask for duct tape in Espa~nol.
His head seems to have gotten bigger. Not sure if it’s swollen from the plane ride. I will keep you apprised of all new developments.
The following morning I woke up at around eight thirty and looked out the window to see the back of my dad’s thirty-pound head. He was sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs in front of the beach, holding up binoculars, with three dogs lying next to him. I put on my bathing suit and walked over to where he was sitting.
“How these surfers come out of the water after partaking in such a beautiful sport and then light a miserable cigarette is point-blank astonishing,” he said without looking at me. I looked over in the direction his binoculars were focused to see what he was talking about.
“Dad, that isn’t a cigarette,” I said as I saw the guy pass what he was smoking to his girlfriend. “It’s a joint.”
“Oh, is it?” he said, putting down his binoculars. “Well, that I can understand.”
“Oh, really? That you understand?”
“It’s the reefers. Everybody here loves to smoke the reefers. I just had breakfast at the little Rastafarian joint next door. Beautiful girl working there, like a goddess; she smokes the reefers too. By the way,” he said, looking me up and down, “you look very sexy in your little swimsuit.”
“You already had breakfast?” I asked him.
“That’s right,” he replied.
“Of course by myself!” he exclaimed. “I am an adult, you know. Black Magic and her mother aren’t up. Those two were up yappin’ until two in the morning. Shoniqua’s mother’s really got a mouthpiece on her. And Shoniqua, oh jeez! She’s got one story after another story, and then there’s another story. Those two can talk each other under the table.”
“I’m surprised you were quiet long enough to hear anything.”
“Oh, please,” he snorted. “Like I could get a word in edgewise. By the way, tomorrow is Father’s Day. I don’t know what you have planned, but I’d like some swordfish.” Then he barked something in Spanish to the dogs. “These dogs only respond to Spanish.” One of the dogs looked up, while the other two made absolutely no movement. “This one’s trying to make a name for himself. Follows me wherever I go. Not a good-looking dog, but what are you gonna do? How did you sleep?” he asked, and before I could answer, interrupted me. “The ocean is like a symphony, Chelsea. The waves undulating in and out, then back in again, it’s like a beautiful symphony. Do you know what I mean by symphony?”
“I’m going to make some coffee,” I said, and turned to walk back to the villa. Two minutes later he walked in and slowly made his way upstairs to the kitchen. “I’d like some decaf,” he declared once he reached the top.
“There is no decaf.”
“Well, then, half-and-half.”
“Half and half of what?” I asked him.
“Half coffee, half cream, same thing as decaf. I’ve been thinking,” he went on. “I want you to take a picture of that tree, Chelsea.” I turned and saw him standing next to my bed, holding up his binoculars to look at a tree that you could touch if you put your hand out the window. “I want pictures of all the trees around here. This one right here is just about three hundred years old.”
“How do you know it’s not just two hundred years old?”
“You can tell by looking at the base of the tree. The width of the base, Chelsea! That tree is coming up on its three hundredth birthday, goddammit!” You’d think I’d asked him if a vagina could be used as a pencil sharpener. “Go ahead, take a picture, for crying out loud,” he ordered as I emptied coffee grounds into the coffee maker.
“In a minute,” I said, gesturing that both my hands were occupied.
“I’ve got a question for you, Chels,” he said, lowering himself into an armchair. “Have you ever thought of getting some lowlights?”
“The ocean is like a symphony” is Dad’s new catchprase, along with “surfer’s paradise”-and coming in third is still his old standby, “Arabs are the scum of the earth.”
After I made him coffee, he said he was going swimming and had plans for lunch. We’ve been here for less than twenty hours and he already has lunch plans with the female Italian landscaper. He said it’s good to brush up on his languages. I was tempted to ask the landscaper how to say “shut the fuck up” in Italian.
There are several dogs on the grounds who are all following Dad around. “Dogs love me, even these half-breeds. Keep ’em away from Shoniqua and that mother of hers, though. These dogs do not like blacks.”
Shoniqua’s mother used the n word after four forty-ounce Coronas last night, and Dad, who was appalled, said, “Black Magic Mama, please don’t use language like that. I prefer schvartzeah.”
If any of you want to come here, everything is paid for.
Once my dad returned from lunch, he passed out in his bedroom and didn’t wake up for four hours. Going for a swim earlier had completely exhausted him. And it occurred to me that in order for me to get any writing done, it would be necessary to get him swimming every day to completely wipe him out. It seemed to me that caring for a seventy-five-year-old wasn’t much different than caring for a toddler. Once they go down for a nap, it’s important to get as much done as possible.
At around seven my father walked into Shoniqua’s villa, where I was having a cocktail with the girls, and proclaimed, “It’s time to eat.”
“Hi, Papa Handler!” Shoniqua exclaimed, running over to give him a kiss.
Latifa slurped down the remains of her forty-ounce Corona, grabbed another, and the four of us walked over to our new favorite restaurant. The same waitress from the night before came over, and before she had a chance to even say “hello,” Bitch Tits announced, “I’d like some swordfish.”
“Dad, we haven’t even ordered drinks yet and no one has even looked at the menu. Will you please take it down a notch?”
“I’m sorry,” the waitress said. “We don’t have swordfish.”
“Margaritas,” my father said, staring at the table. Apologizing for my father had become part of my daily routine early on in life, as he makes a point of having no social skills whatsoever. This is a man who can give you the meaning of any word in the dictionary, the history of any war that has ever taken place, the geographical location of any city in the world, but has never in his life learned the words “please” or “thank you.”
“You look good in red, Papa Handler,” Shoniqua said, admiring the shirt he had put on for dinner.
“Do you think so?” he asked, turning his head and looking at her sideways. “Chelsea and my wife always liked me in red. Red, yellow, and chartreuse. You know, my wife was many things,” he said, apparently picking up in the middle of a conversation no one else was having. “She was an artist, a painter, a carpenter, an engineer; she could sew, she was a mechanic, a cook, a baker, a lover, a painter, a gardener, a landscaper, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a volunteer…”
“Okay, Dad, she wasn’t an uncle.”
“Chelsea,” he said. “You really need to relax. You seem very stressed out.”
“I’m gonna get me some filet mignon,” Mama Latifa announced. “You’re paying, right, Chelsea?”
“Of course she’s paying,” my father replied.
“Dad, do you want to split a salad as an appetizer?” I asked him.
“I’ll take my own salad, and then I’ll take the ribs,” he replied as a mango fell off the roof of the restaurant and split open on the ground.
“They’re not going to have ribs, Dad.”
“Of course they will. What restaurant doesn’t have ribs?”
The waitress came over with the menu, which was written on a chalkboard and was different each day and, of course, did not include ribs.
“Goddamn bugs are eating me alive,” Mama Latifa said, smacking herself in the arm.
“I know,” the waitress responded. “It’s awful right now with the bugs; it’s actually the worst time of year. My legs are in terrible shape.”
We all looked at her exposed legs, which looked like she had gotten caught in a minefield. More than once. Both her legs were covered in awful, blistering sores.
“Jesus Christ!” my father yelled, looking down at them. “You better take a seat.”
She smiled and went on to tell us that her skin is extra-sensitive to the bites, and that there was a fatal reaction she could have if the bites got any worse.
“Well, you better pack your bags and get the fuck out of Costa Rica!” Shoniqua said.
“I know, I should totally leave for the off-season, but I just love it here.”
“Well, you’re not gonna love it if your ass is dead,” Mama Latifa added.
The notion that this girl could potentially die from mosquito bites, and was only mildly concerned about it, made me think she was probably one of those girls who wouldn’t put up a fight against a rapist. I always thought that if I were ever to get raped, I would try and get along with my rapist. Maybe ask him what kind of music he likes, would he like a cocktail, that sort of thing. Just to try and make it as civilized as possible. And then right before we started to make love, I would just tell him I have herpes, AIDS, and/or gonorrhea.
“Listen, Hilary,” my father said to the waitress. “You’re what my daughter refers to as a ‘hot mess.’ What you need is vinegar for those bug bites. I’ve got some at the house if you don’t have any here.”
“Vinegar? Really?” She asked confused. “Balsamic?”
“No,” my father replied, losing all patience. “Not balsamic, for crying out loud, you’re not a salad. White vinegar. If you don’t have it, Chels will go back to the villa and get mine. I’ll administer it.”
More great news. I grabbed a flashlight and limped back through the woods to get vinegar. When I came back, covered in sweat from the humidity, my father was, of course, talking about what a ravenous sex drive my mother had. Mama Latifa was sitting up at the table, sleeping with her mouth open. Two seconds later, her head jerked forward and her eyes popped open. Then she reached into her mouth, removed her top teeth, and put them on the table. “Nothing like a man who loved a woman, Melvin,” she slurred. “Nothing like it.” Then it started pouring.
Last night there was a torrential downpour at dinner, so we had to navigate our way through the woods in pouring rain with Dad traveling at his fastest gait (1 1/2 mph) and me holding Latifa’s teeth. All of us hung out in Shoniqua’s villa listening to hip-hop for an hour before Dad said, “I’d like to hear some Shakira.”
Shoniqua’s mother was dancing around Dad, shaking her ass, and he, of course, thinks she has a crush on him. I told them I was going to the bathroom around ten, and instead came back to our villa to pass out.
I heard doors slamming when Dad came home and I looked at the clock. It was 1:30 a.m. Today he said he’s “hungover.”
The girls apparently convinced him last night that he is part black due to his “negrolike” features-his “nigger lips” and his wide nose. When I asked dad not to use the n word, he told me, “They said it, not me! They said the n word. I would never use a word like that.” Then he spent the rest of this morning talking about how he thinks that’s a huge compliment, coming from two colored girls.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I said, handing my dad a plate of scrambled eggs and a cup of half and half with a splash of coffee. He was seated in his usual spot in one of the Adirondack chairs, with the three dogs that follow him around lying at his feet.
“Good morning, love,” he said, taking the plate and coffee from me as if it was completely normal for me to be making him breakfast. “I’ll tell you, those girls are something. Black Magic and her mother. That mother can talk a blue streak. You know what these eggs are missing, Chels? Paprika.”
I looked at my father, wondering how my mother could have listened to this for forty-seven years. I couldn’t believe that I had defended him so many times to her. I just knew my mother was sitting up in heaven watching my father order me around like a slave and laughing her ass off.
“They don’t have that here, Dad. How about nothing?”
“You know, black people have a whole race issue going on among themselves. They don’t like the ones that are too dark. The lighter the skin, the more beautiful they are considered.”
“That’s exactly right, Dad-especially if you’re a racist.”
“No, Shoniqua told me last night. Chocolate brown and lighter are the most desirable shades… It’s a little late for them to be sleeping, don’t you think?”
“Well, you didn’t come home until one thirty. It’s only nine. They sleep late.”
“I don’t care if they sleep all day. That’s their prerogative,” he said while shoving forkful after forkful of eggs into his mouth. “You think you’re pretty sneaky, don’t you, Chels?”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do, bringing Mama Latifa here on vacation with us. I am not looking for a steady girlfriend,” he said, banging one fist on the arm of his chair. “I am not equipped to perform in that capacity anymore. She’s only fifty-two, and women that age are still in their prime and looking for penetration. She obviously has a crush on me.”
“Dad, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but I don’t think Latifa is interested in being penetrated by you.” Once again, I found myself having a conversation about sex with my father.
“Listen to me, Chelsea. Women are all the same. JLo, Britney Spears, Missy Elliot. These women all expect a lot of physical performance.”
“I’m going swimming,” I said.
“Look at that body! Hot stuff tonight!” he yelled as I walked toward the water. Two surfers on the beach turned to see who was yelling obscenities at me while I hung my head low and avoided any eye contact.
I was in the water for three minutes when I heard three short abrupt whistles, followed by two longer ones that sounded like a foghorn. I looked back toward Bitch Tits and saw him waving for me to come ashore. I got out of the water and walked the fifty feet to where my father was perched.
“Where did you get a whistle?” I asked him.
“Stay where I can see you,” he said, holding the whistle that was now covered in scrambled eggs. Then he got to his feet, shuffled over to where I was standing, and turned away from me. “Give me a scratch on the back.”
“No thanks,” I responded.
“Chelsea, it’s Father’s Day.”
Scratching my father’s back isn’t something I take immense pleasure in doing. The most vile part of this procedure is that he pulls up his shirt so that I can make direct contact with his skin. My father’s body and skin, along with the entire cast of The Golden Girls, is definitely something that should be kept under wraps at all times.
The back-scratching combined with my father yelling “Hot stuff tonight!” and “Look at that body” every time I walked by him in a bikini would lead anyone to believe that we were dating. I kept making sure to say the word “dad” loudly whenever one of the gardeners walked by, even when my father was nowhere in sight.
One of the dogs got up and followed my father to where he was standing.
“This one follows me everywhere I go. He probably smells Whitefoot.” Our dog, Whitefoot, had died four months earlier, the day after my mother passed away. People say that pets can sense when one of their owners is dead, and I definitely believe that to be true. However, my father has convinced himself that Whitefoot died of a broken heart, when, in fact, I believe it was a suicide. Had we not found him lying dead next to an empty bottle of Tylenol PM and what appeared to be the beginning stages of a suicide note, I would also have believed he died from sadness. I couldn’t blame Whitefoot. The thought of spending the rest of my life alone with my father would drive me to take my own life too.
DAY #4/FATHER’S DAY
Somehow Dad managed to get ahold of a whistle. He uses it primarily for lifeguarding, and also to get the attention of anyone he wishes to have a conversation with. Today we were lying on the beach and I noticed that Dad can only balance his head midair while lying on his side. He was lying in that position for well over an hour. I asked, “Is that comfortable?” and he said, “It’s perfectly fine.” His head cannot touch the ground due to his inflamed abdomen. It just floats there, airborne.
Afterward, he said, “You are preternaturally genetically gifted, Chelsea. But, as far as your abs go, you could make some improvements.” I wanted to ask him where his abs have been for the past forty years.
I’m really going to need some backup-all expenses paid.
Because it was Father’s Day, I decided to change it up for dinner. Instead of going to our usual place, the four of us walked a quarter of a mile down the beach to another hotel and had dinner there.
We were seated next to a family with a six-year-old son who ran over to us and started dancing. Normally this would have been endearing, but this boy had an unusually large cranium and “crazy eyes.” His pupils were extremely dilated and were two different sizes, not to mention they were each looking in completely opposite directions. As he hopped from one foot to the other, he jerked his head back and forth while making very disturbing grunting and hissing sounds. I couldn’t make out where he was from; he wasn’t using any actual words or a language, but his parents looked foreign. It was quite obvious that without severe behavioral modification, this boy would grow up to be a serial killer.
“Get that little fucker away from me,” Shoniqua said, looking at him sideways.
My father took his eyes off the menu to look at the boy and lowered his reading glasses. “Boy’s got dementia.” Then, just as quickly, he returned to reading the menu.
The parents didn’t seem to mind that their six-year-old was harassing another table, or think for a second we might not want to be entertained by their demon son.
The boy, let’s call him Hitler, had a balloon in his hand and kept smacking it against his head while dancing. Luckily, Hitler had a crew cut that protected him from the static charge that this kind of action can create. I was not as lucky. It’s not easy to discipline a child who is not related to you, so when he started rubbing the balloon against my head, I just sat there and let him do it, while my hair flew out in fifteen different directions.
“I’ll have a margarita on the rocks, no salt,” I said as Hitler continued to attack the side of my head with the balloon. The waitress, who looked apologetically at me but didn’t speak much English, offered no support. Once my father ordered a margarita in Spanish, he put his menu down and finally noticed the kid accosting me. Shoniqua and Mama Latifa had noticed earlier and had been staring at the little boy with their mouths open.
“!Vamanos!” my father said, putting his glasses in his shirt pocket.
“Don’t yell at him,” I said to my father. I felt bad for this boy, and although I don’t particularly like getting hit in the head, I was grateful Hitler wasn’t using a sharper object. He stopped hitting me with the balloon for a moment, but then seconds later picked up right where he left off.
“Why, Chels, are you enjoying it?” Mama Latifa asked me, grinning.
“Well, no, but obviously this boy doesn’t have a particularly bright future ahead of him, and if this gives him some pleasure, then who am I to deny him?” I whispered. Why his parents weren’t denying him this pleasure was another story. I looked over at their table and saw they were busy paying attention to their other two children, still oblivious to what was going on.
“Excuse me!” Mama Latifa yelled over to their table. “Can you come and get your fucking kid?”
The parents looked up, but didn’t speak English. My father yelled something in Spanish that finally got their attention.
“This kid is like a wild dog. Did you ever see the movie Cujo?” he asked us as the mother came running over to our table.
“Dad, behave yourself. Do not insult this woman’s son. Obviously, she knows he’s got problems.”
Hitler’s mother came over and at first seemed apologetic, until my father berated her in what I later found out to be Portuguese. Soon her demeanor changed, and she grabbed her son by the arm and led him back to where they were eating, all the while giving Bitch Tits a death stare.
“Dad, what did you say? What is wrong with you?”
“What is wrong with me?” he asked. “Why do you have to turn everything around? That boy’s got dementia, Chelsea. Anyone can see that.”
“Maybe he’s fine,” Shoniqua piped in. “Maybe his face is a mess because his mama whips his ass, because he doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.”
“Amen,” added Latifa, nodding.
“Amen,” said Bitch Tits, and then high-fived Mama Latifa.
Then he raised his hand in the air and yelled, “I’d like the Chilean sea bass!” I turned to find our waiter was nowhere in sight, and realized the person Bitch Tits was ordering from was one of the hotel gardeners walking by, covered in dirt.
Today I woke up and looked outside to see Dad urinating on a tree. I looked across at Shoniqua’s villa and saw her mother squatted by another tree doing the same thing. It’s amazing how in sync these two are. It’s 9 a.m. I just ordered marijuana from the groundskeeper.
DAY #5-20 MINUTES LATER
Things are really going downhill. I am begging any of you to come here. Shoniqua and her mother leave tomorrow. If left alone with this man for any period of time, I may take out a hit on him. I will not only pay for your ticket, I will also pay for you to bring a friend, a husband, a child, a stranger, whomever you’d like. I WILL ALSO THROW IN AN EXTRA $500 BONUS.
DAY #5-12 MINUTES LATER
Is it wrong for me to encourage Dad to swim when the riptide is at its strongest?
After the last e-mail home, my sister Sidney responded with an e-mail saying that she was on her way and would be arriving the next morning with her three kids. I really needed the backup since Shoniqua and Latifa were leaving in the morning. Moments later Isabel arrived with my pot. Things were looking up.
Shoniqua and her mother were packed and waiting for their taxi the next morning. I walked downstairs and found Mama Latifa and my father in a bear hug.
“All right, Papa Handler, you behave yourself,” she said. “And thank you for everything.”
“No problem,” my father said. “It’s my pleasure.”
His pleasure? In no way, shape, or form had he contributed financially to this vacation. To be completely honest, I wasn’t even sure my father had brought any money. If he had, he certainly wasn’t spending it.
“Good-bye,” I said, and hugged Shoniqua and her mama good-bye.
“Try and be patient with Papa Handler,” Shoniqua said. “And Mama put her massage on your tab. Thanks.”
“You hear that, Chelsea?” my father asked. “She’s right. You need to respect your daddy.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said to Shoniqua as she leaned in for another hug.
“Good fucking luck,” she said in my ear, and then started laughing hysterically as she headed toward her cab.
Bitch Tits put his arm around me as we watched the cab pull away and said, “Chels, I gotta be perfectly honest with you. What I’m really in the mood for is a good slice of pizza.”
“Good luck with that,” I replied, and headed back inside and upstairs to smoke my weed. Isabel had loaned me a pipe to smoke it in, and just as I took my first hit, I heard Shamu heading up the stairs.
“Chels, I’m not kidding about the pizza. All you have to do is get some dough, some tomato sauce, and some garlic.”
“Dad, I don’t know how to make a pizza. I can barely make eggs.”
“What is that you got in your hand there?” he asked as I took another hit from the pipe. “Is that a peace pipe?”
“Yup,” I told him. “I’m smoking the reefers.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” he said. “Maybe they can help you relax a little. You’re very uptight.”
“Uptight” really isn’t a word I think anyone would use to describe a girl who wrote a book documenting all of her one-night stands, but maybe my self-awareness needed a little sharpening. I was staring out at the ocean from the top floor of the open-aired villa, getting high with my father sitting next to me, when it occurred to me that this is what I needed all along. It had been a long time since I had gotten high and it was very strong weed. So instead of everything that came out of my dad’s mouth annoying me to no end, it made me laugh hysterically. He also seemed a bit giggly, and I’m assuming he enjoyed a little second-hand highness.
My sister’s taxi pulled up the next morning and I ran outside. I’ve never been so happy to see kids in all my life. I offered Sidney some pot the first night after dinner, and then she reminded me that she was a parent. But every day for the rest of our vacation, as soon as my dad smelled the reefer he came and sat by my side. These were the best of times.