Thursday, October 29, 2009

Entertaining Dad

As I make my way around New York with my visiting Dad, I am more aware than ever how hard people in this city try. My Dad, you see, grew up in New Jersey, came to Brooklyn to visit his grandmother in Bed-Stuy, doesn't have particularly fond memories. He can't believe I spend so much money to live in Brooklyn, can't imagine why I live in the often cold and rainy place he escaped for the near-constant sunny skies of Tucson, Arizona, why I walk far distances or take public transportation or why, when I drive my car, I can't pull up, easily, right in front of where we're going. Most of all, he can't understand why I don't watch TV, why I never even bought the equipment necessary to go digital.

I am forced, when my Dad is visiting, to defend my life. And, you know what? I can do a pretty good job. New York, to me, comes out smelling like a rose, even if my Dad can't always smell it through his cigar smoke.

Take yesterday. A grey rainy day, perfect for a museum. A few other people had the same idea. The line outside MOMA was probably three hours long, if we had to wait in it. But, as members, we sailed right through. My father far prefers the Met, but I am not a member and did not relish waiting in those rainy-day lines. My father reluctantly agreed to the "modern" museum. He says "modern" in only the most pejorative sense, I can never figure why. Smiling, he said, "It'll be fun. I'll laugh at it..."

He is a perfectionist my father, a man always striving to become a Master, in art, in golf, in everything. He is as hard on himself as he is on others. I try to engage him in the idea of appreciating his own and others' efforts, even those that might not be "masterful" in his eyes, but he just looks at me blankly. Like with the white-painted canvas on the wall at MOMA, he just can't see it.

He is not quiet about his feelings, my Dad. I come by my loud, opinionated ways quite honestly. At MOMA, it was downright humiliating. He would just start laughing, loudly, doubled over sometimes, at the more esoteric pieces, the ones he dubs "bullshit." As he scoffed openly on the Architecture and Design floor, a sweet security guard smiled in tacit agreement of his condemnation of a piece of fabric on the wall and consoled him.

"Go to the third and fourth floors," she suggested kindly, "you'll feel more relaxed then."

I was so grateful for her understanding. Of course, she got a gold star.

She took it, so thrilled. "You have brought a little sunshine to me on a rainy day, that makes my week, thank you!" she said.

I smiled. "No, thank you!" I said.

My Dad is enjoying watching the gold star giveaways, enjoying people's reactions to them. He is, like me, definitely a people person.

The security guard took it upon herself, then, to be our new tour guide, pointing out a chandelier made of plates and forks and cups and saucers. "I like that one," she said to my Dad, trying to point out something he might enjoy. He took her advice, walked over to it.

"Oh, yeah, that's cool," he said, 'cool' being his highest praise. Finally, one thing that slightly pleased him. The saving grace of the visit, though, was happening upon a painting by Andrew Wyeth, one of my Dad's favorite artists. It was in the hallway near the escalators, a skillfully drawn depiction of a grassy farmland with a woman laying on her side slightly left of center. It is indeed amazing. Gold star to Mr. Wyeth, to the curator of MOMA, for their help with my hosting duties.

We finally left, having seen at least a handful of things appealing to my Dad's old-school notion of art, tons more that he happily made fun of to the consternation of the mostly quiet demure Europeans surrounding us.

Outside, we found a cab easily, even in the rain, but I, in my New York impatience, made us get out and walk because of the fear of Midtown traffic jams. It seemed we might be sitting on 53rd St. forever. It turns out, as we got onto 5th Ave., that likely wouldn't have been true, but the cab driver was happy to take our $4 for that half-block ride and pick up other passengers. He does not get a gold star.

I wanted to take my Dad to lunch at Avra, the only really pretty restaurant I know of in Midtown, the only one with windows out onto the world, that also has really good food. It was a far, far longer walk than my Dad's non-walking knees and back could handle. I thought he might kill me. Luckily, there was a table open and he got a dry seat and some bread before too long.

Lunch was tasty and my Dad enjoyed staring at a table of young Turkish women. He is amazed at the many languages spoken here, at the many beautiful young women in New York. I didn't give them gold stars for being eye candy for my Dad, though I maybe should have. They did, after all, help to entertain.

After lunch, on the way to the train, we happened upon a cigar and pipe shop. My Dad is in heaven in the humidor as almost nowhere else, maybe the golf course. But he is not pretentious, doesn't know what's "good." He simply likes to smoke a fat cigar. A woman in the humidor was very knowledgeable, knew all the right things to ask for. My Dad was impressed.

"How do you know so much?" he asked her.

"I've been smoking cigars a long time..." she said. She was probably my age. I laughed, to myself. Not as long as my Dad, I thought.

One of the employees of the shop put me and my Dad at ease, made my Dad feel better about not knowing much, about just enjoying cigars, so much so I that I joked with him and slapped his arm, as I do often with friends without thinking. He looked at his arm, at me.

"You just touched me," he said, joking but deadpan.

"Sorry!" I said. "Now I'll have to give you something." I whipped out a gold star.

Looking around a bit more, my Dad finally settled on a cigar, some unknown name.

"Good one," our new friend said. "That's a lot of cigar for the money. Good value."

"My Dad is all about value," I said, smiling.

Good times. Sometimes, it takes a village. The villagers, for their efforts, should get gold stars. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities today.

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