He was a regular at the track. Brown fedora, binoculars bumping on a barrel chest, getting the bookie’s eye, a nod is all it took, five hundred on the nose of a long shot, not a chance, said the odds. Damned if it didn’t win.
He drove a silver Jaguar Mark VII. Mahogany dash, red leather interior, jaguar emblem leaping from the hood. He was always speeding. Racing time. I was the little boy sitting next to him.
Thirty-seven years is all he had. My mother’s brown eyes cried with the rain. The casket was lowered into the earth. I was nine years old. Standing on the edge. Looking down.
Hah! That’s when it hit me. My father was not down there! I don’t know how he did it but at some point in the dreary proceedings he had given oblivion the slip.
This was funnier than hell. My mother was crying and I was laughing. “What’s the matter with you?” she said.
“Daddy’s not down there,” I told her. I couldn’t stop laughing.
She knelt down and put her arms around me. I inhaled the aroma of wet wool. “You’ll be all right, darling. We’ll be all right. We’ll muddle through.”
I muddled through elementary school and the bullying, and through high school and the bullying, and through two years of college to make my mother proud. Then a car crash ended her life at forty-five and I said Fuckit.
I wandered away. No fixed address. I kept a suitcase in a locker at Grand Central Station before all the lockers were ripped out because of terrorism. I showered in the men’s room in the basement of Grand Central. Fifty cents in the turnstile for a torn towel and a piece of soap with hair on it. A procession of hapless men, washing away misery, trying to clean up their lives. Didn’t bother me. It was all life and I was alive.
When the lockers were removed, I adapted. My safety net was a limited legacy from my father. If you were to see me then, you’d see a clean, groomed guy in a designer suit. The best dressed bum in town.
I’m back in New York now, walking east on 42nd Street. I amble with the ease of a carefree man into the main concourse of Grand Central Station. I look all around. I love this place. People with destinations, hurrying to the ticket windows, the information booth, the balcony bars and restaurants, the bookstores, the trains.
Commuters and tourists and students and young and old, waiting for friends and family beneath the astronomical mural of the cathedral ceiling. Humanity coming together. Hugging in reunion. This is the center of the universe.
I look all around. I do a classic double-take. Holy Christ! Sitting at the bar in Cipriani Dolci’s on the west balcony. It’s him! Astride a stool with a drink in his hand. Nothing like a shot of bourbon, he used to say.
My heart speeds up. I walk across the terminal, keeping my eyes on the balcony bar. I climb the stairs slowly. My heart is racing.