Saturday, June 14, 2014

secret agent man

My Dad is pretty much the personification of kindness, but he hold his cards very close. I call him the Secret Agent Man- he’s well known for helping out all kinds of people, but always in a very low key manner. He’s just not in it for the attention. Most of the people I know back home have a story about Dad coming to their rescue, but he never talks about it- it’s just not how he rolls. Recently my cousin shared a quintessential Dad story with me that, at the risk of blowing his cover, was too good not to share.

It was 1986, and my cousin Teresa was having a hard time. She was not quite twenty years old, a bright and hardworking student at U of M-Flint who was struggling to keep afloat financially. She was interning as a clerk and receptionist at my Dad’s CPA firm downtown and making a grand total of about $400 per month, from which $165 went to rent.

Her transportation was a sad little 1980 Buick Skylark that had seen better days. It wore an aging blue landau top and a fading gray Maaco paint job, and on the day in question, sat inside the University parking ramp with a flat tire.

Teresa knew there was a Uniroyal tire store diagonally across the street from Dad’s office. She gently coaxed the limping Skylark the few blocks and explained her situation. Behind the counter was a lady named Louise who looked at the flat and told her not only was the tire not worth fixing, but the rest of the tires were bald and worn out. She told Teresa that the car was unsafe. Teresa explained to her that she could barely afford the $12 patch and couldn’t possibly spring for new tires. Louise put her hands on her hips and frowned- she agreed to patch the tire- but warned her that the car was not safe to drive.

The next week, Teresa and the wounded Buick were at work and my Dad told her he needed her car for an errand. She recalls being mortified- “Your Dad has fifteen cars, what does he need my jalopy for?” was the question she posed to me. She tried unsuccessfully to reach her boyfriend Dan and borrow his car instead, but she was stuck on the phones and Dad pressed the issue, so she handed him the keys.

An hour later he came back from lunch and put her keys on the reception desk. “Your car will be ready after work,” he said to her. She panicked, hoping that it hadn’t broken down on him. The rest of the afternoon passed slowly.

Finally she clocked out and walked across the street to the tire store, where a smiling Louise handed her the keys to her car, which looked resplendent sitting on four brand new Uniroyal radials. Whitewalls, of course- my Father is not a cheapskate. Louise said “I told you that you needed new tires.”On the seat was a paid receipt for $164- exactly one dollar less than her rent. She was completely shocked.

She had no idea that Louise was the sister of my soon-to-be-stepmother, Wanda, or that she grew up knowing our clan, recognized the last name and immediately called my Father, who hatched a secret scheme to rescue a damsel in distress. Teresa said she literally cried when she saw the tires. She says she would not have made it through college without my Dad.  She sent him a giant thank-you card through the interoffice mail but he never mentioned it. And to this day he claims no memory of the incident. It’s just how he rolls.

Happy Father’s Day to my amazing Secret Agent Man. You’re the best. And try as you do to disguise it, the whole town kinda knows it, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

lower deck poolside

Like many families in the Space-Age 1960s, we spent summers zigzagging the country on the interstate highway system. Rocket travel to me meant the luxurious back seat of Dad’s Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. We rode in air-conditioned comfort while the big Olds ate up huge stretches of superhighway in exchange for a few tanks full of refreshing Gulf No-Nox, and at night our Highway Host was the Holiday Inn. They had almost everything- a familiar layout surrounding a giant inground pool for my brother and myself, a predictable standard of cleanliness for Mom and the handy-dandy Holidex reservation system for Dad, and of course, the best signage in the history of the world, the immodest Great Sign. Call it win-win-win-win.

Each morning, we would look at the map and plan the day’s mileage, so that Dad could telex ahead for that evening’s reservation while he checked out. He always made the same request- “lower deck poolside.” That way that my folks could unwind while my Brother and I would only be a few steps away. Child abduction was a rare thought in the sixties, I honestly think they just didn’t have the energy to have to go around and herd us up. So Dad’s three word request made everyone happy.

What they didn’t have, oddly- was consistent food- most had their own lounge/restaurant and/or coffee shop, but they varied widely in decor, menu and palatability, and at eight I wasn’t a lounge lizard yet- so mealtime more than likely meant a trip to the nearby Howard Johnson’s for clam strips and orange booths. Needless to say, my travel memories are happy ones.

I haven’t written at all about the new condo, but having just passed my third anniversary here I decided it was time. The complex is a bit bigger than I wanted- four low rise two-story buildings, each surrounding a swimming pool. I saw it and instantly nicknamed it the Holiday Inn. My own unit is on the ground floor in a corner just steps from the pool gate. Yep, Lower Deck Poolside. I laughed out loud when I realized that. Mind you, it’s considerably larger than a motel room but the flavor is indelibly the same. What’s more, I’m perfectly happy in my own Holiday Inn. And yes, most evenings I’m splashing around in the pool like I did when I was eight years old.

Now, what time are we going for clam strips?