By 9 am the rays of the glaring sun bounced like a thousand Tinker-bells off the crusty snow, shooting light around Ed's bedroom in a suburban colonial that stood alone on a little rise that overlooked a white pristine field that in warmer weather was otherwise clumpy with piled leaves and half up-rooted shrubs. Ed felt a hand shaking his shoulder and slowly woke in the hard, short bed of his childhood.
“Come on, get up, the day's half over!” Ed's father stood over him, next to the antique wooden bed, wearing an unzipped winter jacket, and a look of unenthusiastic impatience. Something wasn't right.
“All right – give me a minute...”, Ed said. “What's going on..?”
“Come on, get up. Let's go to the Post Office.”
“They're not delivering the mail today – roads are too icy. Let's go get the mail. Come on – I'll be downstairs.”
Christmas time in the suburbs. Home from college – December 1970. Ed had a low draft number (53) and a low 2.0 GPA for his first college semester that was only saved by a 'B' in Speech & Communications. Vietnam loomed and hard classes were coming. Ed was needlessly worried about real sergeants getting him up even earlier, because he didn't yet know that his spring semester grades would be saved by Richard Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent disturbances on Ed's campus that would turn all of his classes into 'pass' with no professors willing to 'no-pass' students in the midst of their vociferous and property defiling protests that sometimes included denouncing tools of the Capitalists war-mongers employed by the University. In the coming spring, Ed would be too busy getting high and occupying the University’s administration building to finish any of his assignments, much less be able to pass any finals which thankfully would be waived.
But this morning he had other concerns. Post Office? He lay in bed and heard his little sisters, newly introduced to puberty, slamming doors and yelling at each other for violating some time duration allowed to be in the bathroom. He smelled bacon.
He sat up on the side of the bed. The night before he had maneuvered his family station wagon home through a blizzard, navigating the narrow, winding North Jersey roads, back from the bar that served 18 year-olds in Suffern NY. He had driven home drunk, stoned and horny, once bouncing off a snow drift right back into the middle of the road, after having convinced a former high school classmate who went to an expensive woman's college to get high with him in his car outside the bar, but but she couldn't or wouldn't …
“Dad! Mom! Laura won't get out of the bathroom!”
Ed got up slowly and put on his pants.
“Laura! Let's your sister use the bathroom before she floods the floor! Hey Ed – what's keeping you?”, his father yelled from downstairs.
“Shit,” Ed said softly aloud. He grabbed a sweatshirt and a pair of socks and went out of his room.
“Get the fuck out Laura, I need to piss,” he pushed his littlest sister out of the way and banged on the bathroom door.
“Don't use that fucking language in front of your sisters. Use the one down stairs,” his father yelled.
As he turned his littlest sister pushed him with a sneer. He didn't look at her as he walked down the stairs. He went into the family room and sat down to put on his socks and shoes. His father came in and stood watching him. He looked at his father and saw he was smiling slightly. Something was up, and Ed didn't think it was good.
His shoes on, he walked toward the kitchen.
“Get your jacket,” his father said. Ed looked at him with narrowed eyes and grabbed his jacket off a chair where he had thrown it the night before and continued toward the kitchen.
The counter was covered with the fixings of a huge breakfast. Buttered toast, scrambled eggs, lots of bacon, grits, jam, honey, a small bowl of melted butter, waffles warming in the oven that his mother was pulling out as he walked in. “Sit down Ed, let me get you a plate.”
“No – we'll be right back – we got to go Dottie -”
“But...” both his mother and Ed said 'but' together and then looked at each other. Ed looked in the sink and saw his father's plate, crusty with bacon fat and jam sitting on top of soaking pans.
“Well let me -” Ed reached for a sweet roll but was blocked by his father.
“Bill! Let him sit down and ...”
“Dottie he can eat when we get back – I heard that the stores might be shut down later today...its going to snow again they are saying – put your coat on – lets go...”
Ed looked at the still hot food laying on the counter and knew it would not be near as worth eating when they got back. He looked at his mother who shrugged – she tried one more time – “Bill let him sit down...”
“Come on Ed – lets go!”
Ed grabbed a piece of bacon and headed out the back door to his father car.
His father was gabbier than usual and unusual for him, wasn't saying much as he said it. Ed had heard most of it before. He was telling a sea story about him and his second assistant Engineer – His father was a chief Engineer on a merchant ship and his best friend worked for him and they had spent most of the late sixties in the Far East, India mostly, but sometimes taking ammo to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. This time he was telling a story about Al, his second assistant, finding the woman who he had been sending money to in Madras working in the same whorehouse where he had met her. Al was devastated but before the evening was over he had forgiven her and as far as his father knew he was still sending money to her.
Ed had met Al and had thought he was a cool guy, but after listening to his father he altered his opinion somewhat, although he wasn't sure his father was telling the truth. He seemed to remember the story had been different the first time he heard it, but he couldn't remember how. He actually was not unhappy to be talking to his father in the cold, sober light of that winter morning because the last time they had said more than two words was last week about two days after he had arrived home from college. It had started in the afternoon, watching a minor bowl game on TV, drinking and talking, then continued into the evening, just the two of them finally, his mother warning them as she went up to bed, “Don't drink too much...”
Ed was 19 and taller than his father and probably heavier too – he had quit his college cross country team in October and hadn't worked out at all since. His Dad had a little gut for the first time that Ed ever remembered, a product of his 'easy' job on the ship. That evening was the first time his father had ever seemed old to Jim, as they went drink for drink, killing one, then two bottles of scotch, then part of a third before Johnny Carson came on. It was then his Dad got – a way he had never seen him, talking of his love for his mother, his love for Ed and the girls, his unworthiness to have any of it, the house, a family, a job with respect, none of it he deserved or at least that is what he said, through tears and sobs. Ed tried to comfort him and reassure him, but this was something deeper than he had ever experienced and he didn't have enough of whatever he needed to pull his father back. He couldn't stand properly and Ed had helped him up and steadied him as they climbed the stairs and he knocked on his mother's door and let him into the master bedroom and Ed – also drunk but strangely clear headed perhaps because he hadn't mixed pot with the booze as he normally did, went into his own childhood room and read until he fell asleep.
They got to the Post Office but it was closed. Ed remembered that it normally opened at noon on a Saturday – he only now realized it was Saturday.
“Oh damn,” his father mildly said. Ed looked at him. “Its closed.”
“Yeah – its Saturday. It opens at noon I think.”
“Well while we're down here – lets stop off at the AB&G.”
“You mean in Allendale?”
“Yeah – its the closest bar.” Ed was pretty sure that was true – and anyway he was sure his father would have figured that logistical detail out long ago.
Ed's father continued his story about Al, laughing at his adventures, which were really Dad's adventures, because they cruised the ports of South Asia together, like Conrad's Lord Jim, as depicted by Abbott and Costello, or Bob and Bing, looking for fun away from the usual sailor hangouts, often ending up meeting other western Expats getting invited to parties at embassies, fucking the wives of diplomats in cloakrooms, filling up on free booze and whores ovaries, before returning to the ship, happy to be carefree sailors, but its not a life for you Ed, his father said, still, if you want to go after college – after you finish your degree, maybe we can ship together, I know some people who owe me favors, he said, I can get you on – but you have to get through school first...
The AB&G was just opening when they got there. Ed wasn't 21 yet, which was the NJ drinking age, but they both sat at the bar and picked up the menu. Ed was thinking food.
“What are you drinking?” Ed knew the barkeep and knew he knew him. Ed had gone to high school in Allendale and had made his mark and was known, so he knew the question contained a healthy share of amnesia about just how recently Ed had been in high school.
“I'll have a beer.”
“A beer?” His father made a face like he had just stepped in dog shit. “How can you drink beer this early? I'll have a scotch on the rocks.” He looked at Ed.
“Same,” said Ed. He looked at his father and knew what was coming.
Ed counted to seven and after that he had no memory. He remembered coming into the kitchen and hearing his mother yelling and threatening his father, who was too drunk to pay attention, even though he had managed to drive back. It was about noon.
Ed and his father would drink together again, but never like that. It was never mentioned again and it marked the end of something and the beginning of something else.