Friday, May 2, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Twenty-Two: The Old Man

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It was a typical Tacoma snow, heavy enough to turn green things white, wet enough to melt on asphalt. All in all, a perfect arrangement. Walking past the stadium, Shawn was that someone had walked out an enormous MERRY XMAS, PAUL! on the football field.
            Shawn felt wistful. Shelly’s home was like a girlfriend he hadn’t seen in a long time. He had lost the rhythm of painting in his hands. Shelly came to the door with a definite glow.
            “Hi Shawn! Come on in. We’re just finishing breakfast.”
            He had forgotten about Richard. He would have been surprised, regardless, because the big bad drug dealer looked more like an accountant: bald but for a horseshoe ring of blond-gray, prominent ears, light-blue eyes, and generous lips that tilted when he smiled. He stood and shook Shawn’s hand.
            “I was just saying how nice the place looks. You’re quite a painter.”
            “Thanks. It’s good to meet you.”
            Richard ducked his head shyly and returned to his cornflakes. Shelly pulled a black sweater around her shoulders.
            “I was thinking we could go to Tully’s. I love walking in the snow.”
            “Isn’t Richard...”
            “No, no. Richard’s fine. I told him we’d be gossiping, and you can’t properly gossip with one of your children around.”
            Richard waved. Shawn waved back, and followed Shelly into the white world.

Two nights later, Ivy and the Swingin’ Richards played Cole’s, which had become a twice-monthly gig. They were into the final set, feeling their through a medley of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and Pat Travers’ “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights).” Shawn was fighting the tempo, because he was being psychically interfered with. Something in the room, but he couldn’t see beyond the stage lights. It wasn’t Tacoma, because she had left soon after the first set.
            After gigs, Shawn liked to have a beer break. It made the loading-up less ponderous, and gave him a chance to let the performance sink in. He went to the end of the bar, where Dina had already set him up.
            “Thanks, Dina.”
            “No prob, shugah. Tell me, though. Why do musicians always drink Samuel Adams?”
            “I believe it’s a union requirement,” said a deep baritone.
            Shawn spun around.
            The baritone put out his hands like Al Jolson and said, “Son?”
            “What the hell!”
            Shawn gave him a boisterous hug, causing him to spill half a Manhattan.
            “I love you, too, son, but I also had some strong feelings about that drink!”
            Shawn unleashed a flurry of play-punches to his father’s midsection. His dad doubled over and played the victim.
            “Gads! Thou hast delivered me a mortal blow. Art though a Hercules?”
            “This is so cute I think I’ll puke,” said Dina, then walked off with a whiskey rocks. Madison Turk eyed her admiringly.
            “That one has to be from The Bronx.”
            “I thought the same thing,” said Shawn. “Tacoma born and bred.”
            “Why, if I wasn’t a married man...” He threw Shawn a wink. “You didn’t hear that, by the way.”
            Madison Turk went through life on a small, invisible stage. Given his early career, you couldn’t blame him. He worked as a feature reporter for a TV station in Eugene, Oregon, covering the light fare of oversized agriculture products and school principals who sat on rooftops for charity. He met Shawn’s mom, Helen, at the county fair, where she was named Lumber Queen.
            Feeling a need for stability, Madison conducted a gradual withdrawal from television: first to producing, then to teaching broadcasting at a community college, then out altogether, to direct a Wild West art gallery in Ellensburg.
            Madison was also remarkably good-looking. He had chiseled features somewhere between Newman and Redford, thick sandy-brown hair that only recently had begun to gray, and penetrating brown eyes that set all the PTA ladies to half-swoon. It was always odd, knowing that, minus the marriage vows, your dad had a better chance than you of getting laid in a singles bar.
            A half-hour later, once Shawn had introduced him to the band (“Your dad’s a hottie!” whispered Ivy), Madison finally dropped the shtick and seemed ready to talk.
            “So,” said Shawn. “How did you find me?”
            “Your mother’s getting to be quite a wiz on the Internet. She entered your name in a search engine and got a website for blues bands. She was quite proud of herself – and of you.”
            Shawn studied his beer label, the virile patriot hoisting a stein.
            “You guys aren’t mad?”
            “We miss you, but we’re not mad. I did this kind of thing myself at 23 – hitchhiked across the country, scared the bejeesus out of my parents. But I had to do it. Hell, I was about to kick you out myself, before you turned into one of those Ellensburg boys. I think I figured out the Wendy thing, too.”
            “Really,” said Shawn.
            “The old cow and milk treatment. Give ya a peek at the udders, then yank ‘em away before you get a drop. Maybe a little fire and brimstone, something she learned from the parents.”
            “Geez. Exactly.”
            “That’s how your mother got me.”
            “Standard practice back then. What she didn’t know was, I wanted to buy that cow from the moment I set eyes on her. Oh, and please don’t tell your mother I referred to her as a cow.”
            “Funny thing about Wendy. About four months after you...”
            “Stop right there, Dad.”
            “You know where Wendy is?”
            “Right here in Tacoma.”
            “Hot damn! I’m gonna be the hero of the block. I told Rev Fisher I’d ask around.”
            Shawn smiled. “That’s one reunion I’d like to see.”
            “Speaking of reunions,” said Madison. “Your mother wants you home for Christmas.”
            “Sure, I’ll be there. Can I bring a girl?”
            “Oh-hoh! What’s her name?”
            “You’re dating the city?”
            “Um... let’s get another drink, Dad.”
            “By the way, could you explain this ‘Swingin’ Richards’ thing? Apparently it’s some sort of double entendre.”

Photo by MJV

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