When I was fourteen, my dad moved out and left my mom, my sister, and me in Manhattan. He stayed at hotels for a while, he could afford it, and then bought an apartment all for himself. I used to visit him on Thursdays, after my baseball practice. What I remember best is his grey suit and the way he would hang his hat on a peg when he walked in the door. I also remember noticing traces of women all over his apartment; a bottle of perfume on the counter, a tissue on the coffee table, a pantyhose on the bed.
One Thursday he put on Allen Ginsberg reciting “Father Death Blues.” It was a record in a thin paper envelope, nothing special about the envelope. The record crackled a little. And the audio was too quiet when it started and my father rushed to make it louder, so we would not miss a word.
I was still cooling down after the practice, I could smell my own sweat all over the uniform. My fatigued muscles trembled and I felt manly. I had been thinking of some girl until the poem started. Then all I could think about were the words. When it finished, I thought my dad would tell me he had cancer and he was dying. That would put everything in perspective; him leaving us, the new apartment, the women. But nothing like that happened.
“You like books?” he asked me. He was sipping whiskey. He was still young and strong back then.
“Not so much,” I said.
“I don’t know. I like this poem,” I said and it was not a lie.
He covered a smile with the whiskey glass. He swallowed some of the amber-colored liquid, made a sour face, then relaxed with his head back. “You know, my old man never approved of any books. He was all about actions, not words. He pushed everybody hard and himself even harder. He made us call him sir. Everybody did back in those days. Can you imagine that?”
“Yes, sir,” I said as a joke.
My dad did not smile, he never did openly, but I knew he noticed and appreciated the humor. “You know, Allen Ginsberg and I were at the same school? I never talked to him. I found out years later that he became a famous poet. I don’t like his other poems too much, but I like this one.”
“I wish I knew how to do that,” I said, “Write poems like that.”
“It’s like baseball,” he said, “You practice, you get better.”
“So, did you ever want to?” I said, “I mean, I know grandpa did not approve, but did you want to? Be a poet?”
He finished his drink. “Why don’t you take a bath and we will go out for dinner? Just you and me. Steaks.”