“Do it again, Dad, like Kermit!”
I did it again, like Kermit. Lillie laughed.
“Okay, now do it like the Martian!”
I did it again, like the Warner Brothers' Martian. She laughed.
We came back from our southern sojourn with a fresh batch of inside jokes.
Collie and Lillie developed my favorite. Whenever someone did something that didn’t quite go over—like a joke that wasn’t so funny, or a dive that went awry—they would curl a lip and affect scorn by saying, “Tee of the hee.”
“Tee of the hee” is the funniest thing I know.
One afternoon, as we sat on the pier, I absentmindedly began to sing “Hollaback Girl” in the voice of Johnny Cash.
“Dad, you are singing that like a man!”
“Son, I am singing it like the Man in Black. Want to hear me sing it like Bruce Springsteen?”
That became my main contribution to the family act: I could sing “Hollaback Girl” in ridiculously matched voices.
I pulled out my standard repertoire of imitation, including, but not limited to, the following:
Bill Clinton (“I did not hollaback to that girl, Miss Lewinsky.”)
Squidward (“SpongeBob, would you please not hollaback?”)
Bert and Ernie (“Hey, uh, Bert old buddy, old buddy Bert, wanna hear Rubber Ducky hollaback?”)
Shaggy (“Zoinks! I’m sure I heard something hollaback from that way—so I’m going this way.”)
And so I went, though Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Elmer Fudd, and the rest. (For the record, I could also do Lurch, Roy Orbison, Richard Nixon or Iggy Pop, but they don’t play so well with the elementary school set.)
It was a long drive north. I needed all the material I had.
We were scheduled to return the kids to their mother on a Monday. That was the end of my allotted vacation time. It also happened to be Lillie’s sixth birthday.
Of course we threw a party for her down south.
Of course we celebrated with Rachel.
Lillie was going to get one more party from my folks before she went to her mom for yet another party.
Children of divorce suffer some deprivations. On the up side, they sometimes get the lions’ share of birthday parties.
My dad was concerned about making good time on the drive back, so we left the south with a few days to spare. After our visit with Rachel, we were scheduled to return to New York on Saturday night.
Dad proposed that we have dinner in Chinatown. He craved the grilled sea bass at Nha Thrang on Mulberry Street.
“I love that fish,” Jason drooled.
“It has eyes!” Collie recalled.
“Next stop: Chinatown,” I called from the driver’s seat.
Nothing stood between us and dinner except the Holland Tunnel.
And an hour of stop-and-go traffic.
“Dad, I’m sta-aa-aarving,” Lillie moaned.
My father plied her with cookies.
The cell phone rang. It was Lucy.
“Hello, Jefferson. Are you still in Virginia?”
“No, actually, we are stuck in traffic in the Holland Tunnel.”
“You are already in New York?”
“That’s right. We plan to be in Chinatown for dinner.”
“Well, were you going to invite me?”
“Uh, would you care to join us?”
Mom rolled her eyes.
“Jefferson, I haven’t seen the kids in so long! Please! I really need to see them!”
“Lucy, you are more than welcome to join us.”
“Thanks. Can I talk to the kids?”
I passed the phone back.
“Is the bitch coming to dinner?” Mom whispered.
“Looks like sea bass is not the only fishy thing on the menu.”
We finally made our way to Mulberry Street. We parked in a lot. Lucy had scored street parking outside the restaurant.
“Mom, mom!” Lillie called, running along the sidewalk. “Look at the unicorn I got for my birthday! She’s a cheerleader, like me.”
“That’s so nice, Lillie,” Lucy said, dropping to her knee. She took her daughter in her arms. “I really missed you!”
“I missed you too.”
“Mom, look at my tan!” Collie shouted, running behind.
Lucy hugged the kids, then my parents.
“You made good time,” she said, standing apart from me.
“We did indeed. We didn’t want to be in a rush for the weekend.”
Funny thing about Nha Trang. If you go as a single or couple, the wait for a table can be very long. But when we go as a large family with children, we are seated immediately.
We were guided to a square table squeezed against a wall. I instinctively took a chair against the wall, leaving the more flexible seats to my parents and the kids.
Lucy began to do the same before noticing that we would be sitting next to one another. She grimaced.
“Here, Lillie, you sit next to your dad, and I’ll sit next to you.”
Mom raised an eyebrow in my direction. I shrugged. That’s right, Mom, I replied telepathically. Lucy can’t sit next to me. ‘Cause I’ve got cooties.
“Mom, Dad can sing ‘Hollaback Girl’ like Squidward,” Collie grinned. “You want to hear?”
“I think I’ll pass,” she said, looking away,
Lillie leaned to me. “Tee of the hee," she whispered.
Lucy and I ordered beer with dinner.
We passed around plates full of dumplings, sugar cane and mint. We devoured chicken, pork and shrimp.
Lillie was mesmerized by the grilled sea bass. She stared at its eye.
“Can it see me?” she asked.
“No, dear, it can’t see you.”
“Can I take the bones home? I want to investigate it.”
“Uh, sure, that’s fine,” I said. “My birthday gift to you.”
“Dad! You can’t give bones as a birthday present!”
After dinner, as we walked into Little Italy for dessert.
As we waited for our vehicle to be retrieved, Collie burst into tears.
I was holding his hand. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” I asked. Lucy looked over.
“I want to go home with Mom,” he cried.
“Oh that’s fine,” Lucy said. “You can go home with me.”
“But I want to go home with Dad too.”
Collie’s dilemma. He was tired. He wanted to go home with Mom and Dad. But Mom and Dad don’t live together.
Technically, according to the custody agreement, the kids were supposed to be with me for another couple of days. But now Lucy had introduced the prospect of staying with her—and he had not seen her in a couple of weeks.
“Lucy,” I said. “If you want to take Collie, that’s fine.”
“Okay, I’ll bring him back in the morning.”
“But I want to go with Dad, too.”
“Honey,” Lucy said. “You can’t do both things. It’s not possible. So you are coming home with me.”
“Okay,” he sniffled.
Of course, Lillie wanted to go where Collie went.
If they were going to Mom’s, Jason said he may as well go too.
I didn’t mind. The kids missed their Mom, and I already had an apartment full with my parents.
We drove off in the same direction. I could see Collie crying in the back seat of Lucy's car, the car we once shared, the car my dad found for us.
Lillie waved. Lucy kept her eyes locked ahead.
We parted ways on the West Side Highway.
At home, we unloaded the car. By a miracle, I found a great parking space near my building. The car would not have to be moved until Tuesday, when my parents were heading back.
The parking space saved us a bundle in garage fees.
The next morning, I awoke about ten. I was worn out from the trip.
Mom and Dad were up. They wanted to go out to brunch. When we returned, there was still no word from Lucy.
I assumed the kids were beat and sleeping it off.
Noon passed. We read the paper.
I finally called her around two.
“Lucy, is everything all right? We were expecting the kids this morning.”
“Everything is fine.”
“Did they sleep late?”
“No, we’ve been up since before eight or so.”
I could sense where this was going.
“Well, okay, so what time are you bringing the kids?”
“Actually, Jefferson,” she sighed. “I have a lot of work to do, and it’s not really convenient for me to bring them.”
“Well, Lucy, you know I am supposed to have them today. We have plans with my parents . . .”
“The kids have been with your parents for over two weeks. They can be with me now.”
“Lucy, my parents are only here for another two days, and we have plans for Lillie’s birthday.”
“It’s really not convenient for me to bring them. Sorry.”
When she begins to repeat herself, I brace for the next thing—she will hang up on me.
“Lucy,” I said, calmly. “I know you missed the kids. And they are back with you tomorrow. But right now, we have plans with the kids.”
Sigh. “Look, fine. You come get the kids, and I’ll get them later tonight.”
“Well, actually, they would be here overnight. And I don’t want to move our car. It’s in a great spot, and if we lose it, we’ll have to put the car in a garage.”
“Jefferson, why are you being so difficult? You bring the kids, I pick them up. It’s easy. Why can’t you compromise?”
How did I wind up being the difficult one?
“Lucy, that is not a compromise. We had a plan, and you changed the plan. And now you say your new plan is the compromise solution.”
“Look, that’s the way it is. I really have to go.”
“Wait, are you there?”
“Good, you didn’t hang up. Look, let me talk to my parents and call you back.”
I explained the situation to my parents.
“Next time you get married, would you please not marry a bitch?” my mother said.
“You can pick my next wife. Obviously, I can’t manage that. So what do you want to do?”
“Well,” Dad said. “It’s kind of late to do much anyway. Can we see them tomorrow, on Lillie’s birthday?”
“It’s Lucy’s day,” I said, “But I can ask.”
I called Lucy. She liked the plan. She would bring the kids in the morning, and spend the day with us.
Of course. That way, my parents pay for the birthday thrills and she wouldn’t have to.
“And you will really bring them?” I said. “Not like today?”
“Yes, Jefferson, I will bring them,” she sighed.
“Fine. Look Jefferson, I’m sorry this is so hard. One day we’ll be friends again, and it will be easier. Okay?”
“I’d much prefer that.”
“Fine. See you tomorrow.”
“Wait, can I talk to the . . .”
She was gone.
I really do hope, in my heart of hearts, that Lucy and I become friends again. It was so painful to lose the best friend I had for fifteen years, only to have her replaced by this . . . well, bitch. Mom called it right.
But for now, with her behavior, I am watching the clock. By court order, we have to remain civil co-parents for twelve years. On Lillie’s eighteenth birthday, we have legally fulfilled our obligations toward one another.
After that, with things as they are, if I only see Lucy at weddings and funerals, that is fine with me.
That night, my parents and I went out to dinner and saw “The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.”
The next day, we took Lucy and the kids out for pizza and bowling. We strolled the Village and had coffee and cake at a café.
Lillie had a splendid birthday.
Lucy took the kids home that night.
The next morning, I helped my parents pack. I kissed them, hugged their necks and thanked them for everything.
“I love you, Jefferson,” Mom said.
“I love you Mom. I love you Dad.”
“I love you son. Party on!”
“The party continues!”
Dad turned up Willie Nelson, and they were on the road again.
I waved and watched as the car drove south.
I felt relieved as I walked to the subway.
I went to Mitzi’s apartment.
I fucked her but good.