The girls were still asleep when I returned home from taking the kids to school.
I kicked off my shoes, hung my coat, and put on a kettle for coffee.
I settled to work, but I could not let the girls sleep too late. It was their last day in the city, and we still had many things to do.
The giggling began around ten.
I brought them coffee, expressing the optimistic hope that we could be out the door by eleven.
Two coffees, two showers, two blow dries later, we were on our way by a quarter til.
Our first stop was Rockefeller Center.
We weren’t concerned with the tree. We had seen that on their first night in town, having walked up from Times Square.
That first night, they were duly impressed with the backdrop. I photographed them in front of the tree twice, once for each of their cameras.
I must have looked like a good photographer, as a Portuguese family asked me to snap them as well, with their camera, of course.
As we walked back towards Sixth Avenue, I pointed out the Today show set.
“Yeah, I never watch that,” Rachel said.
“Me neither,” Stevie said.
“Nor I,” I said. “But I’m just the tour guide here, just pointing out the sights. Maybe we should be thinking about a cab . . .”
I looked back down the street, not watching where I was going.
I walked full into Stevie.
“Oh, geez, I’m sorry, are you okay?”
She seemed not to notice.
“Whoa.” She looked up at a window.
“Yeah, wow.” Rachel said.
“What?” I asked.
Rachel pointed up at a life-sized cardboard cut out of Sam Waterson. “Do they seriously sell ‘Friends’ stuff?”
“Um, sure. That’s the NBC Store.”
Rachel looked at Stevie. “Okay, we are so coming back here when they are open.”
Stevie pointed. “Oh my God, they have ‘Scrubs’ stuff!”
They spent long moments marveling at the NBC merchandise—more time than they spent gazing at the nine-story Christmas tree.
And so it was that their final day in New York began with a trip to the NBC Store, or rather, the “NBC Experience,” as it is marketed.
They shopped, pulling one another from one array to t-shirts to another. I dawdled at the skimpy bookcases, filled with titles by Al Roker and stars of “Days of Our Lives.”
I watched Milton Berle on a vintage monitor. And Bob Hope.
That reminded me, I keep meaning to pick up the Gary Giddins biography of Bing Crosby. Such an interesting subject for a biography, I thought . . . one could really follow much of twentieth century pop culture through the crooner’s career . . .
“Huh? Oh, yes, Rachel?”
“Spacing out there?”
“Maybe so. Finding anything?”
“Yeah, lots! We’re going upstairs. They have a thing where you can get your picture made on the ‘Friends’ couch.”
“Oh, cool. I’ll come along.”
Rachel and Stevie picked up coffee cups and posed on green blocks against a green backdrop. A man pushed a button, and the girls watched a monitor as the Central Perk appeared around them.
“Awesome!” Rachel said.
“Smile!” the man called.
The girls picked up two sets of prints, a couple of t-shirts and some magnets.
“That was pretty cool!” Stevie said as we hit the street.
“Yeah, we’ll have to wear our shirts when we watch your first season DVDs.”
“Yeah, and drink coffee in my CNN mug.”
“How cool is that?”
“You girls hungry?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m starved,” Rachel said.
“Good. Let’s take the subway one stop.”
We came up at Macy’s.
“Oh, I’ve been here!” Rachel said, looking up.
“Oh, many times,” I agreed. “But you’ve never been to the place we’re going. It’s Little Korea.”
“What, like Chinatown?” Stevie asked.
“Sorta,” I said.
“Cool,” she smiled.
Midway down Thirty-second Street, we climbed the stairs to Kam Tang Kalbi House. (My dear gourmet Viviane had recommended the best barbeque of the street.) The tables were filled with Korean businessmen. We were seated near the kitchen in the back.
“Yeoboseyo,” the hostess smiled, distributing menus. “Welcome. You want soda, or tea? Water?”
Rachel and Stevie looked at one another. “We’ll take water,” Rachel said.
“All around,” I agreed. “And tea is nice.”
The hostess looked at me for a moment. “Okay, three water.”
I nodded. “Yes,and tea. Thanks. Kamsahamnida.” She smiled, bowed and left.
Rachel looked at the menu. “Please tell me you are going to order, Dad.”
“Sure. How about some chicken, some beef and some pork?”
“Okay, that’s fine,” Stevie said, opening the envelope on her napkin. “Hey, are we eating with chopsticks?”
“Looks like,” Rachel said.
“Awesome. What do you do, just break them apart? I’ve never used chopsticks.”
“Here, let me show you,” Rachel offered.
The girls practiced as I pondered the menu.
The hostess returned with the water. “You ready order?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. I pointed to barbecued beef.
“Eh,” the hostess began, looking around. “Um, this . . . no delicious.”
“Oh, not delicious, huh? Well, how about this?” I pointed to barbecued steak.
“Yes,” she wrote in her pad. “Very delicious.”
“Oh, good. And here we’ll have this chicken . . . and this pork and kimchi stew.”
“Good, all delicious.”
“Great!” She collected our menus and left.
“What were you getting that wasn’t delicious, Dad?”
“I’m not sure, but we sure dodged that bullet,” I said.
We were served an array of salads, including kimchi, soy grass, and bean sprouts.
“Whoa,” Stevie said, looking over the dishes. “Which one is the chicken?”
“These are more like side dishes for what is to come,” I said, clicking my chopsticks. “Some are spicy, some are cool. Try it with your sticks, and have your water handy. This,” I lifted some kimchi, “I love this shit.”
We dug into the kimchi.
“That’s hot!” Stevie said, chewing as she covered her open mouth. She did a great job with chopsticks. “Like a hot pickle.”
“I love it,” she said, her eyes tearing.
Stevie and I were, like, fast friends.
The main courses arrived. The chicken was placed in front of Rachel, the steak in front of Stevie. In front of me was a stew simmering over a Sterno.
“Just take what you want and drop it over your rice,” I said. “Douse the rice in soy sauce if you like. We all eat everything.”
“Is this the soy sauce?” Stevie asked. She dipped a finger and licked it. “God, that is good.”
She poured a dish into her rice.
My new friend is a savory.
The girls dug in.
As they ate, they traded quick asides about the men around us. One was cute, Stevie said, adding: “unless he is a panty sniffer.”
“Hey yeah, what was up with that? What happened at the cabins?”
Stevie looked a Rachel. “What, you didn’t tell him?”
“I know the basics,” I said. “But I’d like to hear it all from your point of view.”
Rachel picked up some steak and wrapped it in lettuce.
“Okay,” she took a bite. “So my bosses’ nephew David moved in . . .”
“Creepy David,” Stevie amended, taking a lettuce leaf.
“Yeah, so creepy David moved in.”
“How old was he?” I asked.
“Twenty six. So he moved into the cabin next to mine. And so one day, Stevie and I were walking past his cabin, and the door was open. He has cats, so we were like, let’s shut the door before they get out.”
“Yeah,” Stevie chewed. “And then we saw it . . . “
“ . . . in a pile, under the bed . . . “
“ . . . mostly pink.”
“What?” I asked.
“A bunch of my panties!” Rachel said. “Under the bed!”
“Seriously. So we took them back to my place and called Dad”—Rachel’s other father—“who came right over. He told us to put the panties back and called my bosses. So soon they came over, with creepy David. Dad showed them what we found.”
“They were totally freaked. David was really embarrassed.”
“Creepy David,” I added, instinctively.
“Creepy David, yeah. So they decided to talk about it.”
“Yeah,” Stevie added. “Here’s the thing. I work for them too, so in the mornings at work I heard a lot of this.”
“Yeah, Stevie told me some of this. So anyway, they finally said, look, we have to keep our nephew David around. So you need to keep this a secret.”
“Yeah, like, if we talked about it in church, or at work, they said they would fire us.”
“What, both of you?”
“They said they would fire you both if either one of you talked about this?”
“At church, even?”
I looked at Stevie. “That is totally fucked up.”
“Seriously,” she agreed, tugging chicken with her chopsticks.
“So anyway, I quit working for them.”
“Well, I can see why.”
“They got David into counseling with our pastor, but it didn’t last long. He moved to Florida a few weeks later.”
“So what, he’s just gone? You had to move, you lost your job, and you had to deal with that threat from your bosses? And he moves to Florida?”
“Yeah.” Rachel picked up some steak in a lettuce leaf. “Sucks.”
“You must’ve been angry.”
“I wanted to kill him,” Stevie said.
“No doubt,” I said. I looked at Rachel. “Are you okay, baby?”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s over, so whatever. I’ll get a new job.”
“You won’t work for them any more?”
She chewed. “Oh, no way. That was too wrong.”
“It was. You did the right thing. But Jesus, honey.”
“I know. Anyway, you want that last steak?”
We took the check and went to get the kids.
On the way home, I had a surprise.
“You girls want to do a little celebrity sighting?” I asked as we took the bus across town.
“Sure!” Stevie sat up, looking around. “Who?”
“Howard Stern, right Dad?” my son asked.
“If you want,” I shrugged.
“You know Howard Stern?” Rachel asked.
“No, I don’t know Howard Stern. But I know where you can see him, if you like.”
“Oh my God, yes!” she replied.
The kids giggled. They knew I was grandstanding. We would see Howard Stern whether or not she wanted it. It’s a weekly ritual.
We arrived at the specific corner just a few moments early. Stern’s limo stood waiting.
“You know who Howard Stern is?” my youngest daughter asked.
“Yeah,” Rachel smiled. “Do you?”
“Sure, we see him every week!” she laughed. “He’s tall. That’s his car. It’s big, right?”
“It is big,” Stevie agreed. “I guess because he is so tall?”
“I guess!” she agreed.
“Okay!” my youngest son shouted, running to us. “Here he comes!”
Howard Stern came around the corner.
The limo driver opened the door.
Rachel and Stevie snapped photographs.
The door closed.
Howard Stern was driven into traffic as the girls waved and laughed.
“Did he see us?” Stevie asked.
“Oh, he saw you,” I said. “Did you notice how coolly he ignored you?”
“That was so cool,” Rachel said.
Two hours later, I put the girls on a bus back home. Stevie hugged me. “Thanks, Jefferson! I had such fun.”
“Stevie, honey, anytime you want to sleep in my bed, it’s yours.”
She laughed. “Now I wish I weren’t getting married. I could be Rachel’s stepmom”
“Maybe your marriage will end soon,” I said. “Then we can talk.” I took Rachel’s face in my hands and kissed her. “Bye honey.”
“Bye Dad. Thanks.”
“Thank you darling. I love you too much.”
“I know, same here.”
The bus was still boarding as I headed to the subway.
Life is not what I envisioned it might be when Rachel turned eighteen.
Still, life is pretty good.