When my little girl was seventeen, she decided that the day she graduated high school, she was going to move out on her own. She was serious, too. In January of her senior year, she put a deposit down on an apartment in the city where she was going to go to college, and told them she’d see them in June.
And she did.
Last year, she confided in me that maybe that wasn’t such a great deal after all. Not that she wanted to undo things and move back home. No she had made her proverbial bed. But she admitted that the things she had taken for granted – laundry service, live-in chef, and emergency 24/7 on-call cab service – were lacking under the new arrangements.
Got me to thinking about when I moved out on my own.
I’ve always been one of those hard-headed people that would rather ruin their own life than to ever back down from anything. And I was seeing a young woman that was causing me to do things my parents never approved of – staying all night with a girl was one of them. I got the “if you’re going to live under our roof” lecture and determined that I was going to strike out on my own.
Mama listened intently as I laid out my plan, such as it was, and she cautioned me, “Baby, you don’t have to leave. Remember that. But just like the baby birds, once you do leave the nest, you can’t come back.” This had the effect of steeling my determination even more.
Well, my pard Bill was tired of living down with the drug dealers and was looking for a better situation, and a bud of mine had just moved out of a house down near Boyle Park and told me we could probably just take over paying rent at $100 a month and live there. We did square things away with the landlord, who turned out to be an out-of-state absentee, and gave his mother a token deposit.
Bill bought a stove from his soon to be ex-landlady, a mannish, squat sort of woman that I remember coming over to collect rent from Bill one night and sitting down to finish off his dinner while he went back into the bedroom to get the cash. She wore Khaki pants and shirts and looked like a deserter from the Korean War era army. "Where the hell is my chicken," he asked after she left.
That Friday afternoon, I packed all of my things into my ’67 Chevy van, old Kersey, and was fixing to take it over to the “new place.” Bob Speck showed up just as I was putting the last box in and wanted to borrow twenty dollars. Probably for a fix. I say this as an aside to illustrated how things were going for me already. He swore as God was his witness and on his mothers life that he would pay me back by the next Friday. I often consider it the best $20 I ever spent since I never had to see or speak with Bobby again. Last I heard he was a bell hop at one of the fancy hotels downtown. But at the time it hurt and I couldn’t afford it.
That evening, Mama brought over a sack of groceries. Care package, she called it. Kind of looked more like all the stuff that had been working its way to the back of her cupboard because nobody was eating it. There were useful items like crackers, and there were spaghetti noodles and various and sundry edibles, though not really anything that would make a whole meal. Well, unless you consider the potted meat and crackers.
Bill hooked up the stove and lit the pilot lights. But when he tried to light the pilot in the oven, BOOOOM!! Blew the old boy right out the back screen door and singed all the hair on his face and the front of his head. We shut off the gas to the oven since there was about a half inch split in the gas line that made it prone to explosions. But we could still use the range top. And the oven became a great place to stash dirty clothes when chicks came to visit.
Well, Bill fancied himself a cook and he still does, and admittedly most of what I’ve eaten from his kitchen in the last decade or so has been quite toothsome. Like I mentioned, there were only components of meals in the care package, but a determined man can cobble something out of nothing eight times out of ten. I had faith in him. I think he settled on the spaghetti noodles, a can of tomato sauce and some sardines.
We sat down to dinner. I was still laughing about the singed hair, but the smell of cooking sardines pretty much drowned out the burnt hair. I took a bite, which was one of those things that when it happens, you know immediately you have truly made a mistake. A bad mistake and one from which there may possibly be no return. I spit the unchewed portion back on the plate in anticipation of the involuntary expulsion that would surely occur if I didn’t.
“I can’t eat this,” I said.
Bill sat stoney-faced chewing his supper. He took another bite. I sat my plate on the floor and called the dog, Patrick, in for a treat. Patrick sniffed the plate and wandered back off, pushing the screen door open and sauntering out into the driveway.
“Shit, Bill, even the damned dog won’t eat it.” I guess that was enough for Bill, he took both of our plates and tossed them in the trash and said, “You’re right. Let’s go to McDonald’s. I’m buying.”