telephone line in Canadian Barre Dive, where my father no longer resides, and allow him to suddenly hear me.
The slender arms of the Philadelphia summer gathered and dropped me off at Bar Dive more frequently than planned in the summer of 2002. I grew accustomed to the predictable synchronicity of the relationship so much so that it loosely became a scheduled passing of the days, like cars drifting into each other’s lanes, like ornery spouses on their thirtieth anniversary. No spontaneity, no variation. Just planned order, chess pieces regularly lined up to slide across squares until we collided, either on his turf or mine.
My father decided that his way of repairing twenty-three years without allowance was to have me count a few ledgers and clean a few tables in my spare time. In exchange, he helped me pay part ofmy rent. Substitute teaching over the summer in a walking city didn’t exactly boast the highest income potential. Plus, I didn’t have air-conditioning. Bar Dive did. Period.
People came to Philadelphia for the history, for the art, for the food, but were left with the humidity, a possible mugging, and a thin coat of grime on their skin each time they stepped outside. While tourists leaked into Philadelphia to take their pictures with the Liberty Bell or inside Independence Hall, hopped in the back of a hansom cab to be chauffeured around the cobbly streets of the miniature radius that is Old City, I spent my spare time at a bar.
Things, however, changed for us shortly after the Fourth of July. We were sitting together in Bar Dive in the middle of a particularly vacant day, sharing a pitcher of water, as the odor of summer drifted inside. I dunked the same striped cloth from day one into a bucket of soapy water and then spread it over a small table. I don’t know if it was the dirty water or the heat, but it just sort of came out.
“I was arrested once,” I said, almost as an addendum to filling out the Sunday crossword puzzle.
Looking back, I don’t know if I was telling him or just pontificating, though he didn’t waste a second in return. Not with shock, nor empathy, nor pride even. Just plain inquisitiveness.
“What was it for?” he asked, continuing to clean the tables.
“Nothing,” I sighed. “Just something stupid.”
“An arrest isn’t stupid, Noa,” he said, looking up.
“What was it for?” he asked, matter-of-factly. I couldn’t tell if he was more excited and proud than saddened and ashamed.
“Nothing, like I said. Just shoplifting. A teeny tiny misdemeanor three weeks after my eighteenth birthday. It’s on my permanent record, and because it’s so small, I never even have to put it on applications or whatever. But there it is—a fucking abscess on my past.”
That was another thing that changed after I started spending time with my father. I said “fuck” a lot more than I ever had in the past.
“Okay,” he said, turning away.
“You’re smiling? I just told you about this embarrassing smear on my record, and you’re, what?” I paused. “Feeling solidarity?”
A sunset flushed across his cheeks, rising at the center.
“You honored the tat,” he said, and for a brief moment, I could see how someone somewhere could possibly find him relatively magnetic.
“Oh, Jesus, Caleb, really?” I picked up the dishrag and moved on to another table.
“Really,” he said, standing up. “I believe I owe you two facts now. Any facts. Anything at all.”
I turned back to him. “I’m not doing this.”
“Ask me,” he insisted. “Ask me anything.”
“I think I know all I need.”
I sat down below the air-conditioning vent, exhausted.
“First movie in a movie theater?” he asked me, without hesitation.
“This isn’t how it works.”
“First movie in a movie theater?” he insisted.
I yawned, ignoring him.
“I’m just going to keep asking, you know,” he said. “First movie in a movie