AS A MAN THINKETH
The store clerk handed Dad’s VISA back to him and asked if he had another credit card. They also accepted Mastercard and American Express. Dad stared down at the card, which had been rejected, and chuckled quietly to himself. My brother, the store clerk, and I waited. Finally, Dad pushed the black, velvet box back across the counter and told the man that he didn’t, thanking him for all his help anyway.
As we stood outside Bright’s Jewellers in the middle of the mall, waiting for Dad to pull a rabbit out of his hat, I felt like crying. I knew my mother would have loved those Opal earrings. Dad had taken us Christmas shopping with the special purpose of finding something nice for her; they’d been fighting a lot recently. But Dad had to be feeling worse so I kept my eyes dry and stayed quiet. As it turned out, he had one other credit card tucked away in one of those slits in his wallet, which he preferred to use only in cases of extreme emergency. That Christmas, everyone got something from Eaton’s, which also had a pretty good jewellery counter.
Dad never had much luck with bank machines either. When they first introduced ATMs, he was one of the first in our family to run out and get a convenience card. Our mother didn’t feel the same. She didn’t trust a machine to spit out money at her whenever she asked it to and took years to go near them. She trusted those machines even less when they started eating up Dad’s card. It didn’t matter how many times he lost his card in the machine or how many times she told him not to wait until the last minute to get money before we had to go somewhere; Dad believed in the convenience of modern technology. In other words, he was a procrastinator.
One time, we had to stop at the ATM on our way to a family picnic. There was a giant metal cooler filled with food and drinks in the trunk, but there would be rides and cotton candy where we were going. Plus Dad needed money for parking. The machine was located just outside the entrance to the bank. Waiting in the car, we could hear it beeping as he punched in his PIN, selected an account, and then the amount of the withdrawal. When Dad started pounding the machine, our mother muttered something under her breath and stared out the passenger window. She hardly spoke three words to him for the rest of the day.
I think part of the problem with Dad’s forgetfulness was that his thoughts were always entangled in loftier ideas: studying how to get ahead in his job; contemplating the elegance of the universe; and formulating get-rich-quick-schemes. One morning, when he got into his new Ford T-Bird, which was parked downstairs outside the apartment building where we lived, he drove six blocks before he noticed that the front passenger door was missing. A thief had stolen it right off its hinges during the night. Dad laughed himself silly for years over that one, trying to figure out why the thief would only steal one door when there were four perfectly good doors right there, free for the taking. Eventually—I think for his own peace of mind—he concluded that the thief had only taken what he needed. Dad had to respect that.
Like most, he dreamed about winning the lottery. He spent a number of years trying to predict the winning numbers using a bucket of ping pong balls numbered in black indelible marker. Dad was good at math; he understood numbers and the laws of probability. This was before he decided to invest in popcorn machines. At the time, it sounded like a plausible business venture. The idea was to set up these machines, which sort of looked like a hot plate, in bars and bowling alleys across the city. He believed that this would be a popular alternative to say pretzels or a bowl of stale nuts.
Who doesn’t like fresh, hot popcorn, right?
Dad would make money by selling the machines and supplying the specially sealed bags of kernel. But out of the hundred machines he’d invested in, he managed to place only about ten of them. He gave a lot of them away, to friends and family. I think he even tried to give one to the mailman once, but it couldn’t fit in his bag. The rest sat in our garage for years. Every time our mother went in there and saw those machines, she came out in a bad mood.
Dad played the stock markets for awhile. I think he even sold cleaning products on the side, kind of like Tupperware and the Avon Lady. But no matter how things turned out, he always had a way of looking on the bright side. He knew how to celebrate his victories and laugh at his losses. Like the time he came home after searching all day for a bank to renew our mortgage. That night, we were waiting in the kitchen with our mother, wondering whether we still had a house to live in or would be thrown out onto the streets. When Dad showed up, he was carrying a bottle of tequila and four giant margarita glasses. His mood was infectious. Even our mother couldn’t stay mad. The margaritas helped.
After she left him and remarried, he seemed to calm down a bit. I don’t think anything ever compared to losing her. When she died, he was by her side, holding her hand. Her husband held the other.
Dad’s retired now, living a quiet, frugal life devoid of ping-pong balls and get-rich-quick-schemes. These days, when he talks about money, it’s mostly to complain about corporate and government corruption, and the unequal division of wealth in the world: How there are too few with too much.
Instead, he’s been focusing all his attention on learning to play classical guitar, which we have to commend him on considering his advanced age, and the fact that he’s going deaf in one ear.