Iím doing nothing wrong
My father, Dale, hits on P.J. Harvey at her rock show.
Actually, it is a P.J. Harvey lookalike. There are dozens like her,
wannabe rock stars wearing ankle boots with pin-sized heels. The others,
boys with thrift shop tees over crisp oxfords, men like my dad whom
everyone assumes is a roadie because he looks like heís in a heavy metal
band, and older women with scattered hair and dry lips, jostle to prove
theyíre up to it. I prefer the latter. They have a startled, somewhat
embarrassed look, as if they tend to peopleís vanity and ailments like a
bikini-waxer or hospital attendant. Under cover, with the aid of
protective gear. I think, these are the women my dad should be interested
in, not the ones everyone else wants. I thought my dad was an original,
but I am wrong.
"This is not New York," Dale tells me in his van. On its
side is a sign that reads, "Daddyís Little Girl Flooring." Itís alarming
how many calls he gets out of this. He used to work with another guy,
Greg, in Manhattan, but he died so I came to work with him. Now, if weíre
refinishing, thereís usually a woman at the door who will say by way of
greeting, "You must be Daddyís Little Girl." I imagine people wondered who
the little girl was when it was just my father and Greg.
"I know this isnít New York," I say. "Itís been ages." I
am fond of outdated expressions that make me feel madcap and carefree. He
doesnít mean we left New York a half-hour ago, and are well into the heart
of New Jersey or Connecticut. He means, we left New York for good. We did,
four years ago. After a year of doing floors together in New York, we
moved the business to Fort Collins, Colorado. What Dale refers to is the
traffic outside Denver, where we're headed. Weíre idling on I-25. Unlike
some people who wouldíve said, "Whatís the holdup, this isnít New York,"
or if theyíre really pissed, "What the hell, this isnít fucking New York,"
my father states the obvious as if heís unsure of itís veracity.
My dad loves P.J. Harvey as much as he loves Fleetwood Mac
and The Eagles. He admits it is odd, given the fact that most parents find
her music to be just a lot of noise, but something about her speaks to
him. He heard my boyfriend Larry playing her album To Bring You My Love
when he came to pick me up for work, and asked if he could borrow it.
Larry tried to convince him to take her first album instead but Dale would
have none of it. This was a cardinal sin. Larry believes in listening to
music chronologically, from the first album to the last, always. I have
questioned him on this extensively. What if the first album sucks, and
your favorite is the most recent? Or you hear a song on the radio, and go
to buy the CD, only to find the song your looking for is on the second, or
third, or fourth? What then? According to Larry, youíre screwed. You have
to start from the beginning, every time. In fact, the whole notion of
"favorite" is blasphemous. Thereís a larger picture to see. He doesnít
listen to the radio, for this reason. Larry goes nuts when he comes across
a Greatest Hits collection. Concerts are out of the question, since
they're a Greatest Hits collection with amped up applause and bad
feedback. Hence, his absence at tonightís show.
"You need to dump that dumbass," Dale tells me. "Heís
probably getting fries with that shake, if you know what Iím talking
about." Not even P.J. Harvey can make my father hip, Iím sad to say.
But we all have our music quirks. I tolerate album covers
that feature the band by a warehouse far, far away because I have to. As
for solo artists, Iíve noticed that most women artists I like are often on
the ground, playing dead, but done up glamorously, they might as well be
on a satin ottoman. The only difference is a smudge of blood and bruise
around the lip and eye. My father has nothing but contempt for music
videos, especially ones that feature an artist tied to a chair with a
bunch of "thugs" around him, who ends up in a psychiatric ward, unshaven,
in a dirty robe.
My father has never liked Larry because he wears shorts
all year long, and has one of those jobs that are hard to grasp for people
who donít do what he does. After careful scrutiny, followed by an
afternoon of light stalking, Iíve only been able to come up with this: he
works in a laboratory. Larry does smell antiseptic, with a trace of Sweet
ní Low. The first time we had sex, I thought he had a cold, and was
overdosing on throat lozenges.
It was a sad smell, and as we were having sex, I vowed to
stop seeing him.
I changed my mind midway through it when Foreignerís
"Feels Like the First Time," came on the radio. It did too, and not only
because we were in my Honda in a parking lot. The truth is that I hadnít
had sex in a year, and this occasion didnít make up for lost time. You
would think the coincidence would have solidified my decision to break up
with Larry, but a catchy tune that belies a darker meaning is like a
lightening bolt to pay attention. So I didnít.
At the show, my father and I take turns going to the bar.
I watch the crowd, which can only be described as a panorama of dťjŗ vu.
The music scene is small here, and people appear and reappear no matter
where they are. Tonight is a real happening. We find a good spot against
the wall, to the right of the stage. Itís important to be on the right,
since I lost some of my hearing in that ear when I was eleven. My best
friend, Gabe, tried to drown me at the pool. I kicked him in the stomach
so he smashed my head against the concrete. They evacuated everyone from
the pool, and the blood in blue and white reminded me of a rocket pop I
had before I went in. Afterward, everything sounded as if I was
I was never mad at Gabe for what he did. He was trying his
hand at bigger things, and would go back to what he knew best, torturing
smaller, defenseless creatures. I figured, the worst is over, and invited
him to a sleepover. After some pleading, my mom consented. She made
popcorn and Rice Krispie treats but refused any to him. He didnít
complain. Out of fear, I guess. I was terrified of my mother, who divorced
my father a year later.
When Larryís pissed off, heíll talk in my bad ear, or move
his lips as if heís speaking. But I know thereís no sound coming out. I
have gotten so used to not being able to hear, it took me a while to
realize that sometimes I can hear like everyone else. Like P.J. Harvey,
who is famous for whispering and going so quiet itís impossible to
understand. She treats her music as if itís a secret sheís reluctant to
My father hands me a beer before the show, and turns his
attention to the plethora of young women around him. Doesnít he know this
makes me uncomfortable? Of course all the hetero boys are doing the same,
and the girls go by with grim faces and stiff necks. Not seeing but
seeing. The youngest ones laugh too loudly, and sprint down the aisles.
The boys fall for this act, willing to see mystery where there is none.
"Dale, whatís yours?" my dad shouts over the opening act,
a punk band from Kansas City. The woman is about my age, with low breasts
and tattoos up and down her arms. She shakes my fatherís hand. "Laura," I
hear her scream.
"This is my daughter, Penelope." He puts his arm around me, and
squeezes. I can be a prop.
"Nice to meet you." Her hand is sticky and cool.
"That is so sweet," she says and gives me a smile a five
year old would find condescending. I offer to go to the bar. Laura orders
a Jack and coke, my father another beer. He makes a big deal of handing me
a twenty. When I get back, Dale gives me a half-smile that's really a
question. I pat his arm. Yes, I answer. I'll get lost.
P.J. Harvey comes out in a white pants suit. She's tiny,
but has a voice that defies her size. I'm several rows behind Dale and
Laura, and watch them head bang to the music. I want to move as well, but
am surrounded by a passive bunch. They feign thoughtful attentiveness
through cocked heads and closed eyes. During a ballad I can barely
discern, my father lifts his left arm high and sways, a lighter poised in
his hand. The singular flame hovers over his companion's head, threatening
to catch it on fire.
Looking at him, unabashed as the sole lighter possessor in
the entire place, I realize he's happy. When we first moved to Fort
Collins, we were sick from the altitude. With the mountains so far west,
we didn't think we were up so high. Each day presented a new symptom.
Bloody nose, earache, vertigo. My ears felt full and hollow, and I
couldn't tell what was close or far away. My dad had dreamed of living out
west all his life, but began to think he had made a mistake. The west my
father sought didn't have suburban sprawl. Nevertheless, he has thrived
beneath its sunny disposition, where afternoons are warm, even in winter.
After the show, I wait for my dad in front of the theatre.
The smell of smoke is everywhere. Dale and Laura wander toward me,
new-fangled and affectionate. They begin to walk ahead, in the opposite
direction of where weíre parked.
"The van is this way, Dad." Laura laughs, a little
uneasily. She grabs my fatherís shoulder. The veins in her hands are
prominent. She's older than I thought. On her arm is a tattoo of the
Virgin Mary, done up like a cowgirl and surrounded by stars, with a lasso
in her right hand.
"You go on without me," my dad says. I hear one word of
this. It is "oust."
"Weíre going the wrong way." I say. My father stops. Under
the streetlight, they both look soft, with pink skin and translucent hair.
"Youíll be fine, Lope. Iíll see you tomorrow." Weíre an
hour away from home, and have a seven a.m. appointment in the morning. He
must be thinking the same thing, because he says, "Iíll catch the bus."
If I had known earlier, I wouldnít have had so much to
drink. "OK," I say. My father hums P.J. Harvey. I recognize the song, "You
Said Something," which always makes me miss New York. I go into a 7-Eleven
for a coffee and bottle of water, to sober up. I think of Larry waiting at
home, eyeing the clock while listening to Kris Kristofferson. At this late
hour, it's most likely Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame.
Outside, I drink my coffee in the cold air. I see my
father and Laura cross the street. Their hands are stuffed into their jean
pockets, and their pace is brisk, purposeful. Even though he's blocks away
and my ears are ringing, I can hear him sing:
Driving home with the windows down to keep me awake, the
shape of the mountains glow above the city lights. In the four years we've
been here, we have yet to visit them. They're as foreign to us as a
picture postcard. Beautiful, but not to be trusted.
Marcelle Heath has an MA from the University of
Rochester. She is a writer living in Colorado.