A baseball season or two ago, I was in my den reading the newspaper, shaking my head at Dear Abby, and enjoying a hot cup of gourmet coffee.
I was listening to my TV’s Blues channel. They were playing Mean Old World, one of my favorite songs. Maybe I like the song so much because I like the title so much. This old world can be pretty mean. You only have to keep up with current events to realize that. This version was by Little Walter and His Night Cats. I prefer T-Bone Walker’s. Maybe I just prefer the name T-Bone.
In a way, the Blues have ruined my appreciation for Rock & Roll. When I first heard certain artists, I thought they were geniuses. Forty years later, when I widened my taste in music to include the likes of Buddy Guy or Z.Z. Hill (Z.Z. Hill. ZZ Top. See the connection?), I realized everything I loved about Rock & Roll was stolen from the Blues, but that's neither here nor there. The point is I was enjoying some quiet time.
The song changed to one I didn't recognize. The singer sounded drunk, as if Richard Pryor's old wino character was given a guitar and told to earn his next bottle of Thunderbird. I went from Dear Abby to the comic section. That's when my father walked into the den.
"Hi, pop," I said, but kept my head down. I had already said hello to him that morning, not that I count how many times I say hello to him on any given day. I understand when celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres or Steve Harvey tell their employees not to make eye contact with them. If you waste time being nice, you won’t have time for important things, like promoting a false image to the general public.
My father mumbled something. I kept reading. I know that sounds mean, but I've learned when he wants me to acknowledge something, he'll speak up.
He mumbled again, this time louder. Walked over to the TV set. Stood in front of it, staring. I still didn’t look up. He knows I’ve got dibs on the TV, and I know he has a perfectly good television set in his guest house. He can watch what he wants whenever he wants, but what he usually wants is to watch this particular set. That drives me nuts. I don’t hog his TV. Why does he hog mine?
"Isn't there a game today?" my father said, finally speaking up.
Quite clearly, I might add.
I stayed quiet, but not in a mean way. More like a Clint-Eastwood-when-he's-not-talking-to-a-chair kind of way. I know there's a game today. He knows there's a game today. Even Clint Eastwood's chair knows there's a game today. We have so many baseball channels, even if there wasn't a game there would still be a game.
"Isn't there a game today?" my father asked again, this time turning to look at me. He wanted to make sure I heard. I made the mistake of glancing up. Our eyes locked. I couldn’t pretend I didn't hear him.
"Did you say something?" I said, pretending anyway.
“Isn’t there a game on?”
"I don't think so," I told him.
He didn’t buy it.
"I think there is."
"Pretty sure. Cleveland."
Cleveland's his favorite team.
"If you say so," I said.
"I knew it! I knew there was a game."
If he knew there was a game, then why was he asking me? We were at a stalemate, of sorts. He wasn’t asking if he could watch the game, and I wasn’t offering to let him. If my wife were there, he'd already be reclining in front of the TV, snacking on champagne and caviar.
Unfortunately for him, she wasn’t.
I ignored him.
I looked up. Dang! Our eyes locked again.
"Did you say something?"
"The game," he said.
“You sure it's today?"
Another stalemate. He stood there, looking at me. Tampa Red started singing When Things Go Wrong With You (It Hurts Me, Too).
I no longer had the heart to keep it up.
“Sit down, pop," I finally said. "Let’s see if the game‘s on."
He sat. Didn’t even say thank you. Instead he groused, not quite mumbling but not quite clearly, "Of course the game's on. I told you that already," and then confided to the chair next to him, "I know when the game's on."
The new Clint Eastwood.
I put on the Cleveland game. His favorite team was 100 games out of the playoffs, losing 20 out of the last 22. There was no hope for them that year. Their only hope was the next year, or the year after that.
My father settled down in his favorite chair watching his favorite team on his favorite TV set. I went back to the comics and my now luke-warm coffee. Then it started...
I lifted my eyes.
Smack, smack, SMACK!
My father has the nasty habit of smacking his lips whenever he watches TV. He smacks, he moans, he yawns, he sighs, he oohs and aahs, but what he mainly does is annoy me. I've tried, but I can't sit down with him to watch anything on TV, because his constant noises are so distracting.
My wife insists I should try.
“Why don’t you?" I tell her back.
“He's not my father."
It was worth a shot.
Oh, well. Back to the story...
“Ahhh... ohhh...” Big sigh. Followed by an even bigger SMACK! "Ohhh... ahhh..." Smack, smack, smack. Mumble, mumble.
I grabbed my coffee and left the den. I walked upstairs to watch TV in my bedroom. That TV doesn't have a converter to play music.
It's a mean old world, indeed.