Saturday, July 14, 2018
Change is hard
My younger boy is moving to Virginia, and in my capacity as a full-service dad, Friday I helped him close up the apartment that, last September, I had helped him move into.
Not that difficult. Drag some furniture to the van. Not much. A desk. A chair. A lamp. A coffee table. The new bed will be delivered there.
Carefully fit it all in, add boxes and laundry baskets and assorted piles of blankets and coats. The starter set for possessions to come. What someday trucks and squads of burly moving men will do—gather up his possessions to drag them from Point A to Point B—took us two an hour.
When I tried to convey this to him, he scoffed. He's never going to own a bunch of stuff. No need to add the contemptuous, "Like you." It was implied. Prudent investments instead.
"Smart," I said.
Afterward, upstairs, while he touched up a scuff on a wall, I grabbed a broom and swept. Something spiritual about sweeping, fine dust across a dark floor.
"You know," I thought to say, but didn't. "I once spent five days cleaning the basement. When I went into rehab. The basement was dirty and it just seemed the thing to do. Almost like being in a monastery, sweeping that black dust across the grey concrete floor."
But I didn't say that. Shutting up is an art form.
What I did say was this. I had noticed some coins scattered across his floor. A few quarters, some dimes and nickels.
I swept them toward the dust pan.
"You've got some change on the floor," I said aloud. "Do you want it?"
"No," he said. "I don't like change."
"Nobody does," I replied. A joke. I glanced over for reaction. None.
So here was my dilemma. Does dad hoover up the money? At first it felt like a petty, peasant thing to do. Scrabble the coins out of the filth. It was his money, not mine (of course, all his money is my money at this point; might as well get a little back).
Still, his dwelling, he's the guy in charge. Do I pluck up the quarters?
If, in a few years, when he's at a big law firm, pulling down the elephant dollars, how will he look upon this memory, his old father, in his laughable baggy cargo shorts, carefully lifting coins out of the dirt and scraps of the dust pan? With contempt, right? Rich people feel enough contempt as it is for those negligent enough to spend their lives doing what they love but never getting rich at it. Careless of them. Add to that the dubious light that falls upon almost anything your parents do. The losers back in Loserville, losing.
Is that the message I want to leave to him, as he embarks on this new phase of his life? Leaving and most likely never coming back, except to visit. Dad scrounging change out of the trash?
I lift the dustpan to tip it into the garbage. And paused.
I'm a frugal guy, Alinea notwithstanding. If he weren't there, I'd certainly sky up the coins. A buck's a buck. I did insist he start work at 16. Maybe letting money slip by out of pride is also a message worth delivering. Every quarter counts. If he's going to feel contempt, might as well be for this.
He seemed focused on dabbing paint on the wall. Decision time.
I knotted the big black trash bag and dragged it downstairs and out to the loading dock.
"That's it," I said, coming back into the apartment. "Ready?"
He walked to the door.
"Don't you want to do some sort of ritual?" I traced a cross of benediction over the room with two fingers, held high. "Your first apartment?"
He walked wordlessly out onto the street, I followed, letting the door slam behind me. In my pants pocket, the coins jingled.
$1.50, not bad for a few seconds' work.
That evening, in line to order dinner at Once Upon a Grill, I held the stack of coins up between my thumb and forefinger and showed them off to him.
"Your change," I said, dropping the money into the white plastic tip bucket. "They'll appreciate it."