It did not start well.
I was supposed to fly United Airways from New York to D.C., and thence to Tampa. However, even though Dad had booked me on a noon flight, muggins (waves) managed to miss it.
The ticket agent shook her head as she consulted her computer. “Everything’s booked solid. You should have gotten here sooner,” she clucked.
“Yah,” I panted, fogging up the top of her counter.
Fortunately, she found a seat on a Delta plane which was (a) flying directly to Tampa and (b) landing only an hour after my original ETA. I gratefully accepted my ticket, used a payphone to leave messages on Dad’s voicemail and with Uncle Nick (who answered the phone at Dad’s apartment), and trudged next door to the Delta terminal.
The flight wasn’t bad, although the in-flight TV system was on the fritz and the inevitable screaming child was in the row directly behind mine. Fortunately I’d brought a library copy of Psmith in the City, so while my body whizzed along at an altitude of 30,000 feet, my mind was exploring the hot spots and low dives of Jazz Age Manhattan.
Of course, Dad hadn’t received my messages, and of course, I failed to spot him in the terminal, but he found me as I was about to leave another voicemail message. Which he wouldn’t have received because, as I learned later, when he ordered a new cellphone to replace the malfunctioning one in his possession, his provider had cancelled his old phone even though it would be a week before the replacement arrived.
Days later, Dad told me that when he finally heard my voicemail he enjoyed my “calm and rational tones.” “They were very soothing,” he assured me.
That sort of thing had been happening to him all day. Leaving the armed services, especially when you have security clearances, requires the kind of bureaucratic nonsense that would cause Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams to laugh hollowly and them knock back a large one of their tipple of choice. Since Dad no longer drinks, he settled for repeatedly humming a snatch of Frank Zappa: “I’d rather be dead...Please kill me, ’cause that would thrill me...”.
Everyone else was drinking, “everyone” in this case consisting of Uncle Nick, Uncle Jon and Aunt Mary-Lynn, family friend Chuck Fredrickson, and Grandma Kay and Grandpa Dean. Grandpa had gained a white goatee and Grandma had lost an alarming amount of weight. I was surprised by the former but not the latter, since Grandma, according to her doctors, was supposed to have died of cancer 18 months ago. Tough lady. Nowadays she uses a wheelchair and tires easily, but she’s as swordlike as ever: bright and sharp.
We dined in the restuarant of the hotel where everyone was staying. Britton, my little brother, joined us between the appetizers and the entrees, having leadfooted it directly from a meeting at Florida Power and Light. Dad told stories throughout the meal, mostly from his days in the Marine Corps. Afterward, when my grandparents and Mary-Lynn had gone upstairs, my uncles, Chuck, Britton, and I drank Irish Coffees while Dad spun more tall tales. Finally, we called it a night, and Britton, Dad, and I headed to Dad’s apartment for Dad’s last night as a Coast Guardsman.
Coming soon: Part 2, Concerning Jolly Boats, Shadow Boxes, and My Eligibility.