(dedicated to all fathers)
Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.
I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.
My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.
So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.
Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*
So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.
So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.
For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.
Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?
Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.
After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”
The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe. I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.
(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story - like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)