Father Daughter Swamp Time

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“Hold still, Dad. I’m about to take a picture of you and Odie.”

“Absolutely not. I don’t do pictures. I’ll take the picture but you’re not going to take a picture of me.”

“This is a moment.”

“I don’t give a fuck, you’re not about to take my picture. I’m an ugly old fart, but I feel OK about it because I don’t look in the mirror and I don’t pose for pictures.”

“Don’t you want to remember this?”

“I can remember things without looking at pictures of myself.”

“Just shut up and smile so one day, after you’ve kicked it, I can show this photo to my children and say, ‘Look at that asshole.”

He laughs and I quickly snap the picture.

Insecure white girls who can’t take a compliment would be dazzled by my father’s contemptuous dismissal of anything resembling flattery. His self-effacement borders on passive aggression. This sometimes clashes with my embellished sense of comedy and confrontational nature.

Every December, I make the pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Central Florida. My parents (divorced, amicably) live in quirky, tiny towns with tight-knit communities and minimal entertainment. This year, for the very first time, I am splitting the visit between Mom and Dad. Thus, the day after a pleasant Christmas, I climb into my father’s old white pickup truck, and we drive into the depths of cracker country to rejuvenate and repair our father/daughter bond in a town with one stoplight. Carrabelle is a sandy, hardscrabble sort of spot that seems less like a town and more like a couple dozen peeling, wooden buildings clustered between ocean and pine forest. By the time we arrive, night has fallen and happy hour as begun.

My father is a sarcastic, stubborn man who enjoys the blues, vodka, and his own voice. He has many opinions, most of which he’d be happy to share with you at the faintest provocation. He’s subscribed to The New York Times since 1978, traveled the world many times, and now lives in a blue-collar fishing village. Here is a short list of things we both like: booze, folk rock, cigarettes, audiobooks, guns, Netflix, water, steak, and swearing.

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We don’t bother to unpack, just drop off the luggage and book it to Harry’s, an old dive with new pool tables. The aging blonde bartender greets my dad by name.

“So you’re Charlie’s girl. We’ve been real excited to meet you.” Odie is waiting. He is tall, with a long white ponytail and denim shirt. His thin mouth stretches into a crooked but pleasant smile. “Chloe. Long time no see. Whatcha having?”

“Whatever you’re having,” I say, and he orders me a Coors Lite and shot of cognac. The cognac is sickly sweet, so in the spirit of staying coherent, I sip the shot rather than guzzle it down. Dad drinks what he always drinks: vodka, on the rocks. I occasionally try to keep up with him, but after about a mug of straight Stoli, I give up because I’m not trying to black out.

As they chit chat about mulch and machinery (Odie’s line of work), I guzzle my beer and survey the surroundings. A place this salt of the earth could make Dame Judi Dench feel like Gretchen Wilson, and I savor the rowdy sensibility. Odie and I exchange polite banter.

“So what are you doing in Carrabelle, Chloe?”

“I want to take in all the sights.”

“So you’ll be leaving tonight, then?”

“Probably not. I’m doing research for an article. I asked my Dad to bring me to the biggest redneck in the grungiest shit hole, so here we are with you.”

Odie and I get along real well. We even share a similar philosophy on customer service.

“I’m not a naturally helpful person, and I accept that about myself. Sometimes, a person will ask ‘Can you help me?’ and I’m like, ‘It’s not a question of can it’s a question of will. I can help you but I choose not to.’ People are stupid like that.”

“Charles, I think Chloe and I could do business together.”

“Why thank you, Odie.”

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