hanging out over dad’s backyard in Ft. Worth, TX.
It’s Saturday morning and there’s a train whistle
moaning from two streets down. Clinton has a Rolling Rock;
Shane is touting his new diet plan. Clinton’s hands
are wrinkled and as parched as mine, but the blackness
of his skin is lustrous in the sun, unlike my pale pink.
I can tell my dad is nervous, as he always is in the presence
of a person of color. I’m envious of Clinton’s
John Lennon bifocals and the ease of his stance--
the way he seems to sway with each swallow.
Clinton says he used to weigh 225, but he’s down to 160.
Shane claims he’s about the same as he sips his
green-glassed longneck. “It started as a bet,” he says,
“and then I made the Excel chart and we even got fitbits.”
“Well, you got the fitbit,” Clinton interjects,
“I just hit that track every mornin’.”
“My system is 1,200 calories plus 25% of what I burn
exercising,” Shane chimes in, “I figure if I hit the treadmill,
I can have a sandwich or this beer, or some ice cream,
‘cause you know I ain’t gonna quit the ice cream. Plus,
I ain’t about to run…I gotta have a smoke every now and then.”
“Amen to that,” Clinton says as he extends the clink of his bottle.
Shane offers my dad a beer, but he declines, knowing that
the paleo diet won’t suffer this foolishness.
Dad begins to tell them about less carbs, the benefits
of eating nuts, no gluten, no dairy, beef, vegetables,
and of course, no alcohol. It all sounds pretty awful to me
as I imagine a giant plate of hot chicken or enchiladas mole,
but he clearly has won this varsity health match. I never
had the desire to diet and don’t know why, but sometimes
I just forget to eat; perhaps out of self-loathing--
fearing the same beer-barreled belly, glacially
creeping around my waist.
How could dad be seventy-four? I was just fourteen and could
eat a whole can of Pringles on the way home from basketball
practice and still finish off a flank steak and baked potato
and never break 150. Shane is right. It probably has more
to do with the exercise, but I don’t get the exercise high.
My father stares vacantly behind his sunglasses off at the train,
cataracts making his eyes strain against the light as Shane’s
diatribe about his ex-wife segues into a discussion of lawn equipment
and high school football trophies. It’s been a half hour now and as usual,
I haven’t said a word.
I wonder what I will muster one day when dad has taken
his last ride. What it will be like to have room to conversate
without his oppressive ebullience? Will any of my ideas be worth
talking over fences? I’m already wishing I could hop the rails
with him, ride the blinds, gaze forever into his eternal sunset
beyond these chain-links and stockyards. We’ve traveled
too far together, to know any different.
Ryan O. Murphey is a Nashville based educator and songwriter who was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2010 for producing the best bluegrass album.