erik svehaug – The School of Dad

The Cubic Measure

I think my Dad invented Thursday Night School so he could avoid reading the notes my mother left taped to the fridge.

Dad made Thursday nights out to be a big deal, the weekly seminar at our house; he prepared for it all week, looking statistics up on line and checking newspapers, but I’m the one who had to haul the empty brown bottles to the driveway, Fridays, and sweep up all the cigarette butts and left over pizza crusts.  Once in a while, I had to wash out a waste can laced with curds of old puke and napkins.

He was teaching the course: Inebriate Verticology.  He had a sign, too, on his office door in the boiler room of John Russell Middle School: “Dept. of Inebriate Verticology.”  He’s head janitor.

I’m in Eighth Grade, but I could barely make sense of the topics in big type:

-Ocular Duplicity-                 Don’t Believe What You See Double
-Multi-solvent Toxicology-   What’s Your Poison?
-Kinesthetic Relativism-      Keep Your Feet When the Room Spins

To me, it just seemed like a laughy bunch of janitors and friends, who came over every Thursday.

“Working stiffs have to have something to look forward to,” he said once.  “This is advanced training.”

I didn’t think they could study very well with the blaring sound of the NFL or NASCAR masking any discussing that was going on.

“Don’t settle for less than you’re best,” he’d say from the porch, as I’d leave for school.

Mom worked swing shift at the pasta factory, so she was sleeping when I left for school and she came home when I was already in bed.

Dad’s shift was 2PM until 12AM, but he’d make me two eggs, toast and half a grapefruit every school morning and then go back to bed, when I left.

Unplug the disposal.  Fix the end table, a note would say.  Clean the gutters.  Hang the mirror, said another.

“Kind of her thinking-out-loud list,” Dad said.  The yellow stickies built up like feathers on my chicken sculpture from kindergarten.

They never talked about those notes when they were in the same room. Mom was either dressed as supervisor on the macaroni line, forehead wrinkled like she was already noodling things out; or, pajama-clad, taking a cup of tea to bed. Dad, in his Saint’s cap, suddenly shy, moonstruck by her, catching her elbow, half-whispering:  “Hi, Gorgeous.” She might halt, and lean prettily, happily, back into the crook of his arm and smile at the wall.

He couldn’t make it to my football games, but he also wouldn’t complain when I had turnouts at 5:30.  To put pounds on me, he added shakes to the menu.  “Of course you’re not done till you’re done,” he’d say when I’d try to leave the table early or leave the house without eating.  “If you’re late, be late.  Be standup.”

I’m not big, as guards go, but I made first team at Russell.  We were always smaller than the other teams, except for our Samoan center, who didn’t have speed or endurance, so got used more like an anchor or a screen to slide around.

Dad had been a guard, and was always throwing out tips.  “Let him knock you down twice. Then you submarine him, then you stunt, switch hit, stand him up, change up a half-step.  He won’t know what’s going on.

Strengthen your upper body, like they tell you.  You’re only as fast as your arms are strong.  Muscles are going to be your padding.  I don’t want you getting hurt.”

The door was locked, when class was in session.  You could hear it snap shut after the last guy arrived in his Ben Davis’s and steel-toed shoes.

Apparently, Mom called a guy to fix the disposal.  He showed up Friday, as I was getting home, a skinny guy in faded overalls with a basketball tummy.
I remembered the fridge note.  I thought Dad would lose it if he found out.

“Be quiet,” I said.  “Somebody’s always sleeping.”

Dad saw strange legs sticking out of the sink cabinet.  He kicked the beat-up Reeboks.  “You follow sports?”  Somehow the conversation ended up on Thursday Nights.  Yeah, the guy could come.

I wanted Dad to come to my games or let me sit in the seminars, even if I wouldn’t know any of the words.  I could pick it up.

Maybe, if I fix the end table, I’ll have a stickie yellow ticket to Thursday Night.

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