When I was at the University of Missouri for an ill-fated attempt at finishing college, I bought a Honda 50 motorcycle. It was key-started, cute, red, reliable, and could go up to forty-five miles an hour downhill with a tailwind.
When I left the University of Missouri, I brought my Honda 50 home. My brother Mikey bought it, and my father fell in love with it. My father was about fifty-six years old at the time, and had gotten into a pattern of being available for sunset services at Beth El Temple whenever he got the call for an extra man.
In the Jewish religion, prayer services can’t be held unless there are at least ten men present. All ten make up a “minyan”, and that Honda 50 motorcycle made Samuel Reuben the envy of all the old guys who, along with my father, made up the minyan.
By in large, these were rich old guys who lived on Chicago’s North Shore…old guys with butlers…old guys who lived in Frank Lloyd Wright houses or in mansions overlooking Lake Michigan… little old Jewish millionaires standing outside the small sanctuary of the Beth El Temple, gazing wistfully at Sam Reuben, who was not rich, who wore cuffed brown pants long after cuffs went out of style and an odd-looking knit and suede jacket that had never been in style.
How those old and middle-aged worshippers coveted my father’s 50 cubic centimeter red Honda. How they envied him my mother, his Ghita, because their wives would never have permitted them to own, let alone to ride a motorcycle.
They envied the cool breezes that ruffled the fringe around his bald spot, and the heady and reckless feeling he had when taking sharp turns around Goldie’s Delicatessen at thirty miles an hour. They envied his devil-may-care insouciance, his non-conformity, and his freedom. They looked at him admiringly, as though he was wearing a Hell’s Angel prayer shawl under his knit and suede jacket.
He didn’t notice them looking.
And he didn’t care what they were thinking.
What he, himself, thought is anybody’s guess.
I have a running joke with my husband, Charlie King. Whenever he is quiet for any length of time, I ask, “What are you thinking?”
Responding with a benign, blank stare, he always says, “Nothing.”
After years of marriage, I finally believe him. When he isn’t expostulating, solving problems or answering questions, Charlie is actively not-thinking. Nothing is going on up there between the ear lobes. Without pumps, suction cups or mechanical devices, he is capable creating the perfect vacuum, and what you see is what you get.
My father was the same way. If you wanted to know what he thought about something subtle or esoteric or sensitive or remote…if you wanted to pierce through his imperturbable exterior and sneak up on his inner being, on the real Samuel Reuben…you could just forget it.
I tried. Truly, I did.
On one of our innumerable trips to the South Side of Chicago to collect rent, patch a roof, or fix a furnace (my mother always sent me, my sisters or brothers along as a talisman to ward off evil spirits and to keep him awake), I decided that we should have one of those sensitive father-daughter talks I was always reading about. I wanted to let him know that I was interested in him, not just as my father, but also as a human being...