| Passage to Paradise
“That’s it, the house with the green shutters,” I say to the back of the taxi driver’s neck. He needs a better haircut and a dermatologist to check that appalling mole.This thought strikes me as hysterically funny, no doubt a reaction to a very early flight plus a bad case of nerves. But then, I always did strike myself funny. My former agent once said that my ability to thrive on solitude “is the hallmark of a creative mind.” She routinely stroked my ego back in the exhilarating months after my break-out novel hit the bestseller list and was made into a pretty good flick starring Matty Damon.
By that time I was surrounded by adoring fans, famous new best friends. There were ever willing lovers whenever I had time between media interviews, book signing gigs, and cocktail parties. One or two admirers even stuck around for a couple weeks after my muse died, and the well and cash flow petered out. My agent washed her claws of me within four months. I kept the parents as far out of the ill -fated loop as possible.
So what the hell, I made new friends and they became my family. Jack and Jim. With Coke, no ice.
(“How did that work for you, Scooter?” asks Dr. Phil, or Ron White, or the taxi driver.)
Great,at first. But after months of immersing my creative self in copious amounts of bourbon I became saturated , dragging the rock bottom. Joe and Celia’s only son, their joy, their boy wonder--bloated, bereft, and alone. I was twenty-seven,
Then I met a screenwriter named Sam. He came and stayed. He saved me, and had the temerity to fall in love with me. Thank God.
I must be thinking out loud. Eyes squint at me from the cab’s rear view mirror.
"Whadyasay, mister?” The Neck asks. “This the right place?”
“Yeah, but I need a minute. Run the meter for a bit, OK pal? I’m good for it.”
A chuckle. “Cool with me.”
I love riding in the back seat of a cab. It’s a liberating, yet insular experience, like floating free in the womb of a preoccupied mother. Free to be exactly who I am, there are no expectations. I can be anyone I please or no one at all. I’m merely a passenger.
Today, I’m imagining I am anyone other than a thirty -year -old guy afraid to present the stark truth to his aging parents.
I study their pastel home with the closed green shutters and typical be-palmed yard. This is not my childhood home. It’s theirs. Five years ago, Mom and Dad sold the tavern they had run in Maryland since I was small enough to nap behind the bar in an empty Miller beer box.
The folks built their retirement dream home in their idea of paradise–- a cul-de-sac in a retirement community on the Florida panhandle. Exactly how many brews and bar burgers it took to save a nest egg and also put me through college, I cannot comprehend.
"Your mother’s terrific with that stock market stuff,” Dad said. Me, I was never good with the loot I made on my novel. Mom and Dad refused it, so I left it up to complete strangers to sort out. My Money Dudes, I call them. Uncultured bastards apparently, as they paid no mind to my public downfall and did well by me despite an economy with the stability of a Jello shot.
During their first years in paradise, my parents’ emails had the breathless quality of the deliberately busy and socially overextended. They were happy.
When I was still a famous and cool dude, I mailed autographed copies of The Great American Novel to this house. Mom and Dad passed them out to their golf and tennis instructors, their pinochle buddies, and their Investors Club cronies. My wonderful self and his hip parents, on the same page, so to speak, for one brief moment in time.
"Still not ready, bud?” The Neck’s bratwurst-sized fingers slide around, scratch the mole.
“Not quite, my man.”
“Whoa. You must be in a world of trouble with these people.”
I say, “I’d rather poke a sharp stick in my eye than go in there. Parents. Your folks live around here?”
A dismissive wave of a meaty hand. “Nah. They’re long gone.”
“Sorry.” The plastic oranges and lemons on the front door wreath suddenly shake violently as my father yanks the door open. I long for Sam, with his quiet strength.
The Neck laughs. “Don’t be sorry. My folks aren’t dead, they’re alive and kickin’ in the state pen.” I tip him too much and emerge from my bubble squinting into the blazing sun.
I enter the house, wincing at my father’s slumped shoulders, his averted gaze. Mom’s eyes are teary, brown mascara bird-tracks across her left cheekbone. There is no turning back now. If ever there was a time I needed to choose the right words, that time is now.
Mom and I sit together. Dad stands alone, chin on chest, a letter clutched in his hand. I say the words. Honest, life-altering words that Sam and I have rehearsed for days.
My mother cries. She says she appreciates my honesty and that they both feel they in some way failed me. “Are you sure this is what you want, son?” Dad stares at a speck on the fridge, scratching at it with his thumbnail.
I nod. "I think this is the only answer." I watch a tear snail down Dad's cheek. "And you know I’m sober now. My new agent got me a fat advance on my new book. Sam sold his screenplay.”
They stare, speechless. I blurt, “We bought a big place, in the suburbs, with lots of bathrooms and closets. You’re family. We want you to move in as soon as possible.”
No one speaks as my father’s fingers uncurl, and the notice of foreclosure he recently found tacked to the front door of his green-shuttered home in paradise flutters to the to the tile floor like a fading moth.