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Dinner at Denny's with Clay and Dick

Two of my three brothers are vacationing in San Francisco, mostly to see me, so we met for dinner tonight. My third brother Ralph couldn't make it, and sent his apologies, but he's in prison.

It was nice seeing Clay and Dick. Also, it was nice saying "Good night" and seeing them go. Family is hard for me, and works best in small doses.

For four hours this afternoon and evening, we tootled around the city like tourists, and talked, and every time the conversation threatened to become interesting, one of my brothers changed the subject. Or sometimes I did.

"Why are there so many beggars on the street?" Clay asked, a question straight from suburbia. It was actually a light count for the loonies, hardly any out there, and I was wondering where all the homeless people were. That's what I wanted to say, plus a brief overview of how America's almost-complete lack of help for people who need help leaves helpless people with nowhere to be except on the streets. And I started saying all that, but Dick interrupted to say something crude about a barely-bikini-clad woman walking by.

Boys being boys, we all chuckled, and then Dick talked about baseball, his fiancée's bicycle, and his ex-wife's new boyfriend, and Clay talked about his duties as a church elder, and assured me that despite the rumors (which I hadn't heard and don't care about) the Seahawks aren't moving to Los Angeles.

I didn't talk much, because mine is a family with few boundaries — if they know where I live, they will eventually knock on the door. If nobody answers, after a while they will let themselves in. I'll come home one day and they'll be waiting in my living room. That's not a hypothetical; it's happened.

The less the family knows about the real me, the freer I feel. That's why they don't know my real-world address, only my maildrop address. They don't have my phone number, just the voice-mail service. I didn't tell Clay and Dick what I do for a living, or that I recently moved to Berkeley, or that a ladyfriend is coming to visit me. They don't know that this zine exists, and for that matter, they don't know the word 'zine'. I'm reticent to talk about what I've been up to since I left Seattle, because they'd disprove, and their disapproval bores me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Clay brought his two sons with him, and I had a few minutes of subversive conversation with Tom. He's a cool kid, but his younger brother, Michael — what a pain! He wouldn't do anything his father told him to do, and his father seemed proud of him for it. "We've never spanked either of our children," Clay reminded me.

"Well, I'll do it for you," I volunteered, because Michael is impossible, and dangerously out of control. Didn't know I was really gonna do it, but — I'm getting ahead of myself, sorry. 

Here's where I — father of none — confess my ignorance of the difficulties of raising children. I've never had to give it much thought and hope that's permanent, but I'd say children should be reasoned with, not beaten, once they're old enough to listen to reason. I'd also say there's a time for brute force. Certainly, when me and Clay and Dick and the rest of the siblings were kids and deserved it (and sometimes when we didn't), our dad paddled us.

Or, I might be full of crap. Tom, the older of Clay's two boys, was well-behaved, kept reasonably quiet, and when he said something it was either funny or actually added to the conversation. So maybe Clay & Karen's no-spanking policy does work, and when Michael is a few years older he'll be as charming as Tom.

Not sure he'll survive those few years, though. At Union Square, a place children probably should not roam freely, Michael ran a full block away, crossed the street by himself, and hid between two parked cars when his father called his name. When we rode a bus, he wouldn't sit or hold a handrail, but instead stood up on a seat, and Clay didn't even ask him to get down. Clay is not a bus-riding person, so he didn't know the danger, but when I said something he shrugged. It's almost a miracle the driver didn't brake hard and send Michael sprawling to the floor.

♦ ♦ ♦

We ate at Denny's, because Clay said "You know what to expect," and Dick said he loved their breakfasts. I didn't suggest my favorite place, the Sincere Café, because when I'm out with the family there's a good chance something bad could happen, and I'd rather be embarrassed at Denny's than at a restaurant I'd come back to.

We waited fifteen minutes just for a seat, and then spent ten minutes going over and over the kiddie menu, and then Michael slapped my arm. "Please don't slap me," I said, and he laughed and slapped my arm again.

"I mean it, please don't slap me," I said more sternly, pushing him away, and he laughed harder and slapped my arm a third time.

It almost makes sense — the kid's never been slapped, so slapping someone is a game. Well, he's a little boy, but his slaps did hurt, and my willingness to laugh it off was nil. I wanted grown-up time with my (somewhat, legally) grown-up brothers, not slap-happy-time with this kid I barely knew. And why wasn't Clay saying or doing anything?

"Hey!" I said firmly, but not shouting, because we were in a busy restaurant. "Third and final warning, kid. Please. Stop. Slapping. Me." And that was the funniest line of the night, so Michael laughed and laughed and slapped me again, while his father continued describing the plumbing problems they're having at their new home.

Was it wrong what I did? I stood up, lifted Michael out of his chair, and slapped his butt four times, but hard. The brat had slapped me four times, so now we were even. He bawled, of course, loud and annoying, but he didn't slap me again all night, and after the bawling he was hardly a nuisance at all.

You think Clay got angry because I broke the no-spanking rule?

You think we argued and it ruined the evening?

You think it was at least an awkward moment?

Nope, nope, and nope. Me swatting Michael four times at Denny's didn't even interrupt Clay's story.

He put an arm around Michael, patted the kid's shoulders until he stopped crying, and seemed like a pretty good dad actually, but he didn't even pause his talking about toilets.

And when that story about was over, Dick had a story about the place where he works. I paddled Clay's son right in front of him, but neither of them even mentioned it.

♦ ♦ ♦

And that was our evening. We saw some San Francisco sights, ate at the city's most average restaurant, Clay and Dick talked a lot, Tom was cute, and Michael got spanked for the first time in his life.

They're family. I love 'em, and they offered an invitation to get together a few more times over the next few days, maybe go to a baseball game, but I weaseled out of it.

Sorry, bro and bro, neph and neph. Enjoyed seeing you, and a ball game might be fun too, but your visit couldn't have come at a worse time — Sarah-Katherine is coming, and I want the house not to smell like the giant kitty-litter box it is, so I need that time for cleaning up the place.

I'm leaving town tomorrow, I told them untruly. I'll be gone for a few weeks, helping some guy who doesn't exist set up a shop that also doesn't exist. When the lies gained some momentum, I also mentioned that I'm two months late with the rent and on the verge of being evicted. All BS, sure, but it sounded real, and it won't surprise me if there's a check in the mail from Mom when she hears about it from Clay and Dick.

From Pathetic Life #14
Monday, July 10, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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