1993: Rabbit Ears

It’s October. My favorite time of year to rustle through the leaves as I walk.

Dad turns on the news before school as usual. He watches Katie Couric discuss the day on a grainy screen. The rabbit ears fail Dad today because I see him adjust them several times. A quarter-turn clockwise. An inch to the left. How does it help to fiddle with them constantly?

 We had cable last year, but Dad didn’t pay the bill for a few months so they shut us off. “It’s better this way, Jenny. We don’t need to be watching so much television anyways. Your Father never really liked T.V. I miss the days of radio—the Lone Ranger and The Shadow!”

Then why are you always the one watching it and who cares about the stupid Lone Ranger! We’re the only family this century that has rabbit ears!

 As I choke down my scrambled egg and orange juice, ugh too much pulp, why does Dad buy this kind, I realize that it’s going to be a worse than usual day.

Another child kidnapping case! There was already one over the summer and then one from a couple years ago that Dad still obsesses over. Now I’ll never have any freedom!

 Right on cue, Dad flips out, “Goddamn motherfuckers! Another baby kidnapped. Do you see this bullshit, Jenny?”

I nod in his direction.

“You see now why Daddy can’t let you just go out and ride your bike alone. It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago. Plus your Father is a single parent. A single Father…no less! I have to be even more careful. If anything happens to you, they’ll blame me.”

He continues, “I’d like to catch every one of these sons a bitches, and torture them slowly for hurting these innocent babies. They taught us how to torture people in the military, you know. Burn their skin slowly with hot oil, rip off every finger nail, gouge out their eyes…”

He goes on for a while. My stomach turns. I hope he doesn’t see me throw the last bit of egg in the garbage.

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1988: The Ponies

I brush my little pony’s rainbow colored mane as Dad drives. I trace the plush velvety maroon interior of our white Oldsmobile with my index finger.

I love this car but dad said, “That son of a bitch who sold us this goddamn car ripped me off. I oughtta go and give him a piece of my mind. Motherfucking diesel engine. Nobody makes a fool of Thomas.”

Suddenly, as I peer over the dash, we are headed toward South Street. There’s only two things on South Street. Dirty John’s Hot Dog Restaurant, and Off Track Betting.

“Dad! No! We’re going to OTB today?” I let this slip out almost forgetting the spanking he will give me.

“No, no. Don’t get all excited my child. Daddy’s just got to go see a man about a horse.”

I sigh, relieved, I keep brushing my pony’s pink mane.

When I look up, Dad backs into his usual spot at the OTB parking lot.

He shoots me a crooked grin. “See Daddy never lies. I told you, we’re going to see a man about a horse.”

I leave my toys in the car. I don’t want them smelling like cigarette smoke too.

Dad runs over to the Belmont track sheets. His favorite. He looks at the Daily Double. I hate the Double. It means we will be here for hours.

“Jenny I think Daddy’s gonna bet 4-2 for the late double. What do you think? You know my favorite numbers are Deborah Brown, 4 and 2.”

Utterly bored, I stare at the design in the plush rug. A series of overlapping octagons. Immediately I begin to count the patterned shapes. 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24…

When I turn around, I see Dad at the counter placing the bet. Finally!

“Yeah, Hi Joanne, I’d like to bet $20 on 4 and 2 for the late double at Belmont.”

$20?! Just bet the $5 ones.

 While we wait for the race, I sit on a tangerine orange wooden bench. I turn over a racing sheet and begin to draw what I see. A wall socket, and large screen TV. Boring. Wait maybe you can design you dream house? The one you are going to live in someday!

I grab a track sheet and flip it over. Which room first? The Bedroom. I draw a heart-shaped bed in the middle of the room. I admire my design. You know no one else will ever have a heart shaped bed. You’re special. It suits you.

I overhear Dad talking to old Joe. He asks my Father, “Hey, Tom, got any good bets in today?”

Dad replies reluctantly, “Just a late double.”

Joe nods his head, “Nice. You box ‘em?”

“Fuck no, Joe. I’m not like you idiots. I don’t spend $40 boxing every horse in the race with the favorite so I can win $5, or lose $35.”

Joe doesn’t ask any more questions after this. He just glances down at his heavily marked race sheets.

I don’t really understand the odds. I know that low numbers are bad because they don’t pay a lot.

As I glance to my right, Tony the Greek stands right beside me. He and my Father greet each other warmly. Tony is Dad’s favorite of all the OTB guys.

Tony pulls a dollar bill out of his wallet and hands it to me. I take it very shyly.

“Thank you.”

Dad boasts, “Tony, you’re a good man. A real Greek just like me. You always give my daughter a dollar every time you see her.”

“Well, yes Tom. No need to thank me. She’s a good girl, your Jenny. She’s a good Greek too. She’s fair but Greek through and through.”

What do they mean? How can they tell I’m Greek? How do you know what anybody is?

When the race starts the guys gather round the largest screen in the place. Their smoke clouds seem to linger in their former positions.

All the betters yell in unison “Come on Winning Colors, come on!!!” They chant this over and over again until I become dizzy with the deafening sound and the fumes fill my lungs.

Fuck these crazy bastards! I wish this whole damn place would blow up.