The Subaru was diagnosed with having a failing radiator. “Forget driving to Chicago,” the mechanic at Hal’s Autos explained. “That thing won’t make it across the state line in its current condition.” The Subaru was a foreign car, he said, which made parts difficult and costly to acquire. The whole thing, including labor, would set me back around $300, which would be a significant blow to my meager savings.
I was out of my depth when it came to cars, so I telephoned my father for advice. He was beside himself. “Three hundred dollars? For a radiator?” he said. “That’s highway robbery. I could do the work myself for $60.” I had no doubt that he could. He once used an empty Campbell’s Soup can to repair a muffler. Then he added: “That damn city.”
I pointed out the fact that I wasn’t technically in that damn city, but in Yonkers, which was north of the city. “It’s all the same to me,” he said.
“Should I come home?” I asked. I hadn’t planned on asking that question. The words were involuntarily sailing out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop them. I usually knew better than to show weakness around my father, because his other great talent, second only to fixing cars, was the ability to suss out and exploit the vulnerabilities in people. Yet there was no denying the gravity of home, a place which I’d previously described in a series of journal entries as a “prison,” and a “lunatic asylum.” Two nights in Phillip’s dank basement with a tarantula and a dead man’s suit had been enough to instill me with a new-found appreciation for the tiny, well-lit room my parents had provided me with for the first 18 years of my life. I knew that my father, a practical man, thought of my moving-to-Chicago plan as self-indulgent foolishness. Here was his chance to tell me as much.
“You’d better keep going,” he said into the phone.
I asked him to repeat himself.
“Clean out your ears. I said, ‘You’d better keep going.’ Get the car fixed and keep going.”
This was the closest I’d ever come to receiving a ringing endorsement from my father, and I was thrilled to have it. I thanked him.
“Anyway, you couldn’t come home even if you wanted to,” he said. “Your mother and I already rented your room to a hobo. He’s nice. He wears an eyepatch and plays the harmonica. I hope you don’t mind sharing a bed with him at Christmas.”
I told my father that he was so hilarious that he should open for Jerry Seinfeld at The Comedy Store. Then I hung up the phone.
For the remainder of the week, while waiting for the car to be repaired, Phillip and I watched movies together in the empty house in Yonkers. We’d hunt around on cable for something with “a little tit,” to use Phillip’s expression. If we couldn’t find anything meeting this criteria, or if it was taking too long to get to the “tit,” we’d default to Phillip’s scratchy VHS tape of the 1986 movie Highlander, a movie which Phillip and I both agreed was the finest film ever made.
After our Highlander screenings, Phillip and I would put on our coats and take Sheba for a walk through the neighborhood. Phillip would sometimes smoke a joint on our walks. I’d take a puff now and then, not because I enjoyed the pot, but because I liked the way that it put Phillip at ease and made conversation easier between us. With his private school haircut and confident strut, Phillip maintained a cool exterior. But on these walks I learned that he was just as lost and unsure of himself as I was. “I don’t know what’s going to become of me, Herr Jones,” he said. “Last week I went to the post office to mail off some resumes. I made a big show of walking out of the house with all these envelopes and papers. Mom kissed me and told me how proud of me she was. Then, halfway to the post office, I realized that I didn’t want the jobs that I was applying for. In fact, the thought of doing any of those jobs made me feel physically ill. I put the resumes into the nearest trash bin. Then, on the walk back home, all I kept thinking about what how disappointed in me my father would have been if he knew what I’d done.”
Phillip stopped on the sidewalk and suddenly looked over his shoulder, as if he expected to find his dead father standing there. I looked too. Sheba barked. There was nothing there.
“Let’s get back to the house,” I said.
When we returned home that day, I promptly rewound Highlander to the beginning and pressed “play.” For at least the fifteenth time that week, the beautiful, tragic story of an immortal swordsmen who must confront an immortal opponent unfolded before us. We sang along with the movie’s opening theme song: “Here we are, born to be kings—we are the princes of the universe.” We howled in agony when Sean Connery’s head gets chopped off by The Kurgan. (Connery, I later learned, was contracted to work for only one week on the film.) We pounded our fists on the coffee table each time the movie showed a little tit. Finally, during the montage when immortal protagonist Connor MacLeod watches helplessly as the love of his life turns into an old gray haired lady while Queen’s Freddie Mercury sings the mournful line, “Who wants to live forever?” Phillip and I very skillfully positioned throw pillows to conceal our misty eyes from one another.