All the Way to the Moon

UA Westbury 12The second we wandered into the parking lot that hot Saturday afternoon we stood there dumbfounded.

“Now what?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. You said we could go to a restaurant.”

“When did I say that?

“When we were in the taxi,” she said.

“Oh really, I said…”

“Daddy, you said we could go when the movie was over.”

“I believe the credits are still rolling inside and…”

“C’mon Daddy!”

“You do realize we’re in the middle of nowhere without a car, right?”

 

*****

I-Dont-Know-How-She-Does-It #1

It was a sunny, cloudless autumn day in September 2011. I’d inhaled a half a bottle of Tylenol that morning trying to ward off the skull pounding I’d woken up with. One month after Marlee’s last hurrah as a camper in upstate, NY, we had planned to spend the day together. She had wanted to check out the new Sarah Jessica Parker flick, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” Under duress I said, “Fine, we’ll go.” I would rather have waited until this one came out on DVD, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. Parker was an unknown when I’d first seen her in “Honeymoon in Vegas” playing opposite Nick Cage and Jimmy Caan, and “Striking Distance” with Bruce Willis. I was able to tolerate her for years alongside Cynthia, Kristin, and Kim. Thank God I’d never heard about the Morgans. My headache was getting worse with every thought of this post-Carrie Bradshaw bad review. Even if I fell asleep, Marlee would end up telling me “how she did it.”

As we stood outside the UA Westbury 12, sweat seeping from our pores, I noticed the service road we had driven in on and decided to walk toward it. There wasn’t a strip mall or restaurant in sight.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Does it really matter?” I answered.

“Why are you…?”

“Listen, we’re in Westbury, there has to be something around here.”

“So you’re just walking?” she asked.

“That’s right.”

“You’re strange.”

“No, I’m your father trying to find a place to eat,” I told her.

 

*****

 

A Bug's Life #1I’d taken three-and-a half-year-old Marlee to her first movie, “A Bug’s Life” in December of 1998. I’d driven off to the theater with Marlee in the back seat going, “Bug bug.” She had a pink bow in her hair and was squirming in her car seat in anticipation of watching a cartoon on a big screen. I looked in the rear view mirror and she was giggling, “Bug bug..haha.”  The movie had only been out a few weeks so we left early to make sure we got a good seat. Marlee scooted into an aisle seat midway down. She had a big smile on her face and the right junk food for her first movie: popcorn, soda, candy. “This is way too easy,” I thought. The lights went down and previews started. Twenty minutes into the movie I looked to my left, no Marlee! I looked to my right, then left, then right. What a fright! I stood up, my heart racing. There, in the dark, rolling on her side, down the aisle, was Marlee, laughing. “Bug bug, haha, bug bug.” I shook my head and threw my arms in the air. “Oh my…what the…?” I ran after her and picked her up near the 2nd or 3rd row. I carried her up the aisle. As we passed our seats she pointed and cried, “Popcorn daddy! Popcorn.” Our afternoon at the cinema had lasted forty minutes.                                                                 Daddy Day Care #2

The following summer she managed to sit still for “Inspector Gadget” and cheered on the “Spy Kids” a few years later. Right before her 8th birthday I took Marlee to see “Daddy Day Care”. We were visiting my parents in Rockaway, NJ that day. After lunch at the food court in the mall, we made our way to the AMC. Toward the end when Eddie Murphy expressed his dislike for the new cotton candy cereal in a company meeting, Marlee leaned over and whispered,

“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Now?”

“Yeah.”

“The movie’s almost over,” I told her.

“I can’t wait,” she said.

“Right now?”

“Daddy, please.”

So, with eight minutes left I took Marlee to the bathroom and waited outside. The clock ticked. I waited some more. By the time she came out, the theater was letting out. To Marlee’s dismay, we had missed the ending. She cried right there in the hallway and insisted we try to go back into the movie. I told her we couldn’t and next time to go poopy right after she ate. Six months later we saw “Daddy Day Care” on video all the way through.

 

*****

 

As Marlee and I traipsed in the heat down the service road next to the curb, I found it odd that no cars were driving by. The area was deserted. We walked and walked until I had to stop from exhaustion.

“This is crazy,” I told her.

“You wanted to do this,” she said.

“Really? I wanted to do what? I came by train, then taxi and…”

Gas Station #1  “You should have rented a car,” she barked.

“That’s enough. Let’s keep walking,” I told her.

She rolled her eyes and continued along the path of starvation. A few minutes later we stood on Brush Hollow Road staring at each other. At this point I thought about calling a taxi and having the driver drop us off at an eatery somewhere near Plainview. But then I had an idea. We crossed the street and wandered into a food mart at a gas station. Someone had been cooking a hot dog inside as we walked in. Footlong fumes floated up my nose and my mouth started to water and the sight of Drakes Cakes, Ring Dings, Twinkies was unbearable. I felt like ripping open a package and shoving a cupcake into my mouth. A man with a handlebar mustache behind the counter said that there were no places to eat anywhere in the area.

“Nothing?”

“No food.”

“What about an Olive Garden, Applebee’s, TGI…?”

The man shrugged. I shook my head in disgust. Then I peered across the street where we had come from and saw a sign in front of a building that read “Viana Hotel & Spa.” I pointed to the hotel and said to the man,

“What’s over there?”

“Ah, very nice place. You find restaurant in there.”

Our problem was solved.

 

*****

 

One year after the “Daddy Day Care” fiasco, Marlee wanted me to take her to see “Mean Girls.” She was almost nine and fascinated with female teen stars. Every other weekend, we’d spend our afternoon with Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan. After the movie we’d talk about the scenes we liked and the ones that were simply not funny. I’d become the classic teenage daughter-movie-Dad. On the weekends that I didn’t have Marlee I’d rattle off dialogue and scenes from these flicks to my friends who had kids Marlee’s age.

“You mean you haven’t seen Freaky Friday? Jamie Lee…let me say this, for her age, she can act. The part where she was playing guitar off to the side on stage…”

“And Jennifer Garner..”13 Going on 30”..great movie–the “Thriller” scene, hilarious…you have to see it!”

Then I’d call Marlee and say, “Remember the scene where…”                                                                                                                                                Mean Girls #1

The premiere of “Mean Girls” was packed. Ten minutes before the movie started I stood up to find that I was one of three dads in the entire theater. There was a mother or teenage girl in every other seat. Mothers, daughters, their friends, and friends of their friends just kept coming in and walking down the aisle. I looked around and said to myself, “This is insane.” When the previews came on, they were still filing in. There were teenage girls sitting in the aisle because there were no more seats! The movie, written by Tina Fey, was to become Lindsay Lohan’s most memorable role and one of the highest grossing films that year raking in $130MM on a budget of $17MM.

Two months later Marlee asked me if the movie had come out on video. Every week by phone she’d say, “Daddy, I want The Mean Girls.” I’d tell her there wasn’t a “the” in the title. It was just “Mean Girls.” She’d still whine, “I want The Mean Girls.” I’d been dating Jan, my girlfriend, for a few months at this point. After hanging up from me, she’d call Jan and say, “When’s my dad getting me The Mean Girls?” Jan would say, “When it comes out on video.” Then she’d repeat herself, “But I want The Mean Girls.” A month after that I was ready to smash the phone against the wall. Every conversation consisted of the words “Mean Girls.” I had almost wished we’d never gone to see it.  That September, “Mean Girls” hit video stores. We dashed to the old Barnes and Noble on 66th and Broadway, went down the escalator, to grab a copy.

Barnes and Noble #1    When Marlee saw the racks of DVD’s that day she was amazed. She asked me if she could get one more DVD. I went to the next section and scoured the CD’s while Marlee hunted for another movie. When I returned ten minutes later, she was splayed out on the tiled floor, 20 DVD’s around her.

“What the…?”

“I don’t know which one I want.”

“Is this necessary?! C’mon, pick all this up. People can’t even get by.”

“But Daddy, I want a movie.”

“I know you do, but you can be civilized and pick one out normally. Who does this?!”

“It’s not fair.”

“Oh my God. Look at this mess!”

Three months later, she owned, “Meet the Parents,” “Big Daddy,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,” and “New York Minute” on DVD. The manager at Barnes and Noble would nod and smile when he saw us every other week. Marlee’s second home was at the foot of the escalator, on the floor, with DVD’s scattered everywhere. She wouldn’t do it any other way. Her list of “DVD’s Daddy Will Buy Me” was over 50 and she carried it with her.

Viana Hotel #2

The cool atmosphere inside the Marco Polo Restaurant & Lounge in the Viana Hotel almost put me to sleep standing up. There was classical music playing overhead. Each dark green formica table had silverware on top rolled inside of burgundy cloth napkins and was set for dinner. The small dining area had a parquet floor and was well lit. Marlee and I looked at each other and shrugged. I walked over to the bartender and asked if the restaurant was for hotel guests only. Two minutes later a waitress came out and seated us. It was 4:30pm. We were the only diners there.

“Daddy how come we’re the only ones here?”

“It’s early, I guess.”

Marco Polo Restaurant #1 “Shouldn’t more people be here?”

“Listen, if I knew why this place was deserted on a Saturday afternoon I’d write an article…”

“You’re weird.”

“Your answer for everything. I’m weird.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s a hotel, in Westbury, Long Island. Big tourist spot!”

I finally got a giggle and a roll of the eyes out of Marlee. We sat and waited until our potato skins with sour cream appetizer came out and then, dug in.

 

*****

 

By the time Marlee entered junior high school, our weekends together dwindled as she wanted to spend more time on Long Island and had told Jan and me that she was bored in the city. An afternoon movie with Dad and dinner afterwards wasn’t enough. She’d call and tell me about the latest horror movie or romance flick she had gone to the night before with a group of girlfriends. Afterwards, they’d go to a diner and cause a ruckus laughing and cackling. Our theater escapades together faded into the Manhattan skyline. I was a bit disappointed but had known it was only a matter of time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jersey Girl #2

Marlee’s love of DVD’s though never diminished. She had boxes filled to the top in her room, some of them still in the wrapper. Our favorite movie, “Jersey Girl,” with Ben Affleck, always sat on top. This was the one Marlee watched the most and quoted from on a regular basis. We had seen the movie one night on HBO and Marlee loved it so much that I bought her the DVD. Shortly afterward, Marlee wanted me to quote the lines with her, particularly from a scene toward the end with Will Smith and Ben Affleck chatting in a media publicist’s waiting room. She’d call me up at random and say,

“Daddy, how far you love me?”

I’d answer, “All the way to that table.”

She’d reply, “No you don’t. You love me all the way to the moon, and back down to the dirt.”

We’d be hysterical and recite the dialogue from beginning to end.

Mermaid #1Out of the blue a few years later, Marlee said she wanted Jan and me to take her to see “Aquamarine” about a mermaid who comes to life and swims in circles for ninety minutes. The afternoon movies with Dad and giddy time with her girlfriends had now become an evening event with the family. After the movie I looked at Jan and shook my head with an expression of, “Are you kidding me?” After seeing “Marley and Me” on New Year’s Day and then “Little Fochers,” the family outings ended. We could never agree on a movie after that, and having painfully slogged through “Aquamarine” I wasn’t about to suffer through another disaster.

 

 

*****

 

After stuffing our faces with chocolate mousse and cheesecake, I walked over to the bartender and asked if he could call me a cab. The restaurant dimmed the lights as dinner guests began to arrive. After I paid the bill, Marlee and I left the restaurant and walked down a few steps into the small lobby where we had entered. Marlee sat on a black leather couch and I paced.

“When’s the taxi coming?”

“The guy just called. We’ll wait,” I told her.

“For how long?”

I shook my head. “What do you have an appointment?

She gave me a deep sigh.

 

*****

 

Marlee had texted me earlier that morning and wanted to see this movie as most of her friends had seen it already. My only method of transportation back then was the LIRR and a taxi. I wasn’t able to rent a car on such short notice. Then I thought, “A taxi to Westbury? Am I crazy?” Even if Marlee wanted to come into the city, she couldn’t. Her grandparents were out for the day. There wasn’t anyone to drive her to the Hicksville train station. I had no choice. We decided on a time and a theater. I took the subway down to Penn Station, then rode the train to Hicksville and hopped into a taxi. After picking Marlee up, we headed to Westbury. Marlee was excited as she was spending the day with Dad. Taxi pic #2

“It’s so cool that we’re taking a taxi to the movie,” she said to me as we headed down the Northern State.

“Tell that to my pocket,” I told her.

“Why are you so weird?” she asked me.

The driver turned into the Westbury Music Fair parking lot which was empty and Marlee and I looked at each other. Then I saw him peering at me through his rear view mirror. I leaned over and articulated to the driver “I need the UA Westbury 12 Cinema—you know, the movie theater.” As usual Marlee laughed under her breath as we made a right turn out of the lot.

 

*****

 

We stepped outside and got into the taxi when it pulled up in front of the Viana. Marlee gave Ms. Parker’s new flick a positive review as we gabbed about it all the way back to Plainview. I told Marlee that they should make a movie about my life and call it, “I Don’t Know How He Does It.” As usual she gave me the roll of the eyes as if to say, “There’s something wrong with you.” We said our goodbyes at the front door a few minutes later.

On the way back to the train station I thought about the day and how much fun we’d had. It had been our 3rd movie in the last three years. But, I didn’t care about the movie so much or the restaurant we had eaten in. It was all about spending quality time together. Once again, I had found a way to make our day in the dirt enjoyable. I’d consider that a happy ending.

Moon #1Marlee & MeDaddy pic #1

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A Bus, the Park, and Other Things

As I drove into Cunningham Park that humid, overcast morning in Jamaica Estates, Queens, back in June of ‘07, my mind became lost in a maze of confusion. The entrance was a long windy narrow road that veered off of Union Turnpike. Trees to my right, gravel, and abandoned dusty    Cunningham Park #5parking lots with boulders to my left. I lowered the driver’s window and a maple syrup scent trickled into the car followed by a smoky after-taste of acorns. There was more than one fork in the road and no sign of life anywhere.  I thought to myself, “Where is the Berkshire Hills lot?” At the end of one quiet lane I saw a Greyhound bus in a large parking lot, it’s driver leaning up against the side thumbing through a magazine. I got out of my Camry and walked up to him.

“Hi, I’m looking for the buses to Berkshire Hills Emanuel Camps,”

His demeanor was quiet and brief.  “Berkshire, who?” he asked.

“The camp buses, is this the right lot?” I questioned.

“There’s eight of ‘em. What lot you lookin’ for?”

I sighed and said, “That’s why I’m asking you.”

Greyhound bus“This is Greyhound, no camp,” he stated.

I shook my head, took a deep breath, and started to walk back to the car.

“North side, or south side?” the driver yelled out.

“What?!” I asked.

“What side of the park is the bus on?” he wanted to know.

I waved and kindly thanked him.

“It’s OK, I’ll find it…somehow,” I informed him.

One month earlier, on the drive back to Long Island, Marlee, my daughter, informed me that she was going to sleep-away camp. The day camp she’d been attending for the last few years had only accepted campers up until the summer after fifth grade. Marlee was nearing the end of her sixth grade year when she sprung the news to me on the Northern State Parkway. At first I found it hard to believe, but after several minutes, the conversation turned serious.

“Sleep-away camp?” I questioned.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Who’s idea was that? I asked.

“Mommy’s,” she told me.

Camp Apollo“Mommy’s? What happened to Camp Apollo?” I asked.

“I’m too old,” she told me.

“Too old?!” I exclaimed.

“Why do you keep repeating everything?” she asked.

I went silent for a few seconds then glared at her.

“I can’t go past 5th grade with them,” she explained.

“You’re kidding me? And you’re going to sleep-away camp?”

“I guess,” she answered.

“For how many weeks?” I asked.

“I don’t know, mommy found it,” she revealed.

Berkshire Hills #2Marlee’s mother had surfed the internet for weeks looking for a reputable camp without speaking to me. A successful on-going task she’d done on her own without any confrontation. In other words, she went behind my back and figured I’d never find out. I’d been separated just over four years and our and conversations were rare. When we did speak I would try to hold our verbal sparring matches to the bare minimum by hanging up in the middle. She’d either relentlessly text me back, or leave voice mail messages asking for an immediate response. The subject of sleep-away camp never came up in any of our bitter altercations. My mind went into a frenzy.

“How could she go off to sleep-away camp now? She doesn’t even know anyone who’s going. What if she gets homesick?”                                           Lake Owego pic #2

Then I remembered my summers at Lake Owego, the sleep-away camp my parents signed me up for in Milford, PA at the age of nine. What were my parents thinking back then? Why did they send me away to summer camp at such a young age?

I had attended for the entire month of July, four summers in a row, and learned to be independent and self-sufficient very early. By the time I had graduated high school, the transition to college in the mid-west was easy. Only then did I realize that my parents had made the right decision. The thing that concerned me was being stuck with a bill from a camp I knew nothing about.

Marlee’s grandmother phoned me a few days later and apologized for not speaking with me sooner. She told me the director had already been phoned, the fee had been negotiated based on several underlying factors, and the deposit had already been sent. Then she told me the details. The camp was in an obscure area of upstate New York in a town that bordered Great Barrington, MA, called Copake. Marlee would be going for seven weeks, and the bus would leave from Cunningham Park in Queens at the very end of June. She gave me the director’s name, phone number and email address in case I had questions. On the day of departure, she and her husband would drive Marlee to the Park, and I would have to meet them there if I wanted to see her off. Marlee and I spoke the night before.

“Are you coming?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?” I answered.

“No, really, are you?” she whined again.

“Yes,” I insisted.

“What time?” she wanted to know.

“What time, what?”

“What time will you be there?”

“The time that it says the buses will be arriving. It’s on their site,” I told her.

“Which is?”

“Listen, enough with the questions, when you get there, you’ll see me,”

“Fine,” she blurted out and then sighed into the receiver.

Cunningham Park  #4   I printed out mapquest’s most direct route and ventured into an area I was unfamiliar with. As I entered Queens, I rolled down the window at stop lights and asked other drivers if I was headed in the right direction. No one knew English, and the ones that did, shrugged their shoulders and had no idea what I was talking about. “Where am I?” I thought. I had a picture of this Park in my mind as some tiny field in a run-down neighborhood with a rusty swing set and damaged monkey bars.                                                                                                                                                                   Cinningham Park #6

Oddly enough, I stumbled upon an endless forest minutes later filled with miniature gardens, baseball fields, eateries, tennis courts, bicycle paths, and countless parking lots. I’d passed a sign at the entrance that said, “Welcome to Cunningham Park.” After weaving in and out of several narrow crossroads and entering the wrong lot more than once, I turned into a small unpaved area and saw kids in tank tops, sandals, and baseball hats, with their parents. “This has to be the right place,” I thought. Car doors had been opened and trunks popped. Duffle bags, suitcases, and large cardboard boxes were scattered everywhere. I sat and waited until the bus pulled in. Marlee and her grandparents came shortly after. Camp was officially in session. As the bus pulled away almost an hour later, I waved goodbye as she looked out the window, a sad but definitive moment. Visiting day was four weeks later. Jan, my girlfriend, Marlee, and I, spent the day in Great Barrington walking in and out of shops, and eating lunch at Friendly’s. Then we took a sneak peek at the campgrounds. It brought back memories.

One year later I had an idea.

“Hey Colin, you live in Jamaica Estates, right?” I asked him.

“Yeah, why?”

“I’m thinking of taking the subway to Cunningham Park this year rather than drive,” I told him.

“Really?”

Yeah, my car is rattling from all the wear and tear I’ve put on it lately. It doesn’t sound too good. Besides, I’ll save on gas, tolls, and mileage. My daughter leaves for camp in two weeks.”

“Good idea, it’s easy,” he said.

A colleague of mine lived a few blocks away from Cunningham Park and rode the subway every morning to downtown Manhattan. He said door to door it was 90 minutes. I’d be going the opposite way but thought, “Can’t be much different. That’s almost as long as it took me last year.” The bus was slated to leave at the same time, 7:30am, from the same beat-up parking lot. Colin had given me vague directions that I failed to write down, but simple enough that it would be a smooth commute. I’d leave myself enough time to catch a train from Herald Square at 34th St. that would take me directly to Jamaica (the last stop) and then I’d hop a bus to the Park. I tried to explain to Marlee that it was much easier for me to ride the subway than to worry about my car getting stuck, or other cars on the road. I could sit and read for an hour or listen to music. There would be less stress and no aggravation. The night before she left for camp we spoke.

“But Daddy, you said you’d would drive to…”

“When did I say that?” I asked her.

“You said,” she whined.

“I said what? I’m taking the subway and…”

“But why?”

“Why does it matter if I take the subway or drive?” I wanted to know.

“Because you won’t make it,”

“Why would you say that?”

“You won’t and…”

“Listen, I’ll be there, probably before you,” I told her.

“Ugh, bring gum and magazines then,” she nagged.

“What?”

“I want gum, and magazines so I can read on the bus,”

“Alright, fine,”

I had stepped onto the downtown subway in West Harlem the following morning at 6:05. My Harry Potter book magically opened up and I sunk my nose into the fine print. Within minutes I was riding the express train down to Times Square. Ten minutes after that I wandered through the Herald Square station looking for the F train uptown to Queens.

I thought, “I should have done this last year. I’m so ahead of schedule.”                                                                                                                                       F train #3

On the F train platform, I couldn’t remember where Colin had told me to stand. Bits and pieces of his endless drivel floated in my head. If only I had paid more attention to his random chatter. His voice echoed inside my subconscious.

“When you get to the F, make sure you’re in the last car and ride that to the end…When you get to the F, make sure you’re in the first car and ride it to the end…When you get to the F, make sure you ride it to the end…”

I started talking to myself. My thoughts became scattered and I wasn’t thinking clearly. I paced back and forth, waiting, not knowing, which direction this train would be coming from, or where to position myself on the platform. My cell phone clock read 6:25, almost an hour to get to the Park. The bus would drop me at the entrance and I’d walk and somehow find the lot. Several minutes later I calmly sat on an air-conditioned F train anticipating a smooth ride. I got on somewhere in the middle and glanced up at the electric subway stops near the top of the wall and counted “14” stops until Jamaica. It was 6:35.

“This is the train to Jamaica, the next stop is Parsons Boulevard.” I peeked at the time. It was 7:10 and I was still sitting on the F train with two stops to go. The anxiety built in my system. I felt a wave of stomach cramps but knew that once I was on the bus to the Park, they’d go away. At the Jamaica station, I darted up the closest stairwell to the outside, looked left, then right, and couldn’t locate the bus stop. I saw a small crowd of people gathered in one area and asked someone where the Q17 bus stopped. Someone smiled and said “here,” and I quietly let out a sigh of relief. When I glanced at the time it was 7:17.                                                         Stress Pic

The Q17 pulled up and before I dropped my metrocard into the slot I asked the bus driver,

“You go to Cunningham Park, right?”

He gave me a blank stare. The passengers weren’t paying attention as I asked again.

“Cunningham Park, right?”

“Union Turnpike, not Cunningham Park.” he nodded sideways.

Q17 #1I stumbled over my words. “My friend is, lives a few blocks away. He told me that you go, uh, that this bus goes right to Cunningham Park.” I explained.

He stared, said nothing, then shook his head “not this bus.”

I got off and waited on the sidewalk without a clue. Two minutes later the Q36 pulled up. The bus driver shook his head. When the second Q17 driver told me that no line goes directly to the Park, I felt nauseas. My chest clamped up and I couldn’t breathe. Mild dizziness set in and I began to panic. My cell phone rang at 7:24. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them.

“Daddy, are you almost here?”

“Hang on cookie, just a few more minutes,”

“The lady bus driver said she’s leaving in five minutes,”

“Oh God, tell her to wait, please.” I begged.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m here, in Queens,”

“Ugh, so, how much longer?”

“I’m not sure how I…”

As I was speaking with Marlee someone tapped me on the back. I turned and saw a short black-haired Asian woman in a tight black dress and high heels. She carried a handbag and pointed down the block.

“Excuse me?” I asked her.

“Daddy?” Marlee continued to talk.

I took the phone away from my ear for a second and questioned the Asian woman.

“What?”

“You need taxi?” she asked me.

Taxi pic“Taxi? Here?”

“Yes, down block, taxi,” and pointed to a place down the street.

“Marlee, let me call you back,” I told her.

“But Daddy, the bus is gonna leave,” she moaned.

“Hang on, tell her to please, hang on,”

I made a mad dash in the direction of this lady’s index finger and within a minute a half, found myself at a taxi stand telling a driver I needed to get to Cunningham Park in a hurry. “Two minutes,” he told me. He puttered onto 179th St. and within seconds was giving me a tour of some of School Bus with kidsthe most expensive homes in the nation. “That’s nice, that’s nice, please, faster.” He crept along as if he was a tour guide and I was his out-of-state tourist seeking approval. When we hit Union Turnpike it all looked familiar. He circled into the lot in the midst of a hundred parents and friends. The astonished look on their faces was priceless. I felt like a rock star boarding the bus before my 52 date east coast tour. I paid him, thanked him, and jumped out. I hopped onto the bus and noticed that every camper had boarded. The lady bus driver was perched in her comfort zone with the motor running. It felt as if the wind had been knocked from me as I traipsed down the aisle toward Marlee.

“I made it cookie. Do I ever let you down?” I said catching my breath.

“Hi Daddy!”

I opened the knapsack and handed her a package of chewing gum and three magazines.

I leaned down, gave her a hug, kissed her, and told her we’d see her in a few weeks on visiting day. I expected a round of applause but instead they all glared at me as if I was some famous celebrity. As soon as I stepped off the bus, it pulled out. “Another twist of fate,” I thought as I stood in a daze and watched as the Berkshire Hills carriage left that dirty lot. My cell phone clock read 7:40. Under my breath I stared into space and said, “Thank you.”

A few minutes later, my ex offered to drive me back to the F train. I opted against ten minutes of meaningless babble and wanted to walk and listen to my itouch. It was far, but in the moment, I didn’t care. As a Dad, I had crossed the finish line with pride and dignity, scored the winning goal, sunk the winning basket. With my headset in, the Cowsills played on.  I’ve never really considered myself a rock star. In Marlee’s mind that morning, I wasn’t anything else.

Cowsills....Marlee and Me #2Barrington Brewery

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Good Time

“Are you done?” I asked her from the kitchen.  “Marlee, answer me, are you done?”

Girl brushing hairMy daughter, Marlee stood in front of the full length mirror, brushing and flipping her hair from side to side, ignoring me.

“Let’s try this again,” I suggested. “How much longer do you need? We’re only going downtown. It looks fine.”

“You’re just saying that,” she answered.

I sighed and shook my head in disgust.

“I’m getting my shoes on because I need to go outside and get some air. It’s exhausting watching this.”

“No, don’t leave!” she exclaimed.

“You’ve been doodling with your hair for an hour,” I moaned. “It’s time to go.”

“What time does the boat leave?” she asked.Statue Cruises

“It’s not a boat, it’s a ferry, and it’s leaving any minute now.”

I looked at the clock.

“In fact, the last boat left five minutes ago. It looks like it’s another weekend with Hanna Montana.”

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“I’m kidding,” I told her.

“You’re strange,” she commented. “What if we miss the boat?”

“Then we’ll find something else to do,” I told her.

“You always say that and we end up doing nothing,” she whined, pinning her hair back into a ponytail.

September 2nd, 2007, the day before Labor Day. Marlee had returned from her first summer at sleepaway camp in upstate New York the previous week. I’d promised her we’d have fun this Labor Day weekend, her first full weekend back from the wilderness. Every other weekend during the year, we’d go through the same routine. On Friday afternoons, I’d fight the traffic to pick her up on Long Island and bring her to Manhattan. Then we’d have Chinese food delivered, and before long I’d be dozing off to Miley Cyrus singing “Best of Both Worlds,” and waking Hannah Montanaup to Kyle Massey belting out the “Cory in the House” theme song. The smell of lo mein and kung po chicken would reek so bad I’d have to open every window. She’d never notice that I’d cleaned up and aired out any residual odor. On Saturdays, she would sleep until 2 in the afternoon, get up and watch more Disney until it was time for me to take four aspirin with another take out order. Sundays were my opportunity to sneak in a Yankee game on the YES Network while she slept. Shortly after she’d wake up, I’d have to drive her home. Weekends with Marlee had turned into an endless sitcom marathon.

When she had told me that she wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty, I was surprised.

“Really?” I asked her that night on her cell phone.

110_F_35317477_rBXXvERFrfQoIylzsNOyuJaabv8S9WYq “My friend went with her Dad and she said it was really cool,” she answered.

“Which friend?” I remarked.

“You don’t know her,” she replied.

“Must you give me a difficult time?” I asked her. “Maybe I do know who she is. Did you ever think of that?”

“Not really,” she replied.

I told her that the journey would be quite far and she would need to wake up early and shower. We would have breakfast at a diner near the apartment, and then head off for Lady Liberty right after. It would be a full day of sightseeing and picture taking. We’d sniff in the salty air and wander in and out of souvenir shops.

Even though I’d been a resident of New York for years, I was determined to blend in as a tourist as though I’d never seen this Lady before. The last time I’d even had a glimpse of this landmark up close was on an elementary school field trip back in the 60’s. On the bus that day, my third grade friends kept calling her torch lady. I giggled with them and had no idea what was so great about a green lady with spikes in her hat. Four decades later, that green lady was still an American icon, a symbol of freedom, visited by millions of people from around the world. Some, like Marlee, would be seeing her in person for the first time.

12 O'clock noon  Marlee woke up at noon. I had tried ripping the covers off of her at ten. She rolled over. At 10:30, I hovered over her and sang “America the Beautiful.”  She whined and told me to “shut up.” At eleven, I poked her a few times. The end result was a slap on my leg. I shook my head and thought to myself in disappointment, “Another wasted sunny visitation weekend in New York.” At noon, from the kitchen, I had heard voices. Zach and Cody Martin and their Suite Life had entered our studio. Marlee was fixated. It was as if the remote had been under her pillow all night. She strolled into the kitchen at 12:30.

“Are we still going to the diner?” she asked.

“Diner?!” I yelled shaking my head. “Do you know what time it is?”

She sat down on our light purple suede kitchen chair and said nothing.

“If you’d still like to see the Statue, I suggest a shower, now!” I reprimanded.

She stared at me.

“Now!” I screamed.

“That’s not fair,” she groaned, slowly shuffling towards the bathroom.

“Sometimes, life isn’t fair,” I told her.

By 1:30, her light blue and green Junior Mints shirt had been pulled over her head. The hour long blow drying escapade was almost finished. The day’s itinerary was slowly drifting into another time zone.

“The last ferry leaves at 4:30,” I told her. “It’s 2 o’clock now. We may not make it.”

“How do you know?” she asked me.

“I just called and got a recording,” I told her.

“You promised Daddy,” she answered.

“If we leave now, we may have a chance, otherwise, we’ll have to do something else.” I explained.

She sighed and with reluctance said, “Fine.”

By the time we rode the elevator down to the lobby of the building it was 2:30. A warm breeze splashed our faces in the mid-day sun as we headed for the subway. I was wearing my cut-off New York Yankees t-shirt, jeans, and black Timberland Smart Comfort shoes. Marlee followed in her summer attire seeming anxious, yet annoyed that I’d quickly outpaced her.

Several hundred feet from the entrance to the escalator leading up to the subway platform at 125th St., I felt a rush of anxiety shoot through my system. What if we didn’t make it? What’s Marlee going to tell her friends? I could hear her on the phone. “Yeah, my Daddy really sucks. He said we would see the Statue of Liberty, but, I don’t know, we didn’t.”  Kids, especially girls, talk in code. They’ll know how to unravel that sentence. “Oh, Marlee, I feel so bad for you, poor girl.” The voices faded in and out of my subconscious.

I took a few deep breaths and turned around to see Marlee running towards me and yelling, “Daddy, why are you walking so fast?!”

“Do you want to see the Statue?!”  I snapped.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Well, walking like a snail is not going to get us there,” I told her.

With an angry glare she blurted out, “You’re mean.”

“I’m mean. Who told you to get up at noon?” I barked.

We dashed up the escalator, through the turnstile, and hurried up the stairs hoping we’d see the next train barreling its way down the tracks #1 train pic #1into our station. The platform was empty. No sight or sound of a subway. I paced while Marlee sat on a wooden bench. Sweat dripped off my forehead and into my eyebrows. My eyelashes itched. The inside of my mouth was dry. I took off my sunglasses, wiped my eyelids and sunglass lenses with my t-shirt, and paced some more. I’d become edgy. My cell phone clock read 2:45.

“When is it coming?” she wanted to know.

“If I knew I would tell you,” I answered.

“How do you not know?” she asked.

Father and daughterI stood in silence for a few seconds shaking my head.

“How about if I jump onto the tracks right now and let you know if I see anything?”  I asked her.

“You’re so weird,” she responded.

“Do you realize I’m trying to get us there in time, so we can see the Statue?” I ranted throwing my arms up in the air.

She rolled her eyes, cleared her throat, and in a low voice uttered, “Whatever.”

The #1 train slowly made its way down the tracks, rolling into our station at 2:55. We’d take the subway four stops to 96th St., then grab the #2, or #3 express train across the platform and ride it downtown five stops to Chambers St. There, we would get off, cross the platform, and hop back onto the #1 again, taking it one stop to Rector St. From there we’d make a beeline for Battery Park. In my estimation, that was the most direct route. We’d have just enough time to buy the tickets, grab something to eat, and catch the ferry.

Marlee took out her ipod earphones the minute we entered the chilly subway car, stuck them into her ears, and dove into her musical abyss. I reached into my Met Food plastic bag, which housed my travel items, and pulled out Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a book I’d been reading for some time.

96th St At 96th St., an announcement came over the loudspeaker.

“Ladies and gentlemen, due to construction, the #2, and #3 trains will be making all local stops down to 14th St. There are no express trains running today.”

It was 3:10. We’d have to sit on this #1 train the entire time. I closed the book, never said a word, and hoped for the best. Marlee glanced at me mouthing the words to a song. At 42nd St., the same pre-recorded voice spoke again.

“Ladies and Gentleman, we are being held momentarily because of train traffic up ahead. Please be patient.”

We sat and waited. The subway doors remained open. We sat and waited some more. I put my hands in my face, slid my fingers through my hair, shook my head and thought, “C’mon subway, move, please. I’ve got a ferry to catch.”  Harry Potter slid back into its bag. The time, 3:30.

Marlee took out one earphone and asked, “How much longer?”

“A few more stops,” I said nodding.

When we finally hit the Rector St. station I was relieved. We darted up the stairs, crossed Trinity St. and headed over to Broadway. Marlee trailed behind.

“C’mon, let’s go!”  I hollered down to her.

“What’s wrong with you?!  Why are you hurrying like this?” she yelled out.

“It’s almost 4 o’clock!” I shouted.

“So,” she replied.

“So?” I hammered. “Maybe we should just go back home. I’ve had enough of this day,” I told her.

“No, I want the Statue,” she answered.

We entered Battery Park and in a somewhat calm disposition, I hunted for signs that read “Statue of Liberty.” Different crowds had gathered for certain events. It was all unknown territory for me. I had stopped and asked a few people where the ferry departed from. Some stared at me and shrugged. Others shook their heads. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.  Where was the ticket booth and line for the Statue of Battery Park #2Liberty?”  My eyes began to water creating a film over my contact lenses and my vision became distorted. I had to blink a few times and calm my nerves. Deeper into the park I saw a sign that read, “Tickets for Statue of Liberty Cruises” with an arrow. We hurried to the ticket booth. The line was wrapped around the building several times. Hundreds of people were waiting for tickets. At 4:10 we quickly entered the line. The minutes ticked. We stood, stared ahead, and waited in the humidity. The line didn’t move. More time passed. Then a security guard dressed in a light blue button down shirt, black pants, and a hat addressed the crowd.

“The last ferry out leaves the dock in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, folks, last ferry out. A few tickets remain. Those waiting will have to come back another day.”

I glanced over at Marlee. She had tears running down her face. Then she hiccupped.

“Marlee, what happened?!” I asked her.

“I wanted, (hiccup) to see (hiccup) the Statue. You promised, (hiccup)” she cried.

I squatted down and looked at her in the face and whispered, “Listen, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just a Statue. It’ll always be here. Let’s get up real early tomorrow and come back. We tried, Cookie. I did the best I could.”

I felt terrible. Her tears and hiccups were now uncontrollable.

“But, I wanted (hiccup) to see the Statue (hiccup) today, Daddy,” she wept.

“So did I, Cookie, so did I,” I said.

Battery Park #4 It was 4:15PM. The line hadn’t moved. Marlee was quietly hysterical. We would have to head for home shortly. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see a young, middle-aged blonde woman standing next to me with her daughter.

In a southern accent she asked me, “Are you here with your daughter?”

“Yes, why?”

“We’ve got two tickets to see the Statue, but, unfortunately we can’t go. Would you like to buy mine?”

People on the line stared at us. I looked around and made sure this wasn’t some television stunt. “Are you serious?” I questioned.

“The tickets are good. We purchased them earlier today. We can’t go due to our schedule. You can just give me face value,” she said.

I gave her $40. She handed me the tickets. I thanked her. A sobbing Marlee tried to smile. In seconds, the woman and her daughter were gone. What had happened? It was surreal. The time, 4:20.  We dashed from the ticket line, hopped onto the ferry line, and looked behind us. No one. We were the last passengers to board. The ferry pulled out promptly at 4:30. We had managed the impossible. Marlee saw the Statue for the first time and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a memorable day.

On the way to Long Island the following day, Marlee reached down from her passenger seat, unzipped her duffle bag, and pulled out the framed picture of her and me standing in front of a gray metal fence. Behind us, the Statue of Liberty, beneath a light blue clouded sky. We’re20130208_175856 both smiling for the camera. She clutched the picture.

“Daddy?” she asked.

“Yeah, Cookie?

“You did it. We saw the Statue. It was so great. I had so much fun,” she smiled.

“I did too,” I told her.

“I love you Daddy,” she said.

“Love you too, Cookie,” I mentioned.

With that, we cranked up our favorite Radio Disney song, and in unison we sang. “It’s the best of both worlds, chill it out take it slow, then you’ll rock out the show…”

After dropping Marlee off, I replayed that tap on my shoulder in my mind over and over. It occurred to me what an amazing daughter I have. Once we had entered the subway, she never complained, asked me about the time, or whether or not we’d make it on that ferry. Deep down she knew. She had absolute faith that dear ol’ Dad would come through. Whether it was by some twist of fate or an act of God, we were destined to get onto the ferry that day and I was the hero of a 12-year-old girl. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

I Heard You the First Time

“I want the RAZR,” she whined.

“The what?” I asked her.

“The RAZR,” she said, determined to grab my attention.

For three months, phone conversations with my daughter, Marlee, had centered around a brand new cell phone I knew nothing about. It had become tiresome. Each time I changed the subject she managed to reel me back in.

Girl on phone #5 “Daddy?” she moaned.

“Huh?” I answered.

“Are you listening?” she asked.

“Yeah, a phone, I know,” I told her.

“No, the RAZR!” she barked.

“I heard you the first time,” I explained.

“Well?” she wanted to know.

“We’ll look into it,” I said, trying to skirt the issue.

“Ugh,” she sighed, and then hung up.

Seven months earlier, in December of 2005, I decided it was time for Marlee to have her own cell phone. No one knew my idea except for me. I had been speaking with Marlee on her mother’s cell phone about a homework assignment one night when my ex-wife abruptly grabbed the phone from my daughter’s hand. I was rudely told that my three minute time limit had elapsed. There was no compromising or reasoning. Each attempt was an open and shut case.

“She has homework!” my ex-wife shouted.

“That’s why we’re on the phone,” I told her.

“It’s my phone! You’ve been on long enough!” she yelled.

“Two and a half minutes is enough?” I asked.

“I’ll help her with the rest,” she screamed.

“We were in the middle of–”

Click. Dead silence. She had hung up.

I’d say to myself, “All I needed was another two minutes.” Thoughts went through my mind. What if she’s crying? How will she finish the assignment? At the age of ten, I felt Marlee was ready to own her own phone, to take on responsibility, and then we’d be able to chat as long as we wanted, with no interference.

The first weekend in January of 2006, we went phone shopping. Marlee was excited. She had never owned anything.  I had lectured her before walking into the store that this phone was to be used sparingly. I didn’t want to see unnecessary calls or texts appear on the bill. The two hour T-Mobile #1browse-around session at the T-Mobile outlet on 89th and Broadway ended with a successful purchase. Marlee had selected the newest Samsung,Samsung #2 chosen a phone number, and picked out a case. No one on Long Island would know until minutes after I had dropped her off. As expected, that Sunday night, I got an earful.

“Are you crazy?!” my ex-wife hollered.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“What do you mean, who is this? A ten-year-old with a cell phone!?” she clamored.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I told her.

“I’m taking it back tomorrow,” she said angrily.

“That’s fine, take it back. Good luck. It’s in my name,” I explained.

“She doesn’t need one. None of her friends have a phone!” she shouted.

“My three minute time limit with you has expired,” I stated.

She continued to yap. I pressed “end” cutting her off, and sat in silence for a minute. I shook my head and wondered if Marlee’s phone would be safe in that environment. Her friends might snatch it away, giggle, talk, and text for hours, and I’d get stuck with a thousand dollar phone bill. My imagination ran wild. I was flushed with anxiety, worrying that her mother might use the phone to save on her peak minutes. What had I done? Had I make the right decision? A week later, Marlee called and told me she loved the phone.

“Be careful of the minutes,” I warned.

“I know,” she said.

“Just remember, during the week, the shorter the conversation, the better,” I nervously told her.

“Then why did you get me the phone?” she asked.

“So I can talk to you without a chaotic interruption,” I answered.

“Whatever,” she replied.

In the weeks that followed, her mother calmed down. Marlee’s grandmother was also thankful that I had purchased the extra cell phone. They were able to reach her anywhere. I felt relief knowing that at any time, I could text or ring Marlee’s phone and either leave a voice mail message or speak with her.

Six months after she had the phone, our dialogue centered on a cell phone that a friend of hers had at school.

“You’ve only had your phone for six months,” I told her.

“But, the RAZR is so cool,” she said.

“Six months,” I repeated.

“So,” she retorted.

“So? You think you’re going to change phones every six months?” I asked her.

“No, but I want the RAZR,” she groaned.

“And I’d like a Mercedes,” I mentioned.

“You’re weird,” she said.

“You’ll need to keep your phone two years…”

“Two years!” she exclaimed cutting me off. “That’s not fair.”

One by one, her school friends started showing off their cell phones. Parents were buying their daughters the newest and most expensive cell phones on the market. They were different shapes, sizes, colors. After two months, Marlee’s Samsung was considered outdated.

She’d say, “My friend’s Mom bought her a Blackberry and I have this crap phone.”

Another time she’d say, “My other friend has a Sidekick. She’s so lucky.”

Some of her friends had rock-band ringtones. Others had flip phones. One girl even had a keyboard that popped out. Marlee’s phone was plain and simple. That’s what she had wanted on that January afternoon.  A half a year later, I was now the rotten Dad for not listening. In my eyes, I was the one who had recently meandered for two hours in a T-Mobile store while his daughter tried out every phone. I had signed up for unlimited texting, even bought her a nice rubber case. Now, my daughter believed she was the “unlucky one with a crap phone seeking the next best designer ring tone.”  By the time she started sixth grade, her phone, in her opinion, had become an antique.

With the holidays approaching, Marlee’s constant nagging was unbearable. I had promised her I’d speak with T-Mobile about the cost of breaking the two year contract. She got her wish. On a frigid Saturday afternoon in late December of 2006, Marlee and I rode the subway down Motorola RAZR #1to 86th & Broadway. We wandered into the T-Mobile store three blocks north to 89th. There she picked out her second cell phone, a hot pink Motorola RAZR, the thin flip phone she had belly-ached about for half the year. When we got home she called everyone bursting with excitement. The old Samsung had found a new home, the dresser drawer.

From the start, Marlee managed her new phones as if she owned her own business. She knew where her phone was at all times. It was in her coat pocket in cold weather, and in her front pants pocket in warmer weather. When she visited, the charger was stashed in the small zippered compartment of her suitcase. It traveled with her everywhere. The three month campaign for the Motorola RAZR was over. She finally received her dream phone. I was smugly satisfied at how smoothly it had all worked out.

On a Sunday morning in Manhattan, in April of 2008, 16 months after I had bought her the RAZR, she walked into the kitchen and proceeded to aggravate me.

“When can I get a new phone?” she asked.

“What?!”  I yelled.

“A new phone,” she said again.

“Where did that come from? What’s wrong with your phone?” I wanted to know.

“Nothing,” she told me.

“So, why do you need a new phone?” I asked.

She sat on our light purple suede kitchen chair and said nothing.

“The contract is up in December. We’ll look then,” I explained.

“Ugh. That long?” she whined.

“You just got this phone,” I told her.

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“Does it ever end?” I questioned raising my arms in the air.

“All my friends have new phones,” she told me.

“Really. Good for them,” I ranted.

Texting“You stink,” she mumbled under her breath.

“What was that?” I hammered.

She sighed, then said softly, “It’s not fair.” Then, she got up, turned the television on, sulked on the couch, and waited until it was time to leave for Long Island. I shook my head and imagined the barrage of comments and questions being bounced around at the lunch table in school. “Oh Marlee, your phone is so old.” “Marlee, tell your Dad to get you a phone that has the internet. How do have one with no internet?”  “Marlee, the RAZR is so “yesterday.”

We left the apartment at 3:30 that April afternoon.

I had stopped driving back and forth to Long Island in October of 2007. After four and a half years of highway exhaustion, I had ditched the wheels for the rail. I’d leave work early on Fridays, catch a late afternoon train for Long Island. A family member would drive Marlee to the Hicksville station to meet me, then we’d take the train back to Penn Station. On Sundays, we’d hop on the LIRR to Hicksville at 4:30. At Hicksville, we’d taxi to the house, I’d drop Marlee off, and head back home. It gave me time to read, relax, and not worry about congested roads, or an unexpected detour. It was our routine.

Under a pale gray sky, I wheeled her black suitcase down Broadway toward the subway station while she was in tow. It was a warm but overcast afternoon. She was still angry from our conversation. I handed her a metrocard on the escalator in silence. When we reached the top, I faintly heard the subway rolling into the station.

“It’s here! Let’s go!” I shouted, making a mad dash for the turnstile.

“Wait!” she yelled after me.

“C’mon,” I motioned with my arm. “I’d like to catch this one.”

TurnstilesShe swiped her card at the turnstile and went through. I rolled the suitcase underneath the metal bar, she grabbed the handle. The sound of the subway was louder. She handed me the suitcase on the other side as I stuffed both metrocards inside my back pocket. The station shook, the subway screeched.

“Wait!” she said again.

“What now?” I asked her.

“I need to tie my shoe,” she told me.

“C’mon!” I barked.

She rushed over to a wooden bench next to the turnstile while I waited. People were darting through the metal gate as if it was the last subway into mid-town for the day. Men were shouting, tripping. Women were running. I lifted the suitcase after Marlee finished and said, “Quick! It’s gonna leave!” We galloped up the stairs. The doors closed as we entered out of breath.

Thirty seconds after the subway began moving I looked at Marlee. She was touching the outside of her jacket. She patted the pockets.

“Oh no, oh no,” she uttered.

“What happened?” I asked her.

“My phone, oh no,” she blurted.

“Your phone?” I questioned.

“It’s not in my pocket. Oh God, no,” she nervously reacted.

“You sure you don’t have it?” I snapped.

“I don’t!” she cried. “I think I left it on the bench.”

“You’re kidding me,” I told her.

“Daddy, no, no, oh no,” she stammered.

“Calm down. We’ll get off at 116th and go back. That’s all we can do,” I mentioned.

Marlee was still trying to catch her breath. She looked as if she’d seen a ghost.

We got off and hopped back onto the uptown train. At 125th, we raced down the stairs and looked. Nothing. We scanned the floor. Nothing. We hunted high and low, even searching on the opposite stairwell. Nothing. I asked a subway employee. Nothing. By this point, Marlee was hysterical. I stood at the bottom of the stairwell with the suitcase feeling as though I’d been hit by a car. I was drained. The hot pink Motorola RAZR was gone, stolen. Marlee sat on the wooden bench, nose running, tears streaming. I tried to settle her down.

“It’s OK,” I told her. “We’ll get you another phone.”

“But, (hiccup) Daddy, I (hiccup) want my phone,” she wept.

“I know you do. It’s gone, Cookie,” I explained.

“No, (hiccup) Daddy, my phone (hiccup), no,” she sobbed. “I (hiccup) put it down (hiccup) to tie my shoe,” she told me.

“Listen, let’s get to Long island,” I quietly said. “We’ll come up with a plan.”

She cried for twenty minutes on the subway down to Penn Station. On the LIRR, I immediately phoned T-Mobile and temporarily canceledLIRR picture the service. Marlee wailed uncontrollably for forty five minutes. She kept saying that she missed her phone. The conductor walked toward our seat with a concerned look. I told him what had happened. He felt terrible.LIRR pic #3

“Daddy?” (hiccup) she bawled.

“What, Cookie?” I asked her.

“I’m (hiccup) sorry I said you stink before,”(hiccup) she cried.

I put my arm around her. “It’s OK. I’ve been known to stink,” I nodded.

She tried to crack a smile through her tears. It was a traumatic day.

The following day after school, her grandmother took her to T-Mobile. Service was temporarily restored on her old Samsung phone. On her visit two weeks later, we found out that Motorola had discontinued that particular RAZR. She reluctantly ended up with a new Samsung. It was a tough incident for a 12-year-old and her Dad to live through.

December, 2010, 16 months ago. I picked up Marlee on a Saturday morning on Long Island. We rode the LIRR into Penn Station. On the subway uptown, I told her I needed to stop into the store to pay a cell phone bill.

“How boring,” she said sitting there.

“Boring?” I questioned.

“Do you have to pay the bill today?” she asked.

“They’re going to shut the service off if I don’t,” I told her.

“You didn’t pay it?” she moaned.

She rolled her eyes.

“Is it too much for you to come with me?” I wanted to know.

“I want to do something,” she moaned.

“You just got here!” I firmly stated.

“So,” she said.

“So? It’ll take less than a minute,” I told her. “Then we’ll jog home with the suitcase.”

“You’re so weird,” she smirked.

T-Mobile #2We got off the subway, traipsed up the stairs, and walked into the store. The salesman approached me and asked if I needed assistance. I told him that my daughter was in need of a new cell phone. Marlee looked at me.

“What?!” she exclaimed.

“There’s no bill,” I chuckled.

“You’re kidding?!” she said flustered with excitement.

“Go pick out that Blackberry Bold you’ve been whining about for months,” I told her.

“Daddy, this is so great!” she remarked with joy.

“Just don’t leave it anywhere this time,” I jokingly stated.

She gave me a hug and said, “I love you Daddy.”

We laughed all the way to the uptown subway. It was the start of a perfect weekend.

Talkin’ To the Sun

The subway car stood still. The doors opened. I kept reading. My daughter Marlee, in a trance from a song on her iPod, poked me.

“Stand clear of the closing doors.”                                                              

Ding. The doors closed. Screech.

“Will you cut it out?” I hollered.

Marlee was becoming annoying.

“Is it too much to ask to sit there and listen to music while I read?” I asked her.

“You’re always reading,” she said.

“Well, you’re always listening,” I told her.

With that, my nose went back into the fine print. We’d been sitting on the uptown #2 train in Manhattan for some time.

I had signed Marlee up for acting classes 18 months earlier. I logged on to the internet one afternoon and found a high profile actors Studio in mid-town offering a two hour session on Saturday mornings. Marlee had been selected in 4th grade for the ensemble cast of “Tommy” by the Who, the 2005 Plainview-Old Bethpage High School production. I sat in shock through the play. Marlee was singing center stage. Too many thoughts ran through my head. “Maybe this is her calling.” After four sessions at the studio, Marlee decided to sleep-in on Saturdays. She hated this class that much. She’d never get up from our brown, soft-cushioned couch.

“Marlee get up, time for acting.”

Nothing.

“Marlee, it’s enough, the fake snoring. I see you smiling.”

Nothing.

“Now you’ve done it,” I would yell.

Out of the clear blue, Bob Marley and the Wailers would make one last attempt.

“Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight.”

Marlee would moan, cackle, sniffle, and with reluctance, sit up. Then she’d make some lame excuse like she had a sore throat, or a stomach ache. Jan, my girlfriend, would eventually pull the CD out and shut everything off.

I thought to myself, “There has to be a school that will teach her the essentials of acting.”

I was seeking a professional who would help enhance her self-esteem, work with her one on one, not just have her read from a piece of paper in a room with fifty other kids. It was worth another try. With a click of luck several months later, we’d landed in the studios of Peggy Lewis and Biz Kids down at Pier 40. It would be a full day of acting, and singing; almost six hours each Saturday. The first time I took Marlee it was a 90 degree day. We had hopped onto the #1 local train from 125th St. and Broadway on the west side of Manhattan, and rode down to the Houston St. stop. Then, we walked, and walked, and walked some more. We looked around and walked again. My feet were sore. The t-shirt I was wearing was soaked. My mouth was dry. I called them and said I was lost. They directed me in detail. It didn’t help. Meanwhile the temperature had risen three degrees. I was out of steam. Were they trying to drive me mad? Where was this place? Was it a hoax? Marlee wanted to go home. She was uncomfortable. Her legs were like wet noodles. We sat on a bench somewhere and took a breather.

“Daddy, what are we going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know. How can we be lost? It’s around here. I can taste it.” I answered.

With one last gust of fortitude left in me, I took a deep breath, looked up to the sun, licked my index finger, and raised it high in the air. I thought to myself, “C’mon sunshine, take me to Biz Kids, please.”

“This way,” I told her.

“How do you know?” she asked.

“Earthling, have I ever let you down?”

“You’re weird,” she answered.

The final limp to the steel door was momentous. From the time the subway doors had opened at the Houston St. station, it had taken 45 minutes to find. Biz Kids was stuffed down a narrow causeway by a kayak rental. That was a brutal Saturday morning. Nevertheless, she loved it and looked forward to going every other week.

On this October afternoon, we were on our way back home from a day at Biz Kids. We had gotten on the #2, the express train, at Houston Street which was making all local stops up to 96th St. because of construction. The #1 local train was not running uptown at that station that day. We would need to get off at 96th St. and wait for the #1 train that would take us to 125th St. and Broadway. If not, the #2 would continue, but veer off, making stops in central Harlem. It was cold. I wore my black leather jacket. Marlee had on a windbreaker.

“I told you to put on something heavier this morning,” I told her.

“I wasn’t cold,” she said.

“Oh, I see, you weren’t cold. You’re lucky it’s not a long walk to the subway.”

At 96th St., she poked me. I wasn’t paying attention. I was eye deep into Chapter 5. When I looked up we were at 116th St. and Central Park North.

“Oh crap!” I yelled out.

“What? What happened?” she cried.

“God damn it! This time, you were right and I messed up. We’re going to have to get off at the next stop. It’s 125th St. but nowhere near my apartment.

“Why?”

“Why. Because we should have gotten off at 96th St., that’s why. I was daydreaming, or reading, or something. It’s no big deal. We can just go across and get the subway going downtown or grab a bus. Earthling, I will lead you home, because I am Spartacus.”

“You are really weird,” she smiled.

We walked up the stairs and it hit us like bricks–rain, falling from the sky, in buckets.

“Ho-lee shit,” I mumbled to myself.

“Oh my God!” Marlee shouted.

“Now what?” I asked her.

We looked at each other dumbfounded. Never thinking that it would rain, I never bothered to bring an umbrella or a hat. It smelled like rain-induced smoke, the kind you see shooting up from sewer plates, almost like exhaust from a car. I glanced around from the middle of the stairwell and had no idea where I was. The rain was thrashing down so hard I couldn’t see anything. Dusk was setting in which made it even more difficult. I’d only been living in the city for less than two years and had never been in this neck of the woods. Which way was Amsterdam Avenue? Where did we have to stand to catch a cross-town bus? Where was the downtown subway? My train of thought had vanished. My sense of direction, gone. We stood for another minute and then I saw a heavy-set black man at the top of the stairwell with a doorman umbrella.

“Excuse me, yeah, hi, which way to Amsterdam?” I asked him.

“Fella, you got a long walk. It’s that way.” he pointed.

“Damn!” I exclaimed.

“You got an umbrella?” he asked.

“I don’t,” I told him.

He shook his head and wished me luck. I told Marlee that Amsterdam couldn’t be that far. We’d walk.

“But it’s pouring, and I’m cold,” she stated.

“Great, now you’re cold. Well, five minutes we’ll be home, I promise.” I told her.

“You said you were Spartacus, Daddy,” she said.

“I did, and I am. Trust me on this.”

  In the midst of a late afternoon torrential downpour we trudged across 125th street to the west side of Harlem. The mighty wind gusted. Cars honked. Bright headlights flickered. Windshield wipers swayed. We passed men and women with umbrellas. Some were inside out, others torn to shreds. Store owners were closing up and running full speed to shelter. The rain didn’t let up. I kept looking at Marlee.

“You OK?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she answered back.

I held her hand as we crossed Lenox. Water had seeped into my jacket, shirt, and pants. My shoes were flooded. My hair was drenched. My fingers and toes were numb from the cold. Marlee never said anything. We kept walking.

“Just think of the sun,” I told her. “Pretend the heat is beating down on us.”

“Can we tell the sun to keep us warm?” she questioned.

“Yes, you can tell the sun anything you want,” I told her. “Just don’t tell anyone I got us lost.”

Water had crawled into my eyes. I had to blink a few times to make sure my contacts were still there. After we crossed 7th Avenue, I knew we were in the home stretch. It was so cold, Marlee’s hands were turning blue. I had to take a few deep breaths to make sure my body parts were functioning. On and on we walked as the downpour got worse. We hit Amsterdam and I knew it was only a matter of minutes before we would be inside. It had been a memorable twenty-five minute excursion.

When Jan opened the door to our apartment she stood there. Her jaw dropped. We were soaked. The two of us dripped all over the hallway. There were two puddles right outside the door. In a few seconds I had told her what had happened. We immediately took off our jackets, rung them out, and started to thaw. Jan wrapped us in blankets. We sat in the apartment telling her the story.

“My Dad got us lost,” Marlee told Jan.

“Thanks, very much appreciated,” I told her.

“My Dad said he was Spartacus and he’d get us home,” she told Jan.

“Did I?” I asked her.

With a towel on her head, her hand in mittens, and oversized wool socks on her feet, she smiled at me and said, “I had fun, Daddy. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,Earthling,” I winked. “Now, how about some hot chocolate? Who’s with me?”