Yesterday I received a package that was not in sync with my on-again, off-again bonanza of online shopping escapades.
“What the heck is that?” I asked Sun, our building’s valet, as she carried over a small cube-shaped box that had the words “PRO-TEC” printed in big words all over the sides. I was about to ask her to double check the addressee before she slid the parcel over and asked me to sign for an apartment number that indeed confirmed the PRO-TEC was mine.
What the hell is PRO-TEC?
Sure enough, on the bottom of the box, I ultimately found the mailing address. It was written in the telltale block script of my father, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he had sent. It wasn’t heavy, but applying what I have learned from years of Christmas gift-wrapping deception, there was no telling what might be waiting inside. It is not beneath my family to toss bricks, stones or flimsy rectangles of lint into a package, just because they feel like it’s a good idea.
As soon as I got to my apartment, I grabbed a knife and did some minor surgery to liberate the cardboard seams. Dad always seals things up with about six layers of the best quality masking tape available. Inside, beyond the crumpled newspaper, I fished out two innocent-looking bags.
“Ah. Dad.” was all I could think as I set the transparent containers on my writing table and took in the scene. Immediately, my brain had interpreted the painstaking sight as a static display of everything that my father represented. It was here that I stopped and reached for my camera, because I figured that this would be good.
So come follow along with me as I break this delivery down, CSI-style:
First off, consider the Ziploc bags. Dad loves Ziploc bags. In our house, he turns to them with the same spiritual devotion as he does butter, Velveeta, and Cran-Raspberry juice. You don’t believe me? Look back at this.
In the category of inedible household staples, Ziploc bags are actually outnumbered by paper towels. Bounty is the duct tape of Dad’s house, and its universal utility means that we have a seemingly endless supply at our fingertips. My old black and white darkroom in the cellar is now a storage unit for paper towels and fireworks (shh, don’t tell). But Dad uses them! For everything. You need to wipe grease off that slice of rustic pepperoni pizza from Papa Gino’s? Well, chances are you only need swivel your head a few degrees before you’ll zero in on a roll sitting just beyond arm’s reach. You need to wash a window or a mirror? Well, if that’s the case, you’re probably not at my dad’s house…but I digress. The Paper Towel Situation once got so bad that Dad screwed an additional holder in the wall next to his chair in the living room so that he would have easy access whenever he needed to wipe his eyes, blow his nose, or use something to cradle his slice of fresh baked bread.
You’ll be shocked to learn that it was I who removed the bonus paper towel holder once while home on leave. I just couldn’t allow his creeping bachelor pad get to that state of savagery. It’s the living room, for crying out loud.
And so as it turns out, you can also use paper towels to wrap up gifts when you are thoughtful enough to buy something for a loved one and take it down to the post office. At least that’s what I think this is– a gift intended for one of his rotten kids.
Now at this stage, I couldn’t help but grin. But not for the reason you might expect. Much like the child who thinks it most awesome to roll down the front yard hill in a massive empty cardboard box that once contained a new refrigerator, here I was loving the newspaper instead of the gift. More scraps from home! And in this case, it’s a flyer from one of my favorite stores of useful crap, the Ocean State Job Lot. I am sure that Dad simply grabbed the closest paper product in reach that wasn’t a paper towel, but his coincidental choice made my day.
The correspondence is almost always the best part of any item sent my way. Much like the school notes that he used to compose, ones that I would slide towards the teacher while fearing that I’d be accused of forgery, they include phonetic spellings of words that are pronounced by an old school Bostonian (in this case, my dad). This is how all of my aunts and uncles talk, and I grew up thinking nothing of the fact that we played out in the yahd or had to get in the cah. My schoolteachers, meanwhile, never once questioned those notes that seemed to be crafted by a five-year-old kid writing with his toes.
Once I opened everything up, I gave Dad a call to thank him for the gift. At first I got the typical, “What did I send you?” before I pushed him to think about it for a moment or two. I told him about how I had no idea what had come in the mail for me, because I certainly wasn’t a regular online consumer of PRO-TEC.
“What is PRO-TEC?” I asked him, again more intrigued by the packaging than the actual gift.
“Caulking!” he told me, as if I should have known this from the outset. I probably should have.
“You buy caulking online?” I asked him, still confused about the box.
“No I don’t buy caulking online, goddmammit!” he said, taking the Lord’s name in trademark vain for emphasis and amusement, “I got it at Falmouth Lumber!” (Lumbah, for those of you who don’t hear him speaking these words). Much like the paper towels, he bought it in bulk. Of course.
“Ah.” I say, as we roll on to other subjects before hanging up. Everything makes sense again.
While Dad has his idiosyncrasies when it comes to sending out care packages, don’t for one second believe that I am an ungrateful, quirkless recipient.
For better or for worse, I really do believe that our elders wield a delicate kind of cosmic power when it comes to asserting their influence over the younger generation. All of those things that I poke Dad for doing? Well I can tell you that random traces of his comportment have been passed on to his children. Me? I carry the torch when it comes to stealing hotel stationary. I can’t help it, and I always appreciate good paper. Today’s shopping list, scribbled unintelligibly and posted above for your entertainment, is perfect evidence of this habit.
And I should probably also tell you that I did save the paper towel packaging, as well as the Ziploc bags. Both can be reused at least one more time. While I may not be a member of the overstocking Depression-era generation, I did live in Africa. This means that in my own life I have cultivated a healthy appreciation for using and reusing things until they can do no more. I am well on my traveling down the road to Cuckoo Town.
So that was my Saturday mail call. So much more than an intricately carved little Easter Egg (I actually have no idea what it is, and kind of forgot to ask Dad in our phone conversation).
Rest well, Dad. The candle that you sent me may one day be broken by military movers, but I can assure you that when I grow old(er) and (more) crotchety, I too will have my own plastic paper towel holder from Stop & Shop tacked up just next to my writing table. It’s the little things that we manage to pass on that make life so goddamn interesting.
That and the foul language we manage to pick up from our parents.