Thursday, December 31, 2009

Me? An unknown daddy?

I was showering Wednesday evening when my wife walked into the bathroom, slapped down the toilet lid, and took a seat with the determination of an interrogator. “We have to talk,” she said in a voice that would’ve made a nun shiver.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“That all depends on what you have to say.”

Her father had just called. A woman who hadn’t given her name had called him because she was trying to track me down. “She thinks you may be her father,” my wife explained. “So you’re going to call her.”

Drying off provided an opportunity for what I’ll delicately call a highlights film of my premarital past. One way or another I would’ve known if a co-star had become a mother within the limits of Surprise Daughter time. There was no way I had an unknown child.

And in any case, why did someone looking for me call my father-in-law? How could they have drawn a connection between me and him? And why not just get in touch with me? It’s not as if it’s tough to find my e-mail address, given how much I blog, use social media and write bylined stories for online media. Many of those postings include my e-mail address.

No, I thought, this is fishy. This has to be some sort of scam.

So I called the woman, who seemed abashed, but not that much. She explained that she was trying to find her father, and all she knew about him was his name. She’d made a list of every Peter Romeo she could find, and was working down the roster, calling each one.

Then she gave me her mother’s name and asked if it meant anything to me. She added where her mother was from.
I didn’t recognize the name, and the location was someplace I’d visited perhaps half a dozen times, but never in search of romance.

I assured her that I wasn’t her father. I gave her some info on other Peter Romeo’s with whom I’d been confused over the years, and wished her well.

“I’m 27 years old. I think it’s about time I met my father,” she said, then apologized for bothering me, and hung up.

I hope she finds him.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bah, humbug to bah, humbug

A year ago, some five weeks into my unemployment, I wasn’t sure if we could keep up with our mortgage and food bills. My wife still had her job, which provided our health-care coverage, but she worked for a newspaper. ‘Nuff said.

I’m not nearly as uptight now, though I still don’t have a job, and the possibility of landing a full-time editing or writing gig appears even slimmer (my wife, though employed for a major daily, works neither in editorial nor ad sales). Still, the world didn’t collapse into chaos, and premonitions of a Great Depression, as recalled by my folks in the same tone used by a noire movie character to recount a crime wave, no longer looms as a possibility.

Indeed, my confidence had rebounded sufficiently by this year’s holidays to no longer deny their existence. I wasn’t exactly belting out the ho-ho-ho’s, but the Grinch no longer had a kindred spirit. No tree, no holiday dinner, no lavish gift-giving, no cards or their e-mail equivalents. But at least I’d stoke a flicker of cheer by buying presents again for a few youngsters who’d been skipped along with everyone else last year.

It didn’t prove the Duraflame log I’d hoped. Then today, poking around the internet, I came across a column that, strangely, was published after Christmas by the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette. Maybe columnist Jeff Barr realized I’m not the only one in need of a holiday Hail Mary pass. In any case, I thank him for giving me the sort of feeling you got from watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the first time. Except his account is real.

You can read it for yourself here. But let me give you at least a flavor of it with this excerpt.

The column recounts how a woman, Michelle, was walking along a highway when a van, which I presume was driven by Barr, stopped to offer her a ride. She was laden with stuffed shopping bags.
“I work at Burger King and I got my check today,” she said. “It’s not much, but we’ll have presents under the tree.”

The drive led to a mobile home where Michelle is raising her family. The single mother proudly spoke of snatching up the trailer for $100 three years ago, and gutting the place “right down to the floorboards.” A slow renovation process that took every extra penny has resulted in a comfortable home for her children.

She told of getting the knee brace from a friend as payment for baby-sitting. She spoke of picking up free storm windows from an acquaintance who “had the same, exact trailer as we did. How lucky is that?”

Not a single tinge of bitterness; just a working mother relating stories of her home and her family
Remember, this is in Michigan, the Great Recession's third circle of Hell.

I think I may have another conversation with my pal, Jack Daniels, and put on the Phil Spector Christmas album.