Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's day sample: Advice

For Father's Day, I present a fatherly excerpt from my latest book, One Shade of Red.

Picture: Wikipedia Commons
Sunday dinner with my parents followed a routine that varied only with the seasons. I’d usually show up after 6, when my Dad would have almost finished barbequing the steaks to black shoe-sole consistency. But since I had come early this time, I had to help out like I had when I was 14.

I entered the kitchen from the back yard at the same moment that Dad came in from the hallway. “Hey, big guy!” he boomed, as usual, while opening the fridge and taking out a big, flat dish. Four big, red steaks marinated in a thick, red sauce. “Came early to help out?”

“Helping” Dad meant starting the barbeque — no propane for him. He insisted on charcoal, and that meant starting an hour before you wanted to eat, pouring briquettes into the ball-shaped bottom of the barbeque, dousing it with some liquid that smelled suspiciously like gasoline and trying to touch a lit match to the fluid while standing as far back as you could. After that, “helping” would involve fetching barbeque utensils, barbeque sauce, another bottle of beer and anything else that came to his mind.

“Sure,” I said, reaching for the tray. That brought me close to him, and I realized for the first time that day how reluctant I was to stand next to him, now that I was taller than him. I had outgrown Dad in height a couple of years ago, but being able to look down on him did not make me feel any stronger than him, not with his wide shoulders and forearms like wrestling anacondas. But for how long had I been so loathe to stand close enough that my height superiority was obvious?

“It’s too soon to take the steaks out, son. You can start the briquets burning.”

My heart sank.

While we waited for the briquettes to turn gray, I sat on a patio chair and chatted with my Mom. I was guiltily aware that I didn’t do this much, and she loved it. “So, how’s the book?”

“Exciting. Lots of action, and I can really see eye-to-eye with the character. Sometimes, I’d like to do the things he does.”

“It doesn’t seem like your usual reading material.”

“I’ve read everything by Bulgakov and Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I thought I would try some of these new writers for a change.”

At supper, my little sister and I dutifully chewed through the steaks and kidded Dad about his complete lack of barbequing ability, as usual.

“What are you talking about? They’re perfect!” he argued, as usual.

At least I could wash it down with beer. Diana, my sister, wasn’t old enough, yet, but Dad let her drink some of Mom’s wine.

Supper over, Dad said he had to work on a contract and went upstairs to my old bedroom, which he had converted into an office. After Diana and I cleaned up the kitchen, I went up to my old room, too.

“Dad, I need some advice.”

I have never seen anyone simultaneously look so surprised, gratified and thoughtful. He put down his mechanical pencil and took off his bifocals. “About?” Without glasses, his hazel eyes squinted a little.

I sat down in the “guest” chair in his office — an antique foreman’s chair, made of solid oak or something. It weighed a ton and was as comfortable as sitting on stone. I had always wondered where he had found it. It was as far removed from his desk chair as a feather bed from a Catholic altar.

“You know I hired Tyler to help with cleaning pools. And I set him up with a bunch of clients.”

“I’ve never found it wise to hire your friends. It never works out,” Dad said.

“What? But you’re friends with John Andrienos, and he’s your foreman on half the jobs!”

“I hired him and then made friends with him,” Dad answered. “That’s okay. That works: you work alongside someone, come to respect them, become friends. It’s natural. But when you hire a friend to work for you, they seem to think your friendship is a free pass or something.”

“You’re right. Tyler isn’t working out.”

“What do you mean, specifically?”

“He’s always late. Half the time, he doesn’t show up at customers’ places. When he does, he never does a full job. The customers are getting pissed off.”

“Have you spoken to him about this?” Dad leaned back in his comfortable, ergonomic chair and swung his glasses between his fingers.

Dad loved being asked for advice.
Photo from Noel Kingsley's blog.

“Yah, I told him the issues. I even gave him a warning.”

Dad looked out the window, where the setting sun made the sky pink and orange. He pushed his thick grey hair back from his forehead before answering. “I’ve heard he’s had some employment problems, already.”

“He’s been fired three times already this year.”

“Hmm. Sounds like Tyler has a problem. Three employers already have had enough of him, and now, you.”


“So, what do you want advice with?”

This was hard. Dad had this annoying habit of making you voice exactly what you mean. Using real words.

“What should I do?”

Dad looked at me with his unnerving look. “What do you want?” he asked finally.

“Huh?” God, you can be lame, said my brain.

“What do you want for your pool-cleaning business?”

“Geez, Dad, why do you always have to make these talks a lesson? I want it to succeed.”

“Good. And what does that mean?”

I knew this answer from years of business lessons from the city’s most philosophical contractor. “Profits.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, son,” Dad said. “You have a problem: your employee is causing customers to complain. What is the outcome you want from this?”

“I want my customers to like me again.”

“So, what do you need for that to happen?”

Dad: always making me confront reality. “I need ... to get rid of Tyler.”

“Not necessarily. Do you think that Tyler can change? Can he behave differently, so that he doesn’t make your customers leave?

“I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve decided I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I need someone to replace Tyler. I just can’t take back all his clients — there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“So, you’ve decided to let Tyler go?”

I took a deep breath. This was still hard to say. “Yes. But who can I get to take his place?”

“You want a recommendation?”

I nodded. “You know a lot of people.”

Dad looked at the sunset again. “You know, the construction business has slowed down a lot, lately. I haven’t had enough work to give out to my usual crew.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, son. You know, I’m glad you’ve found a new way to make money this summer. It’s taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders.”

“So, do you know anyone that could help me?”

He looked out the window again. “You know Philip Lamontaigne? Bob and Maureen’s son? He’s a bit older than you, but he’s a good worker. I have not had enough work this year to be able to hire him, and he’s been looking for work.”

I remembered Philip. One of those skinny guys with a skanky beard. He always had weed on him, always had a new girlfriend and a next girlfriend. “Phil is a good worker?”

“I had him on-call last summer. He never failed to show up on time, always did more than asked of him.”
Note to self, by S@Z, creative commons license

Wow. Phil Lamontaigne, professional dirtbag, was a good worker. “So, you think he’d be a good pool cleaner?”

“Can you show him the ropes?”

“No problem.”

Dad flipped through screens on his laptop and wrote a phone number on a post-it note. Dad has always loved post-it notes.

One Shade of Red is an erotic comedy e-book, available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the iTunes bookstore and other e-retailers.

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