My dad, a real no-nonsense kind of guy, took me to see someone he knew about getting me a new identity. He drove me up I-84 toward Hartford in a borrowed car. He could get cars in a second and no one ever denied my dad anything. We drove to the Comet Diner. It’s an easy to miss place that had a punk nightclub in the basement. And if you knew my dad, that’d be the last place you’d ever expect to see him. The place was dark. The walls were painted flat black and faux graffiti in neon colors were splashed on the walls. And because the patrons wore black, all you could see were their faces and hands. The place was a Bob Fosse freak show and the music sounded like amplified insect shrieks. The music was so loud that we didn’t speak. My father led, I followed.
We walked behind the dj booth and into a small room. A man in a grey T-shirt with a pipe fitter’s logo on the pocket closed the door behind us then sat me down in a chair. He wore simple black-rimmed glasses and had hairs poking out of his nostrils. He focused a camera on my face, and then started clicking away at a nearby laptop.
“Driver’s license, Visa, Amex, and passport. We’ll need a working SSI, too.”
“What’s he calling himself?”
“If you want my advice,” my father said to me, “pick a name that you can easily forget.”
I couldn’t think of a single name to call myself.
After a few minutes of silence my father said, “Curtis Gardener,” and named me for the second time.
“Fifty K. He’s out on disability.”
“Shoulder.” And then he looked at me, “It’s easier to fake.”
“217 East 29th. Apt. 31. 10016.”
I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. My dad wouldn’t stand for anything but absolute obedience. And when my life was on the line, the only person I trusted to save it was my dad.
“No.” And my father looked at me again. “Write letters to your Aunt Sue in Yonkers and she’ll resend them to your mother. No one watches the mail anymore.”
“What about him?” I asked.
The man didn’t even look up. My father said, “He’s deaf. He reads lips.”
An hour later we had our documents and my father had the laptop. I wanted to tell him what happened, but he held up his hand, “I can help you better without knowing the details. Your mother wouldn’t appreciate my being an accomplice after the fact. And if I don’t know, I don’t know. And no one can pump me for information.”
“I’m sorry.” I looked right at him and he smiled at me. He smiled a broad, hearty, a-okay that-a-boy smile. He’d never done that before and I’m glad it’s the last memory I have of him. I hugged him hard. I hadn’t been allowed to hug him since I was a kid and back then it was like hugging a steel I-beam. He was a little softer now, but not by much. And the scent of him reminded me of home.
Outside, in the parking lot, there was a shine on the streets. It must have rained while we were waiting. The car was dappled with drops that looked like constellations. He put the keys in my hand and said, “Take 87 north to 90 west. Go to the Port of Albany. Your cousin’s driving up to meet you. He’ll take you to the right ship.”
He’d thrown the plan together in a matter of an hour. I knew what he taught me about street fighting, about how speed and focus are what helps a smaller man win, was how he lived every part of his life. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters. It’s the size of the fight in the dog. Don’t ever forget that,” he told me during one of our sessions, and I recited it like a prayer. Now I know what he meant.
“What about you?”
He smiled again. I knew a second too late that it was a stupid question. But, I think he liked hearing it.
“Get moving. Your cousin’s on his way.”
James Kidd was a work boot wearing, sawdust making carpenter for years and he now writes freelance articles for a variety of home improvement magazines. His upcoming book, 75 Tools Every Man Needs And How To Use Them, a Popular Mechanics title, is due out in early June 2011.