14 August 2015

Picking back up

I've had an odd taste for filter coffee for the last couple of years. I think it's since coming back from Malaysia. Coffee was one of those things in Malaysia, proof life there wasn't always cheap: Sure, you can get nasi lemak for RM2, but try to get a decent cup of coffee for that. Now, it seems filter coffee is everywhere in England, something new since we came back. You can read about different roasts in a matte magazine printed and given out at Quarter Horse in Birmingham. The coffee is sweet, has touches of berries. You feel like American hipsters have brought this back to us from the 1950s, the same way they've given me the haircut I've wanted my whole life and can now have because there is some taste and vocabulary for it. Even Dez, my barber, approves: It suits you, he says, and I think to myself that his phrasing, the use of the word suit is a sign that I should keep it up. Until my hair falls out, I say to Dez, joking, but not really joking.

Words like suit in this situation have been on my mind because my father, dad, was here this last month, flying over from Germany on the way back to the States. I always feel oddly foreign around my parents: Yoko and the girls and I eat odd food and use odd words like toilet when we mean restroom or bathroom. Most days, I don't recognise these words, or my use of them, but with my father, my dad, around, I'm suddenly very aware. I'm going to the toilet. It sounds filthy to my American ears when I remind them we are American. These differences run deeper, like the way my parents say I love you when they hang up the phone: I can't remember the last time Yoko and I had anything explicit to say to each other about love. It sounds so odd in Japanese to say I love you.

The girls adore Papa Scott. His suitcase is full of all the American things that we don't have here, and the presents from Baba Jo that they've been hearing about for months now. The suitcase smells of my childhood house in the States, on New Haven Avenue, the faux New England sub-sub-division in Gurnee, Illinois, the town built around a roller coaster and a mall and I94. Gurnee is all bittersweet nostalgia for me, first kisses and rock shows and Jesus and memory. Not a real place anymore. The trees have grown up in our sub-sub-division and it is not as young and novel as when we moved in twenty years ago. The smell though is the same. The smell of my parents, of dryer sheets, and Yankee Candles — arresting on this side of the world, where I have run away from it. I imagined my youth pastor would also come out of the suitcase as well and say, Yes, you're probably right, but what if, let's just say what if, I'm right? like I had never heard Pascal's Wager before.

It's not just the word toilet, of course, that hangs over my father and me, but a whole series of life choices I've made. The choice to be an atheist, I suppose, is both the hardest to accept and the easiest to classify. But then there are the things less clear, less obviously sinful, like putting on a sport coat to go to the supermarket. This is a kind of vanity, one that makes little sense when you think about it. Why dress up when you don’t have to, just to pick up some bread.

In spite of all this lack of understanding, we share running, and we like to run together. It's something we can talk about easily, without any sense of right and wrong, and he can admire something about me, my seven and a half minute miles. We run for different reasons, of course. I thought once of sending him Murakami's book on running, but that would probably just exasperate the gap — my father does not run to seek or dwell on or accept the void. I mapped an interesting run for us, ten miles or so, up to the city on the canals and then back into Harborne on the old railroad track. We went slowly and I held water for him, narrating as we went along, We are coming up on a small hill. This is where the city starts. This is the ring road. They are redoing this path.

The time comes and goes quickly. Everyone is cautious about money now, and my father checks several times to make sure that he's given me enough money for gas, petrol. On the way back to the airport, sat in the car that my father tells me is small, the time runs out for Jesus to come up. At the M4, we begin our goodbyes, yes, the kids were happy to see you, thanks for coming, you've given me enough money, don't worry. We'll think about coming home for Christmas, but it is so expensive. Maybe Mom can come back in November if her health is good. We say goodbye at Terminal 2 and hug longer than we have in the past. Time is always running out, it is always so short. His father is dying now. I love you. We say that to each other and mean it. I get back in the car, and head home, wherever home is, BBC Four whispering to me and taking me back away, further away, somewhere to The North.