|Tina Polito||Jan 3, 2011|
"Fly me to the moon/ Let me sing among the stars/ Let me see what spring is like / on Jupiter and Mars" --Bart Howard, "In Other Words"
I've wanted to pick up the phone and call my Dad for advice at least 20 times in the last few days. It's disorienting, realizing he's gone. Like being rear-ended. You're rolling along, living your day, noticing how a nimbus cloud looks so cool, so puffy and white around the edges and dark grey in the middle. Bam. You get hit from behind. What tha…? He's gone? Really? I can't call him? It's like, okay God. How about we get a reprieve on this death thing? I promise I'll never refer to Dad as Dory the fish again, even though Dory was, like I said, loveable.
But Dad's not here. I need to suck it up and feel my way through this Buy-USA year without his guidance. Has he got the approach I need, as he's watching from heaven? Or is he otherwise occupied? Maybe he's bonding with his own Dad, also a cinematographer, who died too young over 30 years ago. Perhaps they're discussing camera angles, lighting tricks, film producers with unrealistic budgets. Or they could be talking over the time when my Dad was six and put a penny on the Pacific Electric Railway tracks near their Hollywood home. The train whooshed by. Dad picked up the hot, razor-flat disc, put it in his pocket, turned it over and over in his hand, considering how the train's weight and speed had transformed the penney. Maybe he's not with his own Dad at all. He might be busy giving advice to other people who've passed on. "Here's what ya oughta do now that you've got all this time on your hands..."
Whenever Dad had a good idea for any of us kids, he'd begin by saying "What ya oughta do is…" I remember when I ran for sophomore class vice-president. I needed to give a speech to the student body of my Catholic all-girl high school. But how to make what I would do as vice-president--planning a homecoming dance and the mother-daughter spring fashion show--sound riveting? So I'm standing at the kitchen sink, doing dishes with my older sister Mary, the two of us talking about my speech. Dad's nearby at the white Formica kitchen table, sipping his Manhattan after a long day's shoot filming the TV series "12 O'Clock High." He sets the glass down. Next thing you know he's saying, "Here's what ya oughta do, Teen. Get up there and say We will crash the banquet hall of fame and take our place at the table. It's a great line. You'll bring down the house." I dried my hands, jotted the line down on a piece of paper and used it the next day at the assembly. Dad was right. Damned if I didn't win that election two years in a row.
I never did find out where that line came from. I just Googled it but found zilch. Hey, Google wizards, what's up with that? And by the way, do kids today ask Google for help with their speeches instead of asking their dads? Hope not. And another thing, Google, can you get a hold of my Dad for me? I Googled him and the only thing that came up was his filmography. And a short blurb on Wikipedia. Nice but not quite what I had in mind. Google, you have a long way to go. But keep trying.
Still, at least Google's an American company; one whose services my Dad used until he could no longer function at the computer. And even though it's creepy with Google--the way ads pop up in the margins of my email with the exact words I've just written so it looks like Google is right there in my room, spying on me--I still say Google is an amazing feat. It's entreprenuerial. Private enterprise. Capitalism at work. It employs 20,000 people, most of them here in the USA.
We are an inventive, creative bunch in this country. At the risk of sounding like I'm running for class vice-president again, we need to take our place at the table, right here at home, and keep it there. I know Dad would want me to say that. And I think he would also want me to say that no product or company is as important as family. That there's our country as home and our family as home and pretty much everything flows from those two points. On Sunday afternoons about once a month, Dad would put Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" on the stero. Nana and Pop, when they were alive, and uncles, aunts and cousins would fill the house. We would eat and laugh together, talk about our lives, re-group for the coming week. The grownups would go out and work. The kids would dream about what was to come.
What should I do now Dad, with Michelle settled in college and this year-long project ahead of me? How do I begin to re-claim my own slice of America, bring its products back into my own household? I can just hear Dad chuckle. He pulls me in, gives me a hug, a peck on the top of my head. He wears a butter yellow v-neck cashmere sweater with a white collared golf shirt underneath. He smells like Old Spice. "What ya ought do is..."