how blood tastes

This steak isn’t like any I’ve ever eaten before, in that it looks like a steak and not someone’s prized family heirloom recovered from the ashes of a house fire. On elevators in tall buildings I’ve heard wealthy white men talk about steaks so tender they should serve them with a straw instead of a knife and fork, and I’m surprised to find that those steaks really exist. It’s bloody, the steak, but I’ve discovered today that cow’s blood doesn’t taste like my blood, human blood. I’m used to the metallic taste I’ve tasted every time I’ve cut my finger and sucked it clean, or bit the inside of my cheek, or had my jaw punched. If you want to simulate the taste of my blood, put a handful of pennies on your tongue, but this shit’s delicious. Across the table from me, one side of a conversation I never thought I’d have continues while I chew:
“..but as far as I know, you’re my only son,” he says.
I interrupt.
“Why the qualifier? You may have other sons, or I may not be your son?”
“Oh, you’re definitely my son. I’ve got the lab tests.”
“What? When?”
“Remember when you were staying with Renee and me that summer you were fourteen and you had a toothache? I slipped the dentist a c-note to swab the inside of your cheek while you were under the gas and I drove it to this lab where they ran a DNA test.”
“Goddamn, that’s classy.”
“Can you blame me? You and I don’t look anything alike. When you were a baby, I used to make your mom carry you because when I held you in public, people would give me these shifty looks like they thought I was kidnapping you.”
“Well, of course we don’t look alike. You’re white.”
“You’re half-white, remember.”
“Five-eighths, actually. Grandma Teague is mixed.”
He’s right, though; we look nothing alike. My father has always looked like a stray, wiry and rangy. His features, his eyebrows, nose, and lips, are thin, reptilian. He’s got a little beard and a trident of coarse silver hair. That hair must have been brown when I was a baby, but I don’t remember and don’t have much source material to reference. There weren’t a lot of pictures of him in our photo albums, mostly because you can’t take a picture of someone who isn’t there. I can’t imagine him ever having been a young man, nor did it once seem like he’d ever make it to being an old man, but it appears he’ll soon defy those odds. Here he is, on the back end of the middle age he’s occupied for seemingly my whole life. His secret? I don’t know. But I hear they’re discovering great things about the health benefits of red wine, and he’s several glasses in.
“Look,” he says. “All the old stuff aside, I want to make things right. With you, I mean. I don’t want you to think that I didn’t love you or didn’t want you.” My guard goes down, if only briefly.
“There were times when I did think that, yes.”
“Well, when you love someone, you just have to do what’s best for them, and your mom and I decided that it would be best for you if I just stayed the fuck away for the most part. I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass about how I was a different person then, because I wasn’t. I’ve been the same person the whole time, good or bad. But now you’re an adult and it’s probably not as harmful for you to be around me.”
I exhale.
“How many times have you come to New York in the last two years?” I ask.
“Eight or nine,” he says.
“And you didn’t call me any of those times. You knew I had moved up here.”
“I said, ‘all the old stuff aside’. I’m filing those visits under ‘old stuff’.” He drinks down the silt at the bottom of the wine glass, as if to finalize the arrangement. Not so fast.
“Those are your rules, your terms. Here are mine. If you and I are going to have a relationship, we’re all done with these kinds of talks. We can talk about what you’re doing, what I’m doing, whatever. I just don’t want to ever hear anything about ‘gaining back the time we’ve lost’ or, ah, fuckin’…uh…” I trail off, looking for the right sardonic word, and he seizes the opportunity.
“Yeah, exactly. Old stuff. Your rules sound suspiciously like my rules.”
He wins. I wanted to be indignant. I wouldn’t have gotten much pleasure at making him squirm, but he’s caught all the flies in our argument with his honey, and left me with all this unused vinegar. Whatever. If he wants to take me out to dinner every few months, I’m game, but I’m not holding my breath for much else.
Letting him handle the bill marks a serious reversal on my part, especially since it was only my morbid curiosity that got me to accept his invitation. I’ve spent my adult existence determined not to allow this man to affect my life, afraid of the power it might give him over me. But even ignoring him is a reaction, a response.
When my parents met, my dad was thirty-one and my mom eighteen. She had told him she was twenty-four, and he was so happy with that version of the truth that he hadn’t bothered to look much further into it. The truth about her age came out after I was conceived, but once he tried to make an honest woman out of her, she vowed henceforth to live up to the ‘honest’ part. His willingness to marry was dictated more by chronology, the notion that he really should be settling down at his age while he still had an opportunity to do so, than a real desire to go from rail-blowing professional musician to (tobacco) pipe-puffing family man. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take.
His whirlwind of gigs as a bass player with the Dallas Jazz Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, various suburban chamber orchestras, and Deep Ellum jazz combos was at first interrupted only by the private lessons he taught to augment our bills.
But then he had musician friends back home in California that offered him jobs when they couldn’t handle all their professional commitments (didn’t they know any other bass players?) and he was happy to hop on that plane; a little too happy for Mom’s liking. Somehow, none of it ever seemed to affect his work commitments. He shouldn’t have been able to make it work, but being some kind of genius gave him a greater margin for error than us mortals.
I learned more about his story from what I’d read about him than anything else, clippings from music business trade mags his girlfriend had put in a scrapbook that I eyed when I spent two weeks with them in Los Angeles. Francis Cole, who ascended from sit-in session player to writer of Billboard hits for Grammy-winning artists, moved ably even to the role of producer from there. As a teenager recovering from a painful tooth extraction, I sat in his study and read the clippings lit by a dust-speckled beam of light through big wooden blinds, dazed by Percoset and surprise. I had always gotten the impression that he wasn’t too impressed by his considerable accomplishments, and it made me feel strangely better that he found exactly what he was looking for when he left, and it nonetheless left him unsatisfied.

We part ways amicably, and I accept when he offers me the first livery cab. I climb in the back of the battle-scarred Lincoln and notice how strange the steak restaurant’s sign, painted on a brick wall of the four-story building, looks from below. I’ve cast eyes upon this place many times from above when I take the J or M to Williamsburg to buy weed from Li’l Newt. There’s no quick way to where I live from here, so the driver’s a little peeved when my father pokes his head in the passenger side window to tell him he’ll be going to Flatbush instead of Midtown. I assume he makes it worth the guy’s while, but the driver’s mood doesn’t improve much.
We cross two bridges to get to my place, when the BQE probably would have been faster, though the driver seems to know he’s chosen poorly and is venting at the poor soul on the other end of his cell phone conversation. Jamaican is supposedly English, but the driver doesn’t have much trouble preventing me from understanding anything other than the fact that he’s pissed.
I’m jealous of any group of people clever enough to codify the Western world’s most commonly spoken language, so they can really speak their minds. When we get to my building, the driver bums my last cigarette and tells me he’s too close to home to bother taking any more fares, fuck his dispatcher.


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January 2009
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