THE WHITE, MOTTLED stucco bungalows with city yards and
a porch were built in the twenties. The porches were for people to sit
and nod to neighbors. It takes a village. That’s what Hillary Clinton
was saying when George bought the three-bedroom bungalow for
one hundred and seventy thousand. He would live in a village, and
his kids would ride their bikes, and he would sit on the porch and
inhale the last scent of the American dream in the American century.
But of course his kids didn’t ride their bikes. And George never
really sat on the porch in the evening and nodded to neighbors. There
were no neighbors, and the people didn’t seem too interested in a man
on a porch swing. Even the nights where he did sit out on his porch,
he felt weird. Most people came home from work and went inside. A
man sitting on his porch in the dark was a little suspect if not crazy.
Park Ridge was a village with parking problems, high taxes, and
stressed middle-class people with homes hammered in the crash.
And then his marriage went south, and his equity swirled down the
drain along with his 401(k), and George was stuck with his home.
That was why the stucco was falling off it and the garage leaned at a
forty-five degree angle. His ex-wife was under the illusion their equity
would reflate and there would be money left over. George knew they
would be lucky if they didn’t owe the bank after they sold the house.
He rang the doorbell and hoped Julie wasn’t home. He had really
come to see Jeremy and Jamie under the guise of dropping off his
support check. He had sat in the tub a long time and thought about
what Mary had said. There was an ache in his heart over the way
things had turned out with his kids.
“Mom’s not here,” Jeremy said, opening the door.
George smiled. “I don’t want to see your mother.”
His son stared at him like he just woke up.
“I came to see you and your sister. Can I come in?”
Jeremy shrugged. George followed his son into the kitchen, where
a mountain bike was flipped upside down with one tire off.
“Jamie’s been working on her bike,” he said as his father examined
“I can see that,” George murmured. “Mom doesn’t care that she
works on it in the middle of the kitchen?”
Jeremy shrugged again. “She’s never here. She doesn’t give a shit
what we do.”
“I see,” George said, glancing into the living room, where an artificial
tree stood with no ornaments. “Does she even decorate the tree?”
Jeremy shook his head. “Not unless we do it. Sometimes she and
Dirk will drink a bottle of wine and decorate some of it Christmas
Eve before they pass out or go upstairs to screw.”
George winced, looking at his son.
“That’s just terrible.”
“Yeah … I’m going to have a cigarette, Dad, on the deck.”
“You mind if I join you?”
They walked outside onto the deck George had built fifteen years
before. He had designed the deck, had the wood delivered, then
worked on it every weekend. But the Wolmanized lumber didn’t
fare very well. It had turned a dirty grey, and then individual boards
started to give. George thought he had worked out the load factors,
but building a deck was different from building a bridge. Soon they
were all walking across the deck like pogo men.
Jeremy leaned on the railing and lit up a Marlboro. George walked
carefully to the banister, taking in the leaning garage and the old grill
covered in snow. He listened to the leaking gutters and the slow plop
of snow falling between the cracks in the deck.
“I’m amazed that garage is still standing.”
Jeremy puffed on his cigarette. “Dirk says he’s going to knock
it down and build a new one in the spring. Nobody is holding their
With a Facebook suggestion they go to Vegas, Dirk had taken
Julie there to see if their high school romance was still real. A lot of
screwing apparently transcended the years, and his wife moved into
Dirk’s apartment, and then Dirk moved into George’s house. The
word he got from the kids was Dirk watched a lot of NASCAR and
adult Netflix until he blew through his case of beer.
“It’s not a small job,” George said, staring at the garage. “She do
anything about the sewer?”
Jeremy frowned. “Are you kidding? You can’t take a crap without
it backing up.”
George had given her the money for the main sewer line. Where
the five grand went he could guess with the trips to Vegas. He was
sure Dirk had lost it at blackjack and craps. George turned around
and looked at his son in his army coat and jeans.
“Jeremy, I want you to consider coming to my house for Christmas.
I’d like you and your sister to come out and spend the holidays
He threw the cigarette over the railing.
“That’s why you came out here, Dad?”
“Well … yes, that and to give your mother a check.”
“Not a chance Jamie’s going to miss Florida. I think she likes
having Christmas on a beach.”
George nodded slowly. “How about you?”
“I don’t know, Dad. It seems a little late for all that now. You didn’t
seem to give a shit until now if I came out or not. You have your new
family.” He frowned. “I guess I just don’t give a shit either.”
George nodded slowly. “You’re right, Jeremy. I want to apologize
for that. I wanted to get away from … from the pain. And in the process
I lost you and your sister.”
“Dad, it started before that. Even when you were here, you seemed
like you wanted to be somewhere else.”
“That’s not true. I wanted to be here.”
Jeremy leaned forward on the banister, flipping ash into the snow.
“Maybe, but you know the last time I remember you doing some
thing with me, Dad? Do you remember sleeping in the Field Museum
with the Cub Scouts with all the dinosaurs?”
George nodded slowly. “Yes, we slept on the floor in our sleeping
“And remember how we got up at one AM, and the McDonald’s
was still open, and we bought burgers and ate it and walked around
Jeremy turned around and held his cigarette low.
“That’s my last memory, Dad. After that, I don’t remember you
and I doing anything together.”
George felt his heart grown heavy again.
“I’m sorry, son. I really am. I screwed up, and … and I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright,” he said, shrugging. “It’s over.”
George jammed his hands down in his parka and stared at the
“Would you at least consider coming out for Christmas? I could
really use your help with this Santa thing, and I just want to spend
time with you.”
“I don’t know, Dad.”
George turned to his son. “Do you think you could give your old
man another chance?”
Jeremy looked down. “I’ll think about it.”
“You better give me the check, Dad, and split. Mom was really
steamed when she heard about you being Santa and all. She said she
was going to take you back to court.”
He raised his eyebrows. “How surprising.”
They grinned, and George felt himself grow a little lighter. He
handed his son the check and walked to the edge of the deck.
“Think about it … okay?”
Jeremy flicked his cigarette into the snow. “Okay.”
“Take it easy, son.”
“Thanks for stopping by … Dad.”
George tried to speak but could only hold up his hand.