Well friends, last Friday my car went from this…
Before you say anything else, you snarky snark, yes, it really was 103 degrees. This is Texas. It’s July. Fortunately, it was only the second or third such triple-digit day this summer.
But, as you can see, the odometer in our rockin’ Town & Country gently rolled from 99,999 to 100,000. Do you know how freakin’ excited I was? Shut your mouth. I know it’s just an odometer. It’s just a car. I get that. Here’s the deal.
My dad is a numbers guy. As a kid I wondered what to say to friends when they’d ask what my dad did for a living. Usually I’d just say “He’s an actuary” sort of under my breath and hope they’d let it go. Was I embarrassed? Hell no. He’s a genius and that career provided a very decent living for my mom and the sixteen of us kids. Good Lord, do I have to explain everything to you? Yes, it’s a big family. Another story for another day. My point is that I simply did not know what an actuary was. Oh I had asked him. He’s got the most amazing sense of humor. It’s not only a dad thing (which I’ve discovered in myself) but just his incredible mind operating with such wit and speed that half the time the recipient of his humor (which was sometimes ribald) was left with a keen feeling of bewilderment. What he’d say would definitely make you laugh very hard. At the same time, your own brain would still be processing the content for a while AND wondering how he’d come up with it so fast.
“Dad, what’s an actuary again?”
“Well son, it’s a place where they bury dead actors.”
That was always one of my favorites. How about this one?
“Well m’lad [yes, he’d call me that sometimes] an actuary is the man who brings a bomb on a plane because while the chances of their being one bomb are small, the chances of their being two bombs are infinitesimal.”
Statistics. He could have just freakin’ said, he worked with statistics. Truth is, an actuary is a fellow (or lady) who uses statistics to figure contingency tables. In other words, they look at data to determine useful information about different groups of people. This kind of information might include, say, the life expectancy of Latino males who smoke cigarettes and drive red cars. Who’d want that kind of info? Insurance companies, anyone managing a pension fund. If I’m going to put aside money on your behalf for your retirement it might help to know how long you’re going to live, now wouldn’t it?
So factor into all this brilliance AND love of numbers the fact that the man finds certain things “neat”. When I was about 10 and he and I had just returned from a trip to visit my sister in another part of the state he glanced at the odometer in his old Buick. “Hmm… 99,998.7. How far up the street do you think we’ll have to go to get it back here with exactly 100,000 miles on it, son?” he asked me. OK, 1) I was shocked he was asking my input. I didn’t think I was in his math league and 2) I quickly thought it over and replied: “I don’t know Dad. How about we go three blocks up and back?” You see, I knew the approximate distance given the length of city blocks in Newark, NJ and knew that I’d have to halve it in order to pull back to the driveway at exactly the right point.
He disagreed. Thought it would be shorter. To the surprise of both of us, I was right. As we turned into the driveway at home he shut off the engine and declared “There you go! I know own a ten year old car with exactly 0 miles on it.” Those old odometers didn’t include a sixth digit place so it literally rolled over back to 0.
Here’s the best part. To celebrate – I know? Who knew this was a cause for celebration? – he turned the car right back on and drove us to Holstein’s Ice Cream Parlor where my father treated me to a Duster Sundae. Never had one? Holstein’s is where the final scene in the Soprano’s was filmed, by the way. It’s a big ice cream sundae in a tall pewter dish covered in malt powder. And it’s Goooood. And if you know my dad, you know exactly how he said that word good.
So as I drove my wife and kids in our bathing suits to the pool on that disgustingly hot day last week I kept my eye on my own odometer. “Two miles, kids!” I shouted. They didn’t seem to care. I had to explain the whole thing to them at the next red light. “One mile! Daddy is so excited!!!”
And then… the odometer rolled over.
Following in the old man’s footsteps I quickly turned into the drive-thru of the next Chic-fil-a and we all got shakes.
I love thinking back on things like that day with my dad. Oh he’s still with us. Almost 80 years-old now. Being his youngest son I guess I was privileged to spend more moments like that with him than some of my brothers. And having only two of my own (thanks, infertility) I know that I MUST share these moments with them and make every moment special. Fortunately he wrote a pretty good blueprint.
As for the dad humor? Let’s just say I’ve discovered that something strange happens in the act of conception. I believe that upon reaching the target, the male gamete then sends a signal to the new father’s brain that triggers an unalterable change in his own humor receptors. Basically, when you become a dad your sense of humor goes haywire and you can’t help yourself. I still eke out some really good jokes but these days, most of my one-liners end in a chorus of groans.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.