you come here and give Uncle Sammy a great big hug'
After my parents
broke up, my father moved to New York City, hoping that the jazz scene
was still happening there. But back then the Beatles ruled the charts
and mostly everyone he knew in the business had already relocated to Las
Vegas, selling their souls to eke out livings playing crappy pop tunes
in casino lounges. Apparently, it didnt matter that he now had lots
of free time on his hands; my father never showed up as promised for his
weekend custody visits with me. Hed make the increasingly lame excuse
that he had a gig.
parents divorced when I was thirteen years old. It was no big deal
to me at the time -- my father was a jazz musician and he was always
out on the road touring, anyway. On the rare occasions he was around,
he wanted to be left alone. Hed barricade himself in his bedroom
with the door locked and Charlie Parker blasting on the record player.
Sometimes Id give a hopeful knock and ask to come in so we
could talk a little, but hed always holler for me to go away
and not bother him.
"And please keep it down, will you? Im listening to Bird!
Have some respect!"
Charlie Parker was sacred to him; sadly, I was not.
Wed never had anything that even remotely resembled a normal dad/daughter
relationship and yet I found myself really missing him. There were times
the yearning for my father grew so intense I had imaginary conversations
with him, spilling my soul instead to the poor family dog that sat on
my bed and cocked his head at me in complete befuddlement.
"Dad, you should have seen what happened at school today, it was
so awesome, I answered everything right in math class" or "Dad,
you cant believe it, I think Robert Duffy you know, I told
you about him yesterday, well, I think he likes me back! Dad, what do
you think? And how does my hair look like this? Do you think Im
pretty?" I asked, studying myself in the mirror, piling my hair up
like a movie star.
The dog offered me his paw, hoping for a bone.
It wasnt that I couldnt say these things to my mother; I just
wanted a father like everyone else. Someone to tease me about boys. Someone
to worry if my skirt was too short or if I was out too late at night.
My mother cared about me plenty, but she worked full time, another rarity
for women of that era, and she was terminally exhausted. I was alone a
My unhappiness grew deeper day by day. I couldnt express this pain
to my mother; I really didnt think shed understand and I figured
it would only make things worse. But she felt my misery and tried to cheer
me up by asking me what I wanted for my upcoming fourteenth birthday.
"I want to take the train by myself to New York and visit Daddy,"
I blurted, even surprising myself. This wasnt something I had been
planning. It just came to me at that moment.
My mother recoiled in shock as well but quickly recovered. Shed
recently discovered yoga and I saw her trying to take a deep cleansing
"Oh god, cant you ask for a gold necklace like a normal teenager?"
"I dont want a gold necklace. I want my father."
"Sorry. Youre too young to take such a trip by yourself. How
about a leather jacket?"
"Mom, I really miss him. This isnt fair. Youre always
telling me to act grown up, but whenever I ask if I can do something on
my own, you act like Im a little kid."
"Look, honey, if your father
" she stopped in mid-sentence
and looked away red-faced, but it was too late. I knew exactly what she
was thinking and I felt like Id been struck. If your father really
wanted to see you, hed have visited you here.
She didnt say it, of course. She couldnt hurt me like that.
But I didnt have the same level of maturity.
"He doesnt come here because he doesnt want to see you!"
I pointed a shaking finger at her accusingly.
She took another cleansing breath and I could practically hear her chanting
her new relaxation mantra. Ohm shanti shanti
ohm shanti shanti.
Despite her attempts at a bohemian persona, my mother was straight arrow,
the girl next door. Its why the marriage failed. My father was hip;
she was square.
"Yes," she said. "He doesnt want to see me. Of course.
Im sure thats it." There was no sarcasm in her voice,
if anything; it was thick with pity, which was way worse.
"Mom. Seriously. Please let me go. You have no idea how much I want
to talk to him about stuff."
"Stuff? What kind of stuff?" My mother was alarmed, I had no
idea why, but I could sense she was nervous about something.
"School stuff. And about my friends, and Robert, that boy I like.
Stuff that fathers and daughters usually talk about, Mom."
My mother shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Whose father are we talking about?" she snorted.
"Mine, Mom. Mine. Come on, please let me go. Please, please, please".
"Dont be ridiculous. Its at least an hour ride from here.
Youve never even taken a train by yourself let alone go to a strange
city. But its not just that. Its
father has problems. Hes not like other people. Trust me on this
its just not a good idea," she said, but then she looked
really sad and I jumped on that immediately.
"I have no father," I whimpered. "I dont have a daddy
daddy for me." I was feeling so sorry for myself that a big fat tear
formed easily at the corner of my eye and I let it slowly dribble down
my cheek for effect. My mother didnt have a chance.
Plans were made. My father would meet me at the information desk at the
train station in New York. I was girl-scout prepared as I stepped off
the platform; I clutched a small red vinyl purse stuffed with more money
than Id ever had in my life. But when I got to the allotted meeting
place, my father was nowhere to be found.
I tried to stay calm and found a phone booth to call him at his room at
the Algonquin Hotel. All I got was a busy signal. I dialed up my mother
next, but I couldnt reach her, either. I was rapidly turning into
a puddle inside.
I forced myself to ride the escalator to the street exit. I was fourteen
years old and seeing New York for the first time and I cant even
describe how I felt at the huge mass of humanity and flashing lights and
crazy patchwork of colors all around me--I was completely beside myself,
but somehow, I forced myself to focus. I needed a plan. And then I saw
the line of taxis queued up and I almost started jumping up and down with
relief. I was saved, though strangely confident for someone who had never
even hailed or ridden in a cab before.
"The Algonquin Hotel, please," I instructed the cabbie, trying
to sound blasé. Id learned about the Algonquins notorious
round table of writers from my eighth grade English teacher and I was
bursting with excitement. Recently, Id taken to pouring out my daily
pubescent agonies in a composition book I carried with me at all times.
I'd just read Catcher in the Rye and imagined myself a female Holden Caulfield.
We pulled up to the hotel and I opened up my little purse, carefully counting
out some crumpled bills to pay the cab driver but no one ever told me
about tipping and he gave me a horrible scowl as he almost slammed my
fingers in the door. But not to worry, I was going to see my dad and all
would soon be well.
I walked up to the check-in desk and a bored guy with a pockmarked face
looked me over with a nasty sneer when I asked where to find my father.
He sighed and shook his head in disgust, gave me the room number and said
"Go on up, jail bait."
I didn't even know what jail bait meant, but looking back, I was pretty
developed for my age. Id just started menstruating the year before
and sprouted some significant breasts. Whats more, having just read
The Bell Jar, Id taken to dressing completely in black because I
also imagined myself to be Sylvia Plath.
I was quaking with the jitters but I managed to find the room without
any problem. I gave a timid knock on the door. After a moment or two,
my father cracked it open slightly with a stupefied expression. His eyes
were wild and dodgy.
"Just a minute, just a minute," he rasped. There was no hello
sweetheart, no hug, no kiss. My father actually tried to block the threshold.
He wanted to keep me out. My brain couldnt comprehend this.
I squeezed past his skinny frame. To say I was scared and upset would
be putting it mildly. But as I entered the room, I saw my father had company
-- an oily, bejeweled man who sat at a small table. He was staring at
me with his mouth hanging open, obviously taken completely aback. In front
of him was a hand mirror, and on the mirror were two thick lines of white
powder. He hastily pulled a rolled up dollar bill out of one of his nostrils.
For the first time, I realized that my father had a ring of that same
powder circling the base of his nose, too. It looked like hed eaten
a jelly donut and forgotten to use a napkin. I also noticed that the phone
on the night table next to the bed was off the hook.
"Say hello to my kid, Sam," my dad said, practically shoving
me toward the surprised stranger. "Kid, meet Sammy."
"Well hello there, baby cakes," he drawled.
"Hi," I answered weakly.
He looked really familiar, but I was still so traumatized that it didnt
register at first. I glanced at him again and this time I noticed he had
a glass eye. As hard as I tried otherwise, I couldn't stop staring at
it. It looked real, and yet it didn't. In what little sunlight filtered
in from the mostly closed blinds, it had an odd, almost supernatural glint.
We all just stayed there like that for a few seconds him at the
table, giving me a silent appraisal; me standing opposite, ogling his
fake orb; my father, all distressed, wringing his hands like a hysterical
housewife who had just seen a mouse and jumped up on a chair. And then
all of a sudden, I recognized my fathers friend. This was the man
who was on TV almost every other day, crooning and coming on all gushy
to the ancient blue haired ladies in the audience. Holy cow. He was the
guy they called the Candyman.
The awkward silence in the room was nerve wracking. My dad didn't ask
me about my trip, he didn't ask how I was doing, he still made no effort
to embrace me. He just kept pacing back and forth, exchanging undecipherable
glances with the Candyman. Finally, the best he could do was mumble "I
could go for some beer. I think theres a few bottles left in the
tub." He turned on his heel and headed into the bathroom.
But they had already drunk it all. After wrestling with the decision for
maybe a second, my father was elected to go for more. He hastily tied
a ratty muffler around his neck, picked up my purse and helped himself
to a wad of my mothers cash and said, "I'll only be a minute.
Uncle Sammy will keep you company while I'm gone." And with that,
he was out the door.
Ah, so he was my Uncle Sammy now. I smiled at him, feeling a little more
at ease. My father was the one who made me edgy and tongue-tied, with
Uncle Sammy I could make small talk and ask him what it was like to be
"Howre you doin there, little mama," he grinned.
He stood up and walked toward me, the glass eye sparkling.
"Didnt even know Joe had a daughter," he added. "You
sure are one cute thing, arent you?"
"Well, thanks, Uncle Sammy," I replied, not really knowing what
else to say. He kept on smiling, and moved a little closer. I could almost
taste his after-shave, it was spicy and exotic and I liked it.
"You smell nice," I blurted.
Uncle Sammy gave his famous laugh.
"You are one sweet little gal. Now you come here and give Uncle Sammy
a great big hug."
It seemed like the polite thing to do. I took a few steps, and let him
wrap his arms around me. We were around the same height, the Candyman
was not a big guy, which was something you didnt realize from television.
That was almost a big of a surprise as the glass eye.
The hug seemed endless. He held me close and brushed his fingers against
my face; then he massaged the back of my neck. It felt good; it felt comforting.
So when he pulled back for a minute and put his lips to mine, I kissed
He stroked my hair and then he parted my lips with his tongue and snaked
it down and around. I knew it was wrong, I knew that something terrible,
something dangerous, was happening. It was my first taste of that particular
torture part of me wanted that warm feeling to go on forever, but
the other part of me knew it had to stop immediately. I gave him a little
shove and twisted out of his arms.
He smirked at me and laughed again.
"Oh, are you going to be something when you grow up, Little Miss.
You are something else already. So tell Uncle Sammy. What did you think
of that, hmmm? You know what I think, honey pie? I think you liked it.
I think you liked it very much."
I struggled mightily to think of a quick comeback, a mature answer.
Im fascinated," was what
I finally managed to say. That was it, that was my brilliant reply. And
then my father walked in with the beer.
I said I was "fascinated". The word "violated" never
even entered my brain.
The coke thing didnt faze me, either. Drugs in the mainstream were
just on the horizon, but back then, I didnt have a clue. I would
later learn that this was how my father earned a living once he couldnt
find work as a horn player and that he had several famous "clients".
At one point in my life, I actually thought this was cool.
What can I tell you? These were very different times.
Anyway, back at the Algonquin, what happened next was this. My dad and
Uncle Sammy chugged back a few brews, my father finally got loose, and
we sat around making small talk. Mostly about music; nothing about me.
Occasionally, I would look over at Uncle Sammy and flush, thinking about
being in his arms, and he would wink at me with his good eye. My father
never noticed. We ended up going out for some really bad Chinese food
at an empty hole in the wall where it was guaranteed no one would recognize
the Candyman and then my dad put me in a taxi and I caught the next train
home. And that was that. I never told a soul, not even my mother, in spite
of getting the grand interrogation upon my return.
"So? Did you have a good time?" she asked, looking as if she
was bracing herself for the worst.
"Oh, I had the best time ever," I said.
"Really?" She sounded shocked. "What did you guys do?"
"Oh, just talked and had Chinese food. It was fine, Mom. Really."
Guess what, mom. An internationally famous man thinks Im pretty
My mother was not convinced, but she looked at me again and saw the joyful
expression on my face and didnt argue. She tried a few more questions
but didnt get anywhere, and finally let the subject drop.
My father still never came to visit; but I never asked to see him again,
either. Robert Duffy became the first of an endless stream of over-adoring
boyfriends with whom I would need to surround myself at all times.
As the years passed, from time to time I would catch Uncle Sammy singing
and dancing on television or see his face plastered across a magazine.
. Id always pause for a moment and smile a bit, remembering the
Algonquin. To this day, I have a fantasy that Im part of that great
round table, holding court with the story of my first kiss, my father
a part of the spellbound audience.
Robin Slick October 2002
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