âThatâs one patch thatâs never coming off,â he said, and shook a cigarette toward his lips.
âMaybe I can get a tattoo of a patch and then Iâll never have to change my meds again,â I said, joking around.
âWell, Iâve about had it with this patch business,â he
said. âThis is what works for me.â He lit the cigarette and inhaled. âSometimes the disease is better than the medicine. You know what I mean? When I was working down in Panama, a doctor gave me some kind of anti-malaria pills and said, âNow donât use them unless you have to, âcause theyâll probably kill you before they cure you.ââ
I wanted to talk about tattoos but he was already talking his talk. I knew I should listen because thatâs how you get to know someone when you havenât spent a lot of time together, but other things were on my mind. I was thinking that being away from Mom made me feel different. Like there was one Joey for Mom and a different Joey for Dad and that I was becoming two Joeys. Momâs Joey didnât want a tattoo but Dadâs Joey did.
âDad, have you ever felt like two people at once?â I asked.
He didnât answer. Instead he exhaled and said, âYou know, I never had much interest in kids. But after my last arrest I had to do community service, and the coaching opportunity was way better than picking trash on the side of the road with a bunch of jittery winos, so now Iâm the coach of a team of Police Athletic League kids. You know, local kids who if they didnât play ball might get into a little summer trouble. So you shouldnât be afraid of them.â
I wasnât afraid of them. I was sort of afraid of him.
He was already a criminal. âWhy were you arrested?â I asked.
He turned and smiled at me, then turned away and flicked his cigarette butt out the window. âThe usual charge,â he said. âStupidness. Just plain old stupidness.â
âReally?â I said, unsure. âI thought you had to do something stupid to be arrested. Not just be stupid.â
âWell, thatâs true,â he said. âI did something stupid.â
âI bit a man.â
âYou mean like a dog?â
âYeah, pretty much just like a dog.â
âWhereâd you bite him?â
âThe nose,â he said, and held the tip of his reddish nose, then rubbed it between his thumb and finger like he was polishing it.
âWow!â I said, squirming in my seat. âWow! Do you know why I was kicked out of school and sent to special-ed school?â
âNo,â he said. âWhat Pigza stupidness did you do?â
âI accidentally cut off a girlâs nose tip with a pair of scissors. I was running with them and tripped over her and just snipped a tiny bit of her nose off. Can you believe that? Did you trip too?â
âNope,â he said, and lit another cigarette. âI didnât trip. I flipped. I was in a bar and a guy snatched my beer and drank it all down and I got so mad I just
grabbed him by the ears and bit his nose before he could pull away.â
âYou mean yours wasnât an accident?â I said, and I kept looking at his sharp yellow teeth as if he were the Big Bad Wolf.
âNo,â he replied. âNope. You know, Joey, I know you want to have long father-to-son talks with me, and itâs not that I donât want to have long talks with you but you have to realize I really only want to talk about the future with you. Not the past. My past is not good, Joey, so I donât have the good olâ days to feel all warm and fuzzy about. My past, like the nose thing, gets sort of scary and ugly, and to tell you the truth Iâd just rather have, you know, the new times to talk about. The now times. Iâd rather just show you Storybook Land and play baseball and work on making new