The Bill from My Father

The Bill from My Father by Kyoko Watanabe, Bernard Cooper Read Free Book Online

Book: The Bill from My Father by Kyoko Watanabe, Bernard Cooper Read Free Book Online
Authors: Kyoko Watanabe, Bernard Cooper
be, and I watched him sleep for several minutes before I drifted off.
    Brian was right; I probably didn’t need a pretext to phone my father and reestablish contact. Nevertheless, a pretext was handed to me a few days later when Lynn, an old girlfriend with whom I’d been romantically involved in college, called to tell me that she and her lover, Monica, the aforementioned film historian, were going to throw a party based on
The Stepford Wives,
a movie from 1975 that Monica had shown in her feminist film seminar. The movie, from a novel by Ira Levin, is set in the picturesque fictional suburb of Stepford, Connecticut, where the husbands are carrying out a plot to turntheir independent modern wives into ideals of passive, anachronistic womanhood. The transformations are achieved by way of outpatient operations whose details are vague, but after the surgery, each wife possesses an unflagging, almost robotic good cheer and a predilection for elaborate hairdos and frilly dresses. The men hope to regain their rightful place in the households and communities of a misguided liberal America, whose cities, their scheme suggests, are choking in the smoke from burning bras.
    As for the party, Lynn told me that she and Monica each planned to play the role of perfect hostess to the hilt. “We’re going to serve Cheez Whiz on Ritz crackers and walk around like we’re anesthetized,” she said enthusiastically. Lynn gave me the date and time of the party and urged me to dress in the repressive spirit of Stepford. Years after its release, the movie had remained for many people of my generation a deliciously sinister parody of the rigid middle-class conventions of grooming and behavior into which we’d been indoctrinated as children and which we found stifling as adults. Our early years were spent desperately trying to conform to those conventions and our later years were spent desperately trying to escape them. The party’s premise was a battle cry of irony, especially considering that the guest list consisted almost entirely of Lynn and Monica’s lesbian-feminist friends, who thought of skirts and high heels as hobbling devices invented by men to limit a woman’s physical agility and fetishize her helplessness. “By the way,” Lynn added, “since Brian has to see clients that day, you’ll be the only guy at the party.” A few of Lynn and Monica’s friends were staunch separatists who avoided contact with men and who smoldered with unspoken accusations whenever I walked into the room, as though, by being a queer Jewish adjunct teacher with a crummy income, I was a minion from the world of male privilege who’d come to rob them of their civil rights. When I suggested to Lynn that my presence might make her separatist friends uncomfortable, she said, “You have to understand that they’re not reacting to you as an individual, they’re reacting to your penis, so there’s really nothing for them to be threatened by.”
    â€œOh, thanks,” I said. “You always know how to make me feel better.”
    â€œYou know what I’m trying to say. They’re really sweet people underneath all that swagger.”
    As soon as I hung up, my father’s polyester jumpsuit sprang to mind. It wasn’t as apt for the party’s theme as, say, a Dacron leisure suit would have been, but borrowing it gave me the excuse I needed to call him and make amends. I dialed 662-6806, seven numbers imprinted forever in the Rolodex of memory.
    My father picked up after a single ring. “What the hell do you want?”
    I hadn’t said hello, so his vehemence threw me off guard. “How did you know …?”
    â€œOh, it’s you. Hello.”
    â€œWho were you expecting?”
    â€œSome nut from the phone company.”
    I pictured the mound of unopened bills on the breakfront desk. Someone from the phone company had gotten on his bad side, and I

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