On Saturday, I decided that it was time to have lunch with Rob again. So I hopped on the 405 and went to pick him up at his apartment building in Long Beach. He was waiting out in front smoking a cigarette.
“Yeo,” he said, getting into my car and then we bumped fists as always.
“Yo, soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung today?”
“Let’s do it.”
And that’s what we did. There was the usual 45-minute wait, but we didn’t care because it’s always worth it. I gave the greeter my first name and phone number so they could text us when a table was ready, and then Rob and I walked around the mall catching up on this and that.
“So what’s going on at work these days?” I asked, which is generally my first question. “Anything new?”
“The ushe. We had to throw some drunk asshole out the other night because he was fighting with his drunk girlfriend.”
“So what exactly happens when something like that happens?”
“You don’t want to fuck around with our security. They’re big dudes and they’re strapped and they take no shit,” Rob said proudly. “So they just picked this guy up like he was a little boy and threw him the fuck out. The whole thing was over in like 30 seconds.”
“I’m glad they finally changed your schedule so you don’t have to do the graveyard shift anymore,” I said. “I don’t know how you did it for as long as you did.”
“I don’t know either. I just did it,” Rob said as we walked past a Footlocker. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
“Did you just make that up?” I joked. “You don’t have to answer that.”
“Good because I wasn’t gonna.”
“What didja do last night?”
“Friday nights are always the same deal—the Gong Show meeting in Hermosa Beach,” Rob reminded me. “So I went there and then our crew went out for coffee afterwards.”
“You’ve been going to that meeting forever. Since you first moved to Torrance,” I said, momentarily flashing back to the day we met Brendan Baltimore at the Harbor Rock sober house.
“It’s still the best. It sometimes gets really wild and some people say some crazy shit,” Rob said, “but I love a whole lot of people in that room.”
“Have you spoken with your sponsor lately?” I asked as we sat down on the large, comfy chairs near the entrance to Nordstrom.
“Yeah, I saw him the other week and we had some eggs at the Greek diner,” Rob said. “I hadn’t seen him for a while. He’s been real busy and having some problems with his wife.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you guys talk about?”
“It changes each time, but mainly just checking in with him kind of stuff,” Rob said while checking texts on his iPhone. “I’m still stuck on the 6th Step. Too much God shit for me.”
“Well, at least you don’t have to go to church anymore!” I said. “By the way, how long have you been sober now?”
“Just passed nine months.”
“Wow! That’s awesome! I’m really proud of you!” I told him and got all choked up for a second. “Three more months until the next chip! You know I need to be there, right?”
“I know, Dad, I know.”
“Did I tell you that I saw The Irishman?” I asked, quickly changing the subject so I wouldn’t cry. “It was really, really good.”
“Two reallys is a lot coming from you.”
“Joe Pesci steals the movie,” I said. “I think you’ll really like it.”
“Really? Or really, really? Make up your mind,” said the wise guy who sounded a lot like me. “I think I’m gonna wait until it hits Netflix in a few weeks, although three and a half hours might be a rough sit.”
“It’s the same amount of time as watching a football game,” I pointed out, “which I’m sure you’re gonna do tomorrow when your Bills play the Browns. I still can’t believe that the Bills are actually good.”
“They’re better than the Giants,” Rob said, “but so is everybody.”
“I’ve taught you well, my son. Speaking of sons, have you spoken with Zach lately?”
“Yeah, we text all the time. He’s always sending me new songs,” Rob said. “He sent me a few the other night from a new Rex Orange County album. I thought they were aiight.”
“I listened to a few of them too. I liked the one called ‘10/10.’”
“I don’t remember what any of ’em are called,” Rob said, which is so typical of him.
“Speaking of calls, when was the last time you spoke with Mom?”
Rob paused for a moment and looked me in the eyes. “I think it was a few Sundays ago,” he said. “She had just come back from a walk on the beach.”
“Really? In October?”
“Dad, you know I’m not really here with you right now, right?”
“I know, Rob. But can you hang with me for just a little bit longer? Until we get the text that our table is ready?”
“You got it,” he said.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now you’re stealing my lines!”
“Now you know what it feels like,” I shot back.
“Did you just make that up?” Rob asked. “You don’t have to answer that.”
“You’re such a fuckhead!” I said and laughed one of those high-pitched laughs that comes from some place I can’t control.
“Thank you, sir,” he said and laughed along with me. It seemed just like old times.
“I’ll see you later, Rob. I love you.”
“I love you, Dad…” he said, and then hesitated for a beat. “You know that you end a lot of these stories with me saying that, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” I admitted. “It’s because I miss you so damn much and can’t hear it enough.”
“I get it. Later, father.”
“Bye for now, dude.”