Monday, August 09, 2004

Lee (and Lee) and me

That fucking bitch, I think.

I TOLD Lila I didn't want her dad to know. She AGREED with me. And now, after dropping her off at the train station, he conveniently shows up again? I'm thinking Lila is behind this.

"What are you dong back here?" Lila says.

"Nothin'," her dad says.

"Come ON, dad, what's going on?"

"Nothin', honey, nothin' at all." He is smiling nonchalantly, not a care in the world. "Thought you'd be on the train by now. Who's your friend?" He is looking at me.

Lila pauses. She doesn't know how to introduce me. Maybe this really IS legit! Maybe she DIDN'T know he'd come back.

My arm was around her in the parking lot. He saw that. No sense denying we're hooked up. Then again, I don't have to draw attention to it.

I extend my hand. "How do you do, sir? I'm Steve."

He gives me a firm handshake. One single shake, just the way I like it. It's a great first impression: Very polished. Believe it or not.

He smiles warmly. "First of all, my name isn't 'sir'. Call me 'Lee'. "

"Fair enough, Lee."

"So," Lee says, "Lila didn't tell me she had a boyfriend. How long have you two been, uhhhh...."

"Few months," I say. If I tell him it's been since Christmas, he might be insulted. "Lila wanted to tell you. It was me who-"

He shakes his head and waves his palms at me. "You don't owe me an explanation, Steve. She's an adult; so are you."


"So, I guess you weren't taking the train after all," he says. We shake our heads sheepishly.

"Have you been in town all weekend?" Lee says, looking at me.

"Yeah, I was staying at the Courtyard. We're down for a friend's wedding."

"Aww! Ya shoulda told me! I woulda had you over!"

"We're trying to be discrete," I say. "Some people - MOST people - don't understand."

"I hear ya," he says. "As long as my little girl is happy, that's all I care about. Are ya happy, honey?"

Lila smiles, puts her arm around my waist and kisses my cheek, without saying a word.

"Wow!" He says. "You got'er speechless!"

We laugh.

"Lila," he says. "Do you mind if I talk to Steve for a minute?"

"Dad!" she says.

I nod at her, as if to say, "it's ok."

She walks the rest of the way to the car, about 50 feet or so.

Lee reaches inside his sleeve and produces a pack of Marlboros. He pulls one from the pack and offers it to me. I shake my head "no". He puts it in his mouth and lights it.

He inhales deeply, then, with a loud "FFFFFFFFFFF," expels a plume of grey smoke from his mouth.

"Thatta BMW?" He says, incredulously, pointing his chin towards my car.

"Yes sir!" I say, proudly.

"How old are you?" He says, studying my eyes.

I don't see any reason to lie, so I don't. I may later, though. "Thirty-three."

His gaze doesn't move at all. His eyes are hard, like Clint Eastwood's. "Ya married?" He asks.

"No sir. Of course not!"


"Nope. No kids," I say.

"Ahh, Lila likes 'em old. Always has. She was sixteen, datin' a 28-year-old. Nice guy, though. I bought a bike from 'im."

"Hog?" I say. It's a nickname for 'Harley'. I noticed his "If you ain't got a Harley, you ain't got shit" t-shirt, and I figure the question might soften him up a bit.

He flickers his eyes at me. "Won't ride anything else," he smiles.

He drags on his cigarette. "I made a lot of mistakes," he says. "I been to prison. Ten years I was up there, upstate."

I nod.

"I was selling cocaine," he sighs. "Cocaine and marijuana. Made a looootta money..." There's a touch of what sounds like pride in his voice.

What, does he think he's interviewing for a drug lord position? So tell me, Lee, how would you feel about heading up our Heroin division? Also, we may ask you to assassinate some of our rival drug dealers. Would you have any objections to that?

"I got busted by the feds. The FBI got me," he says, nodding gravely. "I lost everything. My wife left me, my daughter didn't speak to me for a long time," he says, nodding toward Lila.

"When I went in, she was a little baby. Two years old. And when I got out..."

Don't tell me. Nice, big tits and a round ass, right? I'm guessing she filled out early.

"...she was a young woman. I missed her childhood. I'm never gonna forgive myself for that."

He puffs on the cigarette. Smoke leaks out of his mouth as he speaks. "Barbara wouldn't send me a picture. She wouldn't send me a picture of my own daughter. I managed to get my hands on a couple, though: One of 'em was her nursery school graduation, with her little cap and gown on. And then the other one was a... she was in her, ah, girl scout uniform. Big smile. She had her front teeth missin'," he says, pointing two fingers to his upper lip. "I looked at those pictures every single day. For YEARS."

He looks down at his boots. "And then I got out, and I got a job, and I couldn't find Barbara for awhile. She took off on me. I finally got her address when she served me with the papers."

"She waited until you got out to divorce you?!" I say.

He nods. "Ain't it a bitch, though?" he says.

"Did you get visitation?" I say.

"Who the hell's gonna give visitation to an ex-con?" he says. "I got no more money for lawyers, no money to travel..." He stares at the cars rolling in and out of the parking garage.

"I used to write to her. Lila. I used to put a little Tootsie Roll in the envelope. She loved those things, even when she was a little girl," he laughs. And she never wrote me back, and then one day a few years ago, she sent me a little note, and, ah, at the bottom, she wrote, ahh, she wrote, 'I love you, dad'. " His voice is breaking. A little tear streams down his cheek and disappears into his goatee.

He sniffles. "Anyway, I know I shouldn't tell my daughter how to live her life, because I've had enough trouble with my own. She probably wouldn't listen to me anyway, and I don't blame her for that. I wouldn't listen to me either," he chuckles.

"I understand," I say.

"I just wanna do right by her. I wanna be her friend. That's all I can do. It's too late to be her dad. She's a woman now."

Um, are we going somewhere here, Lee?

"I'm not gonna lecture you," he says. "You seem like a nice guy. She seems really happy. All I wanna say is..."

Take care of my little girl? Don't break her heart? Nail her once for me?

"...just be good to her," he says. "Be better to her than I was." His eyes are tearing over again.

He tilts his head and looks up at me, waiting for a response. Suddenly he looks familiar. And then I realize it: Lila gives me that same exact look sometimes, right down to the tilted head.

"I will, Lee." We shake hands. And despite everything, I realize that there is a lot of love in this man. Yeah, he deserved everything he got. But at least he didn't forget his kid, like MY mother did.

"Actually, I'd like a favor, too," I say.

He looks at me.

"Barbara doesn't know about us, Lila and me. No one does, really-"

He smiles and nods. "This didn't happen," he says. "When you go to prison, you learn to keep secrets."

"Thanks, Lee."

We walk toward the car. "So what do you do, Steve?"

This settles it: Lila didn't tell him about me. Or, if she did, she didn't tell him we work together. Unless this is some type of elaborate hoax they've worked out. Doubt it. Some day, I'll be less cynical, and learn to trust Lila completely. Just not today.

Now, all I have to do is avoid telling Lee I'm in the insurance business. He probably knows Lila works for an insurance company, and that would be too much of a coincidence for him to accept.

"I'm a corporate VP," I say.

"Wow." We get to the car. Lila is smoking.

Lee gestures with his head toward Lila. "Did you know her real name is 'Lee'," he says.


"When she was a little baby, she couldn't say her name. It used to come out 'Le-Le, or La-La, or Lie-La. And we just started calling her Lila, and it stuck." He walks over to her.

"Yeah, we named her after her daddy," he says, draping an arm around her back and rubbing her shoulder. He kisses her forehead.

A motorcyle pulls loudly up alongside us. There is a bald, fat, angry-looking man driving. His mouth is turned downward into a deep scowl. Lee starts toward him.

"Dad, I hope you're staying out of trouble," Lila says, dropping her cigarette butt and squashing it with her sneaker.

"Have a safe trip home, kids," Lee says, and turns his back.