When I lived with my father in Vegas, I spent most days that I wasn’t at school or at the dance studio in his machine shop. My stepmother hated having my sister or me home, so we’d get up early and go to the shop with dad. We were bored out of our minds most of the time, nothing to do but read or go outside to take a phone call away from the noise of machinery.
My father always liked numbers more than people. Numbers always make sense, there’s a fixed set of rules, laws of mathematics. People have no rules and can be quite cruel. Dad came to America in the sixties to flee Castro and spoke not a word of English. A small, red headed boy who only spoke Spanish in Brooklyn was bound to experience cruelty. Mechanical engineering was a fitting career choice for him.
So we’d all sit about the shop, dad working with lathes and die cutting tools, my sister and I reading, texting, or staring at goddamn walls. I think we were all usually urging time to go by as fast as possible to get to the next landmark of our day: lunch.
Every so often, dad’s best friend would join us for lunch. Rob was a weird guy, but then again, my father was only ever friends with the oddest characters. Rob was a skinny white dude of average height. He was a ginger like us and was pale as ever. He always wore plain t-shirts and jeans. I found out much later that both my sister and I suspected he was addicted to some kind of drugs. He always seemed like a tweaker. I’m not sure if dad knew about anything we didn’t, or whether he just ignored the circumstance, but either way, we would pick this guy up for lunch on a regular basis.
We’d drive around deep in the heart of downtown Vegas, on the east side of the strip, and somehow or another we would happen upon the building that Rob called home. It still looked like a sketchy motel. It still may have been. There was no signage. Rob would hop into dad’s Lexus SUV and we’d all talk…sort of. Dad and Rob studied martial arts together. Rob would always talk about whether he was going to move back to Virginia or not. He’d laugh awkwardly and try to ask my sister and me questions about our lives. There was lots of silence that was only ended by our pulling into the parking lot of the Indian buffet.
By this time, I was usually starving and ready to cut any form of small talk by shoving lots of Indian food in my face. Each of us would stand in line, picking out what we want from Ghandi’s Buffet and then take our spoils back to a dimly lit booth. I would always avoid dishes with lamb in them because I don’t like eating baby animal. Rob would tease me and sing, “Iphy had a little lamb.” While we ate. I would grimace at my chicken and rice. No, I do not have a little lamb. I don’t want one at all. My appetite would fade, but I’d eat anyway.
Lunch got slightly less awkward after Rob finally did move back to Virginia some six or eight months later. Then we only had to contend with dad teaching us algebra during lunch. He’d grab a napkin and a pen and start in on advanced equations of any variety. I guess that counts as an improvement to being serenaded by my dad’s best friend about lamb.