7

“Another round, gents?”

“Sure, Lola.” I introduced Pop to Lola. They shook hands.

“Nice to meet you, Dan. Good to meet a man with some class.” She gave me the skunk eye. I guess she hadn’t forgiven me for any of a hundred issues in the past. Oh, well. At least she let me come back. Any other bartender would have thrown me in the alley. So Lola was okay by me.

“Thank you, Lola. Nice to meet such an attractive young lady.” He still hung on to her hand. Lola was probably close to a hundred years old.

“Ha! Young, he says. Get that.” She loved it, anyone could see it.

He stroked the back of her hand. She didn’t object.

“Where ya from?” she asked.

Pop went on to tell Lola about Flint and visiting me and all our business.

“Well,” she said, “it’s never too late to find home, is it? And I mean home as in family. What else matters, after all?”

“Indeed,” Pop replied.

We sat, enjoying our drinks in silence. I couldn’t believe it. Never in my dreams would I have imagined being there, right then, next to my pop. I had a lot of mixed feelings about him in the past, mostly hate, blaming him for Ma and Ime being too poor to eat right or have anything. On the other hand, Ma never seemed to lack for vodka or cigarettes. I thought he didn’t love us—didn’t love me—and that was why he left. Turns out it wasn’t that at all.

But now we were home, like Lola said. This would be a new day. Oh, it sounded like Pop didn’t have much money either, but at least we could be in it together.

We came stumbling out of Bootleggers at one o’clock closing, laughing and singing and generally in great spirits. I barely remembered my pop, and now here he was in my life. No doubt, things were looking up for me. Been getting temp work, eating regularly, even got a roof over my head, such as it was. All from being four months off the junk.

*

The next morning, I dragged my ass out of bed, determined to get some work, since I once again spent all my money. I made Pop promise to stay in. I really didn’t know what would happen to him out there on that block being blind and all. I mean, he looked like he used to be able to take care of himself back when, but a blind guy in that part of town? Not good.

Off I went to Super Temps. Same drill as most days, but at least I got a better job than the day before. Barely better. They dragged me and ten other men out to this one-story building so far out in the suburbs it was nearly in the country. I spent the day on an assembly line. I stood with a huge power screwdriver thing hanging down from the ceiling on a springy cord while beer clocks—the kind that hang in bars—rolled down the conveyer belt. I would take the screwdriver gizmo and zap a screw into one particular hole in the back of the clock. That’s it. My quota was twenty clocks a minute. That’s a clock every…I’m not sure how many seconds, but fast, over and over again. All day. Monkey work at its best. It got so I would try to see if I could screw the screw all the way through the clock, just for fun. I could, and no one seemed to care. At least no one said anything to me, and the pay envelope showed up at the end of the day.

The van dropped me off at Super Temps at five-thirty. It must have rained while I was screwing clocks, with puddles everywhere and the usual piss smell washed away. I dragged my sore arm back to the Rand, and when I got to my room, it was empty.

No Pop. No note. No nothin’.

Where could he have gone? I went back downstairs. The first place I looked was the Best Steak House—maybe he got hungry and went there—but Jad didn’t remember seeing him. I checked Bootleggers. Lola hadn’t seen him either. I checked the Venice. Nothing. Now I was totally freaking out. I looked everywhere. I went to Shinders. The girl with the crew cut hadn’t seen him. I looked in McDonalds. Brady’s Pub. I looked in all the businesses I could get into. I couldn’t go in the movie theaters, but I asked the cashier at the World and the carrot-top usher at the Academy, and they didn’t remember him. I couldn’t go in Moby Dick’s, I was eighty-sixed after a little tussle a few months ago, but I asked the bouncer—who was good enough not to hold any grudges—if he’d seen an old blind guy. He said no. I walked around the block and then extended my circle out to the surrounding blocks. Not a sign. I asked some of the players I knew if they remembered seeing an old blind guy wandering around. Nothing. I decided to check the alley, hoping I wouldn’t find him there since that would not be good news. Again, nothing.

6

“Hey, Jad.”

“Jack! How’s life?” The owner stood behind the counter; he wore a white apron and had a long fork permanently attached to his right hand.

The place was a cafeteria. I hadn’t thought of that.

“Well, Jad, well. We’re just going to sit down, okay?”

“Sure, Jack, whatever. Who do you have with you?”

I introduced Pop.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Boguslaw.”

Pop put his hand out. “Please, call me Dan. Pleasure’s all mine, Jad.”

Jad transferred the fork to his left hand and shook Pop’s hand. “You sit on down. We’ll take good care of you.”

Jad was a nice guy. He was from somewhere like Egypt or Syria or someplace, and had a bit of an accent. “Hey, Pop, you sit here, and I’ll get the food.” I helped Pop into a seat near the back. The place seemed quiet with only a couple of desperate-looking lone diners.

“They don’t have waitresses?”

“No. This is a pretty trendy place. What you do is, you go up to the counter and pick out the biggest, juiciest steak they have, and then they cook it right there for you. Sounds great, doesn’t it?”

He smiled. “Sure does. I’m hungry. Peanut butter sandwiches don’t go very far.”

“Sorry about that. How’s a T-bone sound?”

I went up and ordered a couple of two-ninety-nine specials: steak, baked potato, salad, and a piece of French bread. While I was there, I asked Jad to turn down the baseball game. He helped me out.

I put the tray down and placed silverware in front of Pop.

“So tell me about your day, son.”

“Yup, same old, same old. Old man Murphy is busting my chops about some contracts that he screwed up, and now I have to fix.”

He felt around the table, locating the silverware and then the napkin dispenser. “I thought you did criminal law.”

“Oh, I do. They just need me to help. Bail them out, really.”

“I hope they appreciate you.” He took a bite of steak. “Delicious. Best steak I’ve ever had.”

“What’d I tell ya, Pop?”

Pop felt around again until he found the catsup and shook some on his plate. We ate. “Tell me what you see,” he said.

“The staff is in black tuxedos,” I said, a piece of baked potato dropping in my lap. “I think they are all Italian. There are several well-dressed couples having steaks. That’s about it.”

He cut a piece of steak and swirled it around in the catsup. “What’s the décor?”

I looked around the room. Water-stained ceiling, old Formica tables with cigarette burns, and a checkerboard black-and-white linoleum floor worn through in several places. “It’s dark, pretty old style. Like a supper club.” Paper travel posters taped to the walls.

“There’s original oil paintings on the walls and chandeliers.”

“How wonderful. Strange they have a baseball game on somewhere.”

“I think that’s coming from the bar.”

We ate slowly. He seemed to enjoy his steak. He’d take a bite, lean back with a great smile on his face, and chew deliberately. We talked about what to do that weekend. Maybe walk around town if it was nice. Maybe go shopping. Since he was blind, there was no sense in bringing up museums or the zoo. Maybe we could go hear some music? Who knows.

After dinner, we decided to go get a bump. We went back out on the avenue with full stomachs. It was now about eight, and while it was light out from the long summer sun, the players were still coming out, leaning against the walls in their hats and gold, looking for whatever they were looking for. The working girls walked the walk, all fine in their miniskirts and clumsy in their ridiculous high heels. Tourists from the suburbs wandered about, looking simultaneously fascinated and scared. Punks hung around in the shadows looking for someone to roll.

We aimed for Bootleggers, around the corner at the end of the block. As we got to the corner, the skinny preacher did his thing, yelling and waving his arms, with his congregation of scarf-wearing women handing out pamphlets.

A girl I didn’t recognize held out a pamphlet to Pop. “Have you heard the word of the Lord?” she said.

“Bless you, child. I sure have. Have a good evening now,” Pop said.

We walked past the Venice, the World Theater, and then the Academy. Both theaters were lit up like Broadway.

Bootleggers was a little dive with big windows. We sat at the bar. I had a Bud, and Pop had a whiskey and water on the rocks.

“To family,” Pop said as we clinked glass and bottle.

5

“Good morning, Pop. How did you sleep?”

“Good, son. But I’d talk to the people at the hotel—that is one uncomfortable bed. An iron bar jabbed me in the back all night. I don’t mean to complain.” Let’s see: The room had two single beds, a dresser, and an end table holding an ugly, oversized yellow table lamp. A light bulb swung on a cord. Old striped wallpaper peeled off the wall, and the pull-down blinds were torn. A black-and-white television that got three or sometimes four channels sat on a metal rolling cart by the door. A bar in the back? Sure. They’ll run right up and fix that.

“Not at all, Pop. I’ll check with the doorman on the way out. Coffee? Something to eat?”

I had my food set up on the dresser. I made a pot of coffee in my electric perk, and I had some Wonder Bread and Jif. I toasted him a piece of bread on my hot plate. “Now, today, I have to go into the office. Sorry about that, but I have a lot of work to do, and I just couldn’t get the time off.”

“I understand.” He sat in his boxers on my one lousy ladder back chair.

“I really think you should stay here. You don’t know your way around town, and I’m worried that something might happen. Okay?” He agreed. I put his toast on a paper towel and set it on the end table and poured him a cup of joe in a Venice mug. “I’ll be home by five, and we’ll go have a good dinner.”

I headed out. It was seven A.M. and cool, but looking to be a beautiful day. It would have been great to take the day off; after all, that’s the benny of working temp. But that peckerwood Clint was on my ass for the rent, and I had blown all my money the day before on the cab, at the Venice, and at the liquor store, so day labor it was.

I walked over to the Super Temps office seven or eight blocks away. As always, the old woman with a beehive haircut and cat-eye glasses greeted me with a snarl. The waiting area was crowded and smelly, and the other men sitting around waiting for work gave the place a prison yard feel. I sat there for about an hour before they called me for a job, and I got in a van with four other men. Our destination turned out to be a hash brown factory. They gave me coveralls and a hairnet, and I stood at the top of this huge hash brown machine, and as the shredded potatoes shot in the top, it was my job to make sure it didn’t get clogged. That meant every five minutes reaching in and pulling out the hash browns, unblocking the opening. Within a half hour, I was covered head to toe in shredded potato. The sweet smell overwhelmed me. I did that job, alone, all day.

At five, with twenty-two bucks in my pocket, I returned to the Rand. There was Pop “watching” Gilligan’s Island, sitting in his dress pants and white shirt on the room’s lone chair with his feet up on the bed.

“Jack, you really smell.”

I threw my coat on the bed. I was bone tired. “You would not believe what happened to me. At lunch, this waitress accidently dumped a whole tray of hash browns in my lap, right in front of my clients and all over what was this new suit.”

“Oh, no!”

“Yup, they owe me for the dry cleaning bill, that’s for sure. This is a custom-tailored Italian suit.”

I changed out of my jeans and T-shirt and took a shower. Even though the water was as usual just a trickle and smelled of iron, the hot water felt real good. I took my time washing everything away.

After getting dressed, I asked, “How do you feel about steak tonight?”

“Everyone loves steak.”

We went down to the street. Six thirty or so, it was still fully light out. A steady stream of cars rolled by, music coming out of their open windows, while after-work drunks made their way to their cars and evening drunks were just arriving. We walked a few doors down to the Best Steak House.

4

We went to the liquor store just past the Academy Theater. I bought us a bottle of MD 20/20, and we walked back on Seventh toward Hennepin Avenue.

Pop held on to my arm and used his cane very carefully. “Where are we, son? Tell me what I’m missing.”

“Well, Pop, this is the center of town. The snootiest part. This is where all the exclusive shops, restaurants, and clubs are.”

“Wonderful. Just wonderful. Smells pretty bad, though.”

“They’ve been working on the sewers.”

“No kidding.”

It had rained earlier, and I steered Pop around the puddles.

“You’ll like staying at the Rand Hotel; it’s a five-star all the way.” He hadn’t been to the room yet. When he got to town that afternoon, I met him at the train station, and we took a cab to the Rand where I dropped his luggage in my room while he waited downstairs. And from there, we went straight to dinner at the Venice.

“Oh, son, I don’t need anything like that. It’s too much.”

“Like I said before, my house on the lake is being remodeled, and I’m staying here anyway, so you can bunk with me. Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard for me to show you around the city. My car’s at the lake too. I don’t need it when I stay at the Rand because my firm is just a short walk away. You know, I should live at the Rand since the house is too big for me. Expensive, but it would be convenient.”

A messed-up middle-aged guy in a dirty plaid shirt stumbled across the sidewalk at us. Just before he would have crashed into Pop, I reached out and gave him a hard shove, slamming him against the building and to the ground. He didn’t make a sound. We rounded the corner onto Hennepin. The usual street preacher stood on a stool, waving his Bible in the air and screaming something I couldn’t understand. He had my attention as we walked by, so it startled me when a plain young lady in a jean skirt and scarf said, “Have you heard the Good Word?” She held a pamphlet in her outstretched hand. She was new. I smiled and took it. I always take a pamphlet from these angels; one of them really came through for me when I needed it the most.

I needed smokes, so we went to Shinders Newsstand. Pop stood by the door while I bought a carton of Kools from the strange little girl with a flattop like Pop’s. I’d seen her a million times, but I must have stared too long.

“What are you looking at?” she said. “Haven’t you ever seen a lady before?” A skinny guy behind the counter laughed.

I helped Pop in the street entrance of the Rand and walked behind him for safety as we climbed the stairs.

“Pop, sorry about the elevator being out. They said it’ll be repaired next week.”

“That’s fine, son. It’s only one floor up. The steps seem in poor repair, though. Handrail loose, steps creaky, and everything seems to be leaning a little bit.”

“Yeah, sorry, Pop. It’s a back service stairs we’d never use if the elevator worked.”

We stayed in for the rest of the evening, listened to country western on the radio, had a few drinks, and told our stories. He told me how he started losing his sight from glaucoma about five years before. Luckily, he had a good pension and Social Security disability, so he was set financially. Lucky him. I told him about my wonderful law practice and all the socialites I dated.

There was one big question I had to know the answer to.

“Why’d I leave back in fifty-nine? You see, son, I couldn’t find a job in Indianapolis. I went to Flint, got a job, and hoped to get the two of you to come and join me. But your ma wouldn’t hear of it. She said she’d never move. So even though I pleaded and pleaded, sent letters, and pleaded some more, she wouldn’t come.” He took a drink of wine out of a coffee cup. “Our marriage was finished.” He said he wrote to me. “I always thought she would at least pass my letters along to you. I thought you were mad at me. Still, I wrote. For ten years, I wrote, until you were eighteen. Then I figured you must have left home anyway.” Meanwhile, he had a good job as a foreman at Fisher. He never got married again. He said it was because he was too heartbroken.

*

3

Pop nodded, as if impressed. “The Israelis—now there are some tough soldiers.”

“Damn right. I think we could have won that war if they’d have let us.”

“That’s what people say.”

“Sure, stupid bureaucrats.”

“Go figure.”

Ruth carried the two plates from the kitchen pass-through to our table. “One pasta primavera and one chicken-mushroom linguine,” she said, putting the plates down. She licked her thumb.

We ate in silence. Pop seemed to be doing pretty good for being blind, rolling the pasta into a huge ball on his fork and stuffing it in his face. I poked at mine. I didn’t know what “pasta primavera” was when I ordered it; it just sounded classy. There were a lot of weird vegetables and no meat.

Pop leaned back, pushed the cleaned-off plate away, and said, “Delicious, son. Best chicken-mushroom linguine I’ve ever had.” He pulled a cigarette case out of his jacket pocket and took out a smoke.

I kept poking at my food. “Told you so. While you’re here, only the finest.”

“Tell me more. So how come you’re not married?” He took a Zippo out of his jacket and lit up.

“Well, I’ve been close, but I’ve never sealed the deal. I guess I’m married to my career. It ain’t easy being a lawyer. Long hours.”

“I can only imagine. So you got out of the army and went to law school?”

“Sure. I graduated from Harvard in 1977. Top of my class. Since then, I moved here, joined one of the top criminal defense firms in the country, and made partner. I’m the youngest partner they’ve ever had.”

Pop felt around the table for the bread basket and pulled out another piece. “That’s great, Jack. You have no idea how happy I am that you turned out so well. Real credit to your mother. I was sad to see her die so young. Only fifty-five.”

I looked out the window at the dark neon street. “Well, hard living takes a toll.” Ma drank. Vodka. She had the idea that with vodka no one could smell it on her breath. Maybe yes, maybe no, but the staggering usually gave her away.

I knew a lot about hard living. Maybe I got it from my ma. Not that I blame her; I’d made choices. I had no one to blame but myself for being a loser. A bum. That’s what I had become. A bum. I knew that. It’s not that I didn’t want more from life. I did. It’s just that sometimes life gives you lemons, and you make lemonade. Sometimes life gives you lemons, and you make crap. I could think of some times in my life that if I had turned right instead of left, I would have been living in a nice house in south Minneapolis, not in a flop like the Rand Hotel. If I had gone into ROTC instead of getting drafted, I really could have been a captain in Special Forces instead of a corporal in the motor pool who spent more time busted to private than being a corporal. If, after I had gotten out of the army, I had used my GI bill to go to school, I would have been sitting pretty. If I had told that guy in Danang no when he offered me my first hit of China white, things would have been different.

Would-a, should-a, could-a.

Sharon walked near us. “Sharon!” I called to her.

She stopped and smiled. “Hi, Jack. What’s up?”

“Sharon, I want you to meet my father, Bogdan Boguslaw. Pop, this is Sharon.”

“Pleased to meet you.” She smiled her big smile.

“Call me Dan.” He put out his hand.

Sharon reached out to shake in reply. “Dan.”

Pop held her tiny hand with both of his big paws. You could tell he had worked with his hands. “Pleasure to meet such a beautiful young woman.”

“Well, you’re a charmer.” She giggled. She was a head-turner, too: coffee-with-cream complexion, blue eyes, long, curly hair.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Pop said. “‘He’s blind, he doesn’t know what I look like.’ But I know. I can tell from your hand. Such soft, smooth skin.”

“Thank you. I will need it back, though.”

He smiled and let go. I explained how he would be staying with me for a week, and she seemed genuinely interested.

After I ate the last vegetable, I lit up a Kool. “So, Pop, what do you say we go back to my place and have a few drinks?”

“Good idea, son. It’s been a long day. I’d like to take the edge off.”

*

2

“They’re pretty mellow here, Pop, for being a fine restaurant. That’s ’cause everyone knows me. I like it more real, anyway. Just because I have money doesn’t mean I like it all stuffy. I may be rich, but I ain’t no snob.”

“Good for you, Jack. Good for you. Never forget where you come from.”

Indianapolis. That’s where I came from. I grew up in the Martindale neighborhood where my pop and my ma and me lived until Pop left. Then it was my ma and me living in the projects. A school counselor once said we were working class. I didn’t understand that since no one I knew worked.

Ruth came back with the wine and put two glasses down. “Well, gents, here’s the finest Merlot California has to offer.” She unscrewed the cap and poured our glasses full.

“Thank you, yes, that’ll do nicely,” I said. We placed our orders: mine pasta primavera, Pop’s chicken-mushroom linguine.

Pop took a sip of wine. “Mmmm, just wonderful, Jack.”

“California makes the best wine these days. It’s better than French.”

“Better than French! I drank a lot of wine when I was in France during the war. Brings back memories.”

We sat quietly, Pop still stiffly facing forward behind his glasses. I lit a Kool and wished there was music. There was so much to talk about, but nothing came to mind. Then, inspiration: “So, Pop, tell me all about Flint.”

He told me about working for Fisher, welding auto bodies for Chevy. He said “Body by Fisher” was something to be proud of.

Officer Penna, the beat cop, came in the door. I shivered. He looked around and spotted me right away. The big, ugly bastard walked slowly to our booth and stopped, standing above me, giving me a cold stare as Pop told me about Flint. The big cop looked at Pop and then back at me. I never looked up. Ever. Eyes forward. He shook his head and went to a table in the corner, sitting down facing us. Pig.

Pop never stopped. “Since my vision finally went completely two years ago, I haven’t been able to work, and hell, I’m sixty-two anyway. Nowadays I watch—well, listen to, you know what I mean—TV most of the time. My cat, Merlin, keeps me company.”

Ruth walked by and dropped a basket of garlic bread on the table without breaking stride. I took a drag off my square and set it in the ashtray.

“Have some garlic bread, Pop.” I picked a piece out and took a bite. I asked if he had anyone in his life, friends. A piece of bread flew out of my mouth and stuck to the catsup bottle.

He felt around and found the basket right away. “Sure. I have some neighbors who come over. There’s one widow who helps me with the shopping. She’s the one who read me your letters and helped me write letters to you. The priest looks in, too. What, are you feeling sorry for me?” His expression didn’t change, so I had no clue if he was mad or hurt or what. He took a bite of garlic bread.

I crushed my cigarette in the glass ashtray. “No, Pop, no. Just wondering.” Kind of pathetic, really. That’s karma, though. No one made him leave us and move to Flint. But, still, he was my pop. When he left, he left—as in never called or visited. Ma was hurt and angry. When she died five months ago, Pop went to the funeral. He told Aunt Doris that if I called to pass on his address.

But hell, who was I to judge? I was too much of a fuck-up to even go to my mother’s funeral, or even know she died. Sure, we had our differences. Sure, she drank a lot. But she was still my ma. If only I could have said good-bye.

“Now what about you, son? Tell me about what you’ve been doing with your life.”

I looked out the window. The theater marquee lights next door lit the people walking by in reds and yellows. Not going to my own ma’s funeral, for one. “Hard to know where to start.”

“Did you serve?”

“Yup, I went in the army in 1970. ROTC. I got as far as captain. I did two tours in ’Nam. We were part of an elite company of commandos. We would work at night, fighting the VC in their tunnels and shit.”

“That must have been something.”

“Yup, I don’t like to talk about it too much. Classified shit, ya know? Still is. Some of the techniques we used we learned from the Israelis.” I leaned back into the corner of the wood-backed booth and grabbed another piece of garlic bread.

The Rand Hotel 1

ONE

I HELD THE DOOR OPEN. “Okay, Pop. Watch your step.”

He tapped around with his cane, figuring out the door jamb, and in he went. I offered him my arm, and he held on lightly.

“Dominic!” I said to no one. “Nice to see you. That’s okay, we’ll find our way to my usual table by ourselves.”

Ruth, the cranky old manager, looked at me from across the room like I was crazy, shook her head, and went about her business.

Pop and me walked over to a booth. I put my hand on his shoulder and guided him down to the wood seat. I sat down across from him as he folded up the cane—who knew those things folded up so neatly?

“You’ll love this place, Pop. This is the finest Italian restaurant in the city.”

“Thank you, Jack. You didn’t have to do that for me.”

“Only the best for my pop.” I fiddled with a packet of Sweet’N Low.

“It smells wonderful in here.” He took a loud inhale and smiled. “Garlic.” He sat stiffly, head up, small, round sunglasses reflecting the light hanging above. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“It’s quiet for Tuesday evening.” What I saw were mostly the usual suspects: a half-dozen men alone with coffee, several older couples, and one table with four young men and women dressed in polyester and wearing platform shoes. Other than the disco kids, all the rest belonged at Little Brothers for the Poor. “Everyone here is dressed to the nines, Pop. Suits for the men, nice dresses and high heels for the ladies.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jack. I’m so underdressed. I should have known.” He sported an old brown suit worn with age and a striped silk tie. He was the best-dressed person in the restaurant.

I had on jeans, dirty tennis shoes, and a sweat shirt with holes on the elbows. I, too, would fit right in at the soup kitchen. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Pop. I know these people, and they know me. They don’t mind.”

“What else? What else do you see?”

If Pop weren’t as blind as a mole in an eclipse, he would have seen that the place once had class, both in its interior and in its customers. By ’79 it was worn linoleum, worn wood booths, worn everything. “There’re candles in old wine bottles at every table, covered with wax dripped down the side. White tablecloths. Linen, I’m sure.”

Pop felt around the booth. “We don’t have a tablecloth, and I don’t think we have a candle.”

“That’s why this is my table, Pop. I asked them not to put down a tablecloth. It just gets stained with tomato sauce, and I hate to see that.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Jack.”

“And the candle, well, it makes me sneeze.”

“You always had allergies.”

I never had allergies.

“Gents,” Ruth, the grizzled battle-ax manager, said. “How are you doing tonight?” Her lipstick was crooked, and the lines on her face were growing deeper—she was as worn as the restaurant. I wished we had gotten Sharon, the pretty one. She was nice, and sometimes she let me slide on paying.

“Magnificent,” Pop replied. “I’m in town to visit my son here.”

“Isn’t that just wonderful.” She obviously couldn’t care less, twirling a pen over her order pad.

“My name is Bogdan Boguslaw. Please call me Dan. You, of course, know my son.”

“Oh, I know him all right.” She gave me the skunk eye.

I hadn’t seen Pop in twenty years, since I was eight. Weird. I could see myself in him. The same square head, same big nose, same hairline. That’s where the resemblance ended though—he was a good four inches shorter and kind of stocky; my hair was to my shoulders, and he wore a flattop.

The manager turned to Pop. “Pleasure to meet such a gentleman, Dan. My name is Ruth. Welcome to the Venice. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Give us a bottle of your finest wine. Merlot,” I said. I showed her the wine list on the back of the menu, pointing at the cheapest bottle on the list.

She looked at where I was pointing, looked at me, looked at my pop and his dark sunglasses, and laughed. “Yes, sir! A bottle of our ‘finest Merlot,’ right away,” she said, cackling like a witch.