Authors: Cecil Castellucci
The first thing I notice as the plane lands at LAX is that it is cloudy and pouring rain. So much for the myth that it’s always sunny in Los Angeles.
Never mind. The weather matches my mood, though on the outside I am all clear skies and sunshine.
Even though I have to wear an embarrassing Air Canada Unaccompanied Minor baseball hat and a big lanyard around my neck holding a card with my name and address written on it like I’m a six-year-old who might get lost on a school field trip. Even though as I get off the airplane, I am escorted to baggage claim by an overly perky and way-too-in-my-business flight attendant named Candy.
I wish she could just break the rules. I wish she could just leave me alone to face the embarrassment that is my father.
“The Rat will pick you up at the airport, Katy,” Mom said when I left Montréal, and I almost thought I heard her say under her breath,
“Do you see him?” Candy asks, smiling at me. Big teeth. I’m glad to see there is a sesame seed stuck in one of them. I wish a cavity on her while I smile sweetly.
My eyes scan the baggage claim area. Any number of the men standing around looking eagerly like they are waiting for someone could be The Rat. I almost don’t want to find him, like maybe it would be best for everyone involved if he just forgot to show up. From what I know of him, that could happen. That’s not even stretching my imagination. If he didn’t show up, I could just shrug, say I tried, and go to Peru.
I size up this one older guy. He’s distinguished-looking, wearing a button-down green oxford shirt and khaki pants. The man looks like he’s wearing his Sunday-best-trying-to-impress, like a cleaned-up version of the last picture I have of The Rat. He could be The Rat. Sort of. If I squint. I am almost relieved. I could maybe hang with this guy for two and a half weeks.
I start to make my way toward him. But then someone else catches my eye and my heart sinks.
“Yeah,” I say to Candy. “I see him.”
The Rat is six feet five inches tall and wears a tiny cowboy hat on his head. He’s got a rolled-up cigarette (I hope not a joint) hanging out of his mouth, and his skinny sleeve-tattooed arms poke out of his once black, now faded gray T-shirt that says N
. He is scruffy, greasy, unshaven, and probably unwashed. His pegged jeans are dingy and look like he wears them every single day.
My father, Beau Ratner, punk name The Rat, looks just like a bum.
As soon as he sees me, he stands up on the edge of the baggage claim belt, throws his hands in the air, waves them around, and yells, “Hellllooooooooooo, Katy!”
Some people look at him and laugh.
Some people are irritated.
Some people follow The Rat’s laughing eyes straight to me.
Someone please throw a pail of water on me so I can melt right into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Candy goes over to The Rat and signs me over to him. Transaction complete.
I wish I’d grabbed my receipt release form right out of her hand. I was close enough. I could’ve made a break for it. I could’ve hopped on a plane going anywhere. Out of
I think about moving fast. I think about running for the double doors and pushing people out of the way. I think about just disappearing.
Am I doing it? I check my surroundings. No. I’m still standing in place with a smile on my face. I even lift my hand and make a little wave hello to The Rat, which makes him take his mini cowboy hat and swing it around his head.
I should have spoken up. I will never ever understand why Mom wouldn’t let me accompany her on the archaeological expedition to Peru. I should have outlined an argument to her that it would have been much more educational there than two and a half weeks in Los Angeles. I could have helped her finish her PhD thesis. I could have made a history-altering discovery. I could have seen Machu Picchu!
Usually, she takes me everywhere, even research trips. Usually, she lets me sit at the adult table. Usually, she lets me participate in everything. She is patient with my questions and giving with her time. In all my life Mom and I have never been apart for more than a few days.
We’re a team.
But this time, the site was too remote. This time it just wasn’t going to work out. This time she was just going to go by herself. This time it was just easier that way. This time I would be in the way. This time she would get more done if I weren’t there.
I know how to be quiet. I would’ve stayed out of her way. I’ve done it a million times before. She knows that. That’s one of the things she loves about me.
Now I have to be without her for a whole
two and a half weeks.
“It’s going to be hard for me, too, Katy,” she said while she was packing her bags, but I could see that really, she was excited. Her thoughts were already in the Andes uncovering the secrets of the Incas. She was already living there without me.
“Think of it as an adventure,” she said. “Think about how much we’ll have to share with each other when we get back.”
The difference is that Mom is visiting the
and I’m in Los Angeles with a man everyone calls
I want to frown. I try. I try to grimace, but instead, my smile just gets wider.
An alarm signals and the suitcases start to spit out onto the spinning conveyor belt. The Rat jumps off the belt and runs toward me and swoops me up into a back-cracking bear hug.
“Look at you! Look at you! You’re huge!” he says. “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I mean, of course I’ve seen the pictures. But now you’re here! In the flesh!”
The Rat is all bending and hugging me, and I am as stiff as a board. I can’t relax. It doesn’t feel natural. I want to remind him that he’s not anything to me that I would call
He hasn’t even come to visit me in Canada since I was seven years old. I want to remind him that to me he is just e-mails, phone calls, some letters, and a bunch of awkward presents.
“Your guitar will probably be with the oversized luggage,” he says. “I’ll go pick it up while you watch for your bags.”
He rushes over to get the guitar that I didn’t ask for and didn’t need. I definitely didn’t want to bring it with me to California. But Mom insisted.
“Music is his life,” she always says with a smile that looks like a secret.
“His life,” I remind her. “Not mine.”
The Rat has been the drummer in about a million bands, but he’s best known for being in a band called Suck.
I might not
music, I might not
music, but everyone with half a brain knows the band Suck. They were never famous. They were more like
Infamously un-famous. Infamously messed up. Infamously the greatest band that never made it.
I have tried to listen to the seven-inch vinyls my mom swears are classics. I have tried to listen to the CD reissue of their out-of-print first (and only) full-length record. Nails on a chalkboard sound more pleasing.
But no matter how much I protested, the guitar, a purple acoustic/electric Daisy Rock guitar, a present for my thirteenth birthday, had to come with me to California.
I have taken it out of its case exactly three times. Mom always says you should try something truly and completely before you give it up. She knows of what she speaks, though perhaps in her day she has taken that idea a bit too far. But it’s a good point. It’s following an academic line of inquiry.
I, myself, discovered that I feel about the guitar the way I feel about eating eel. I knew I wouldn’t like it as soon as I set my eyes on it. Trying it didn’t change anything.
It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t budge. She insisted. So there was no getting out of taking the guitar along for the miserable ride.
With the help of a stranger, I struggle to pull my bags off the moving belt, and The Rat returns with my guitar in his hands, pumping it over his head like it’s a trophy.
“It’s like a crazy exciting time now,” he says. “Sam is really back. Really ready to start Suck again. And this time I think it’s going to take!”
We push the bags over to his beat-up hatchback. It sports stickers on the bumper:
DESTROY ALL MUSIC
SEA LEVEL RECORDS
, and we have a hard time shoving my bags and the guitar into the backseat because the trunk is filled up with The Rat’s drum kit.
“It’s not my full drum kit. It’s my emergency drum kit,” he says. “You know, in case I need to get to some gig or rehearsal last minute.”
Normal people keep spare tires and emergency roadside kits in their trunk, but The Rat needs to be able to cover rock emergencies.
I nearly have a heart attack when the car starts because the radio comes on at about one bagazillion decibels. The Rat must have serious ear damage, or, more likely, severe brain damage.
“Let me turn down the music, so we can talk,” he says, leaning over. “First of all, I think you should call me Beau, because
doesn’t sound right for us and
feels kind of weird. Unless you want to call me Dad? Or The Rat? Or you know what? How about I’ll leave it up to you? What do you think?”
As he talks a mile a minute, his hands never stop thumping out a beat on the steering wheel. I don’t get a word in edgewise because he just keeps talking and talking and talking, mostly about Suck and their new plans and the old days. Every so often he remembers that I’m in the car and remembers he’s excited that I’m here visiting.
I’ll just pretend the next two and a half weeks are already over. I’m glad it’s a temporary situation. I’ll pretend it’s a bad dream. That way I’m already back home, with my friends. Living with my mother. Enjoying the rest of my summer.
I try to forget that I am not in Canada today, and that today is Canada Day, our national holiday, July 1.
“This is great,” The Rat says, “because I can show you everything. From now on, when I write, you’ll be able to picture it all in your head.”