My friends and I talk about how we are becoming mothers all the time. I have started freaking out and obsessively cleaning when people come over, freaking out when I am 30 seconds late for something, freaking out when I am lost, because I am an equally terrible driver. But I’m not becoming my father, because, well I guess I’ve always been like him.
Just today I committed 2 Paulisms in 2 hours: I tried to change my broken car headlight myself (a $10 charge at Pep Boys) and talked a woman out of expediting her passport application at the post office.
“It’s a total ripoff, I mean, I got mine in 2 weeks and I’m going to India right around the same time you are going on your vacation.”
No matter that I was only getting pages added to my passport, and not applying for an actual passport. It didn’t matter that I would never see this woman again, and had zero personal interest in her saving $60. But I was doing this woman a favor. I normally don’t talk to strangers if I can avoid it, even if it means not doing a good deed. But I thought, Dad would definitely say something.
“Really?” This woman was not about to believe a girl in spandex pants and a St. Mary’s Football t-shirt celebrating its 2004 championship without some serious backup and street cred.
“Oh totally.” I reassured her.
“But I’m scared!” She lamented to me.
“That’s exactly it!” I scolded her. “They are trying to scare you into paying the fee. They say 4-6 weeks to cover their behind.”
Now I was scaring myself. The concept of being scared into a fee is textbook Paul H. Anderson.
“But what if—”
“Don’t buy in!” I told her. I also told her that the Post Office’s passport picture fee was much more than CVS’s so if she didn’t mind the trouble she could save a few bucks by going there instead. Word vomit couldn’t stop flooding out of my big mouth.
While I considered it my Good Samaritan act of the day, it could just as easily be my sin of the day. I mean, I could be completely screwing this woman over into missing her trip to Jamaica.
But it was the Paul in me told me to speak up. My dad is always looking for a bargain, like Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story when he tries to negotiate his Christmas tree.
He is the all-American Dad: he started a landscaping company in his teens that he worked through college, prides himself on being Mr. Do-It-Yourself, a staunch Republican who has never bought a foreign car, or even a new one, as it depreciates 50% as soon as you drive it out of the dealership.
One of my favorite memories that sums up my dad also involves passports, though it shouldn’t, as the scene takes place at my college graduation party and involves my 81-year old grandmother. It was at about 12:30a and my aunt and uncle were going to take them home on their way back from our house.
I should add that there was not a drop of alcohol involved in this scene; rather a lack of sleep and insomnia served as substitutes for inducing poor decision-making.
Somehow, my dad and my Nana got on the topic of going to Italy. Now, for the last 10 years, my Nana has refused to get on an airplane. Once a European country hopper with a knack for adventure in her 20’s and 30’s, she is now too afraid to get on planes for fear that she will have a heart attack in the air. She also claims that the hospitals are not as good as they are in America.
I would tried to justify her notion by classifying Nana as a true immigrant-turned-US-citizen with an “everything is better in America” attitude. However, this reasoning is null and void because she later said that even going to Michigan was just too risky with its substandard cardiac facilities. Unless, of course, you classify Michigan as Canada.
“I looked up those hospitals in Michigan, and they just aren’t up to speed on the heart care services up there,” she’d say matter-of-factly. The ultimate diss to our midwest compatriots.
“Whatever,” my dad always replied, obviously irritated.
The trip to Italy, my dad’s grand scheme of taking my Nana back to her hometown, Bitritto, outside of Bari in the south of Italy, has been a 10-year argument that he has not won. Not one to give up easily, he has continued pursuit of this trip like a lion stalking its prey on an empty stomach.
That night at my graduation party, the Italy trip came up again. I groaned at the complaints of hospitals, safety, and other hazards that a third-world nation like Italy presents. This is coming from a grandmother who was skeptical of the infrastructure in Australia when my cousins moved to Sydney.
“Do they even have roads there?” She asked my cousin Brian before he moved.
But then, all of a sudden, my Nana, perhaps equally as drained from a 10-year argument, told my dad the magic words he needed:
“I don’t care.”
That, my dad’s eyes, was as good as a yes, perhaps even better, as an “I don’t care” lowers the expectations bar, and it did almost immediately.
“Alright, he said, let’s go get a passport picture, then” my dad said matter-of-factly.
“Right now?” I asked as we all surrounded the island in the kitchen, picking at leftovers fruit platters and cookie trays.
Let’s pause right there and recap.
1. Its 1:00 in the morning.
2. My mom is sleeping
3. My Nana is 81.
4. My uncle is about to leave and drive them home, a 45-minute trip.
My dad tells his younger-but-much-wiser brother, my Uncle Joe, that he is going to take my Nana to the 24-hour Walgreens to get her picture taken and for him and the kids to follow him there. He can wait in the car and take my Nana and Papa home afterward.
If this is about making sure we avoid the $60 passport expediting fee, I was about to lay down three of my own Andrew Jacksons on the table. While I find this incredibly rude of my dad to expect this of someone, especially his brother, I tell him that I am coming along, if nothing than for the sheer entertainment. But I figure I’ll try and keep my Nana relaxed.
“What did I just sign up for?” My Nana announced, almost revoking her “I don’t care.”
Walgreens is super welcoming at 1:15 in the morning–there were a bunch of stoners loitering in the parking lot. We walked up to the Photo Center, where of course no one is attending. Because, here’s a thought, how many people come at 1:00 am on a Saturday night to get their passport picture taken? On top of that, how many 81-year old women come in at 1:00 am for this procedure?
I actually pose this question to the 17-year-old cashier we got to assist us, and his reply was, “Well, you’re my first for both of those categories.”
There you have it: Paul H. Anderson: entrepreneur and Walgreens trailblazer.
My poor Nana tried to crack a smile despite being as tired as ever and not looking as spritely as she normally does.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said through her teeth to the 17-year-old “photo expert.” And frankly, either could he.
My dad is not the best planner in the world. In fact, he is terrible, though mostly because he has too many things on his plate. So I always assume the duties of trying to help out when I can, especially when it involves travel plans. In short, I booked a hotel for my dad using GoogleTranslate Italian, booked some flights and coordinated logistics to follow through with this trip. I felt even more compelled to help than usual, because I didn’t want that Walgreens trip to be a waste. It was way too funny, and if they didn’t go anywhere, what would be the point of writing about it?
I’ll give you the short version. My Nana and Dad went to Italy together. Smartly, Nana had set low expectations for the trip, telling my dad that as long as she sat on a park bench with him and reminisced some stories of her childhood that it would be a success. They met up with the closest thing my Nana has to a sister, her cousin Emilia. They reunited after not having seen each other in more than 30 years. They laughed throughout the visit and cried when they said goodbye. It was the last time they would see each other, Emilia died 7 months later.
It’s the carpe diem of my Nana’s generation, the Just Do It of my dad’s, and the YOLO of mine. I’ve learned you never know when you’ll be given a great opportunity, no matter how impossible or crazy it seems at the time. So, while I try not to lecture on the frequentfailer blog, here’s the lesson to remember: just because a 17-year-old Walgreens kid says it’s never been done before doesn’t mean you can’t do it.