Alain Douglas Park

I Don’t Want Anything to Happen; I Want Something to Happen

Wednesday night, already dark, I fully intended to ask my lovely teenage daughter something quick about dinner, but she blew by me, dumped her green army bag on the tiles and headed to the bathroom. I’d been standing there awhile, smoking at the sink, trying to figure out what to make.

Hey, ClaireBear, good to see you, I said to the air, which, wouldn’t you know it, didn’t say anything back.

A typical scene since Claire’s moved in, because she doesn’t want to live with her mom right now, because her mom is getting remarried and Claire can’t stand the creep. I said, sure, I got room, I’ll take the couch. It’s no bother. And most days it isn’t. I don’t see her all that much. I see her green army bag more than her. It’s tattered and covered with safety pins and Sharpie and has been one of my best friends lately.

Last Wednesday when she came in, she tossed my little friend right into the cardboard boxes I’d brought home from the restaurant and stacked in the middle of the kitchen. I went over then and straightened them, because these boxes are important. The guy at Home Depot said you do this first when you want to add something to a room. Lets you get used to the idea, see what it might look like. I was thinking a kitchen island might be nice. Weeks later I’m still thinking an island might be nice, always thinking with me, but I do find it funny how just the idea of one is making me feel more like an adult.

I thought then to wait a little longer until Claire came out. Because kids should eat, I decided. Even if it’s late.

The first time I felt this, “being an adult,” I was seventeen, just a little older than Claire is now. We had a habit back then, my kid brother and I and all our friends, of breaking into houses, vacation homes usually, snowbirds, those people who only show up to Arizona in winter. We knew they were second homes, empty for weeks on end in summer, and what else was there to do as a teenager in Tucson except scope one out on a quiet cul-de-sac, the back of some nice neighborhood in the foothills. Ventaña Canyon, maybe, or Shadow Hills Estates.

We’d bust in, drink everything we could find, eat whatever food they had, screw in their beds, and leave the place pretty well trashed on our way out. Someone always got sick someplace creative, like between leather couch cushions, or inside an expensive vase. Once all over a family of kachina dolls. And all of us—every single one of us—thought that was just about the funniest thing in the whole world. It became a game, the best place to yak. My kid brother was king of this. Barely knew where he was half the time.

Where’d I do it, he’d ask, drunk as a prince. Laughing and wiping his mouth.

We were a bunch of punks and skins. Not much redeemed us then.

But the one thing those houses always had were large eat-in kitchens, big appliances and winding counters, the kind with huge islands that looked out to the rest of the place, and for that I thank them. For that, all the damage we caused was worth it. Because there was always a point in the party where I’d be at one of those islands smoking a cigarette, eating some stale thing I found and looking out at my friends doing some very disrespectful things to someone else’s home and I’d think to myself, if only for a second—what in God’s name am I doing?

This story comes to me in three parts. The first is about a blind man, the second a handwriting fortune-teller, and the third about a father and a car.

I’ve told these little stories for years, because I’ve worked in bars and restaurants for years and all of us who do that have stories like these to tell. The “I knew a guy once…” sort of thing. They surface, roll around a bit, become part of your repertoire. They don’t mean anything. At least I never thought they did. We tell them because it gets late and things have been flowing all night and sometimes people just want to listen. I have tons of them.

But now I think stories are a problem for me. They’re useful. In the way a cigarette is useful when your hands are bored. And these three I can’t get out of my head. I’ve been very distracted lately.

Like just two weeks ago I was having coffee with my ex after we closed up at the restaurant, trying to unwind with a couple splashes of whiskey mixed in with our espressos (I’ve told Claire if she ever works the business it’s what you have to do to turn it all off, have a drink to undo the shift—that and tattoos, which essentially do the same thing, though tattoos undo more) but then Marcella was staring at me with her cup in mid-air and asking what the fuck was wrong with me. I guess along with the whiskey I also put a pat of butter in my coffee and was stirring it in. I shook my head, annoyed at her for suggesting I’d do something so unaware, but then I looked down and saw the swirling oily surface at which point I said, nothing’s wrong, I like it this way. Then I drank it. (Oh, and by the way, if you don’t try it now you’re an idiot, because it’s a thing and it’s fucking delicious.)

Marcella, my ex, is a waitress at the same place where I work on the line. I got her a job there because she needed one and we’re civil to each other after fifteen years apart, well past the point of bitter, though I certainly never had the right to be. So now I get to fire orders and look out from my little window to the waitstation counter at my ex-wife slicing limes, which gives me more than enough time to wonder about how much of my past behavior might have contributed to her current situation. Claire’s right about the fiancé. He is a creep.

Marcella’s much younger than me and still looks great. She and Claire could almost be sisters. I’m starting to see more of each in the other. It’s a mystery how I even landed someone like Marcella in the first place, although the older, damaged me seems to do well enough. This is the restaurant business after all. Not much else happens. Everyone has potential at the right time of night. But Marcella, she was different, is different. She’s so pretty there are moments I have a hard time thinking about her in any other way. I look at her and I see her face. She’s half Mexican and has creamy brown skin and wide-set Mayan eyes. Her eyebrows a