The phone rings, and it’s my son, Joe, calling from the Naval Training Center. He’s got good news. His hard work and solid test scores have moved him up the food chain a bit and earned him additional privileges.
We share a father-son Hooyah, and I put down the cordless phone to do the “happy dance.”
“And Dad,” he say gleefully, “now I can play my video games.”
I stop dancing
“Oh, really?” I say without enthusiasm.
“Uh, huh. I’ll get you a shipping-list of what I need.”
I try not to groan.
Lately, I’ve become Special-Delivery-Dad, quartermaster of the US Navy’s A-School. This job requires constant effort to supply my sailor-son with all manner of things. Hardly a day goes by that I’m not at the post office shipping Joe his bank statements, magazines, junk mail, and gifts—cookies & treats—that our large family and friends pass along.
So far, I’ve spent about four dog-years standing in line. While I wait, I have a recurring thought—When your kid enlists, doesn’t that mean you don’t hear from him?
Nowadays, apparently not.
And, as my wife reminds me. “It’s wonderful that he calls so often.”
Ah, yes. But each call typically end with my son asking me to root around in the garage and sent him something.”
The request usually sounds something like this.
“Hey, Dad. I have a small request.”
“Ah, yeah?” I mumble.
“Can you ship me? …”
Now I’m used to saying “no” to my son, but how can you deny a sailor who’s serving our country?
And the Navy is no help. They keep giving him more storage space. When this happens, he calls. Joe’s #1 priority seems to be to max out his locker, filling it with the tons of clutter he left behind. So I’ve mailed him books, computer gadgets, pictures, mementos, and a zillion pounds of “magic” gaming cards. In short, all the stuff a young man needs these days to survive in the wilds of South Carolina.
Our garage is gradually emptying of all things Joe, but at about the same rate a car disappeared when it was eaten spoonful at a time by an oddball Buddhist monk.
I think it took him three or four decades.
Joe’s slow-motion, cross-country move jumped into the fast lane when he got the green light for his silicon sandbox. Soon, I was getting elaborate instructions, via two hundred phone calls and a million text messages on how to ship him his game setup. I was briefed on just which controllers, cables, memory cards, hard drives and gizmos to send.
“Be sure to insure it,” Joe said. “That hard drive has thousands of hours of game-time on it.”
“I don’t think you can insure your labor,” I said.
“Well, then pack it carefully,” Joe said. “It’s worth more than all the rest of the gear put together.”
So Joe provided diagrams, disassembly instructions, cautionary notes on what not-to-do with the surprisingly fragile X-box. He even included a treasure map of sorts, directing me to various places in our garage where the game components were hidden, Easter-Bunny style.
His messages brimmed with the enthusiasm of a man who’d gone almost six months without an electronic fix, and I was on the receiving end of a fire hose-stream of directives.
But each new communication brought amendments, modifications, clarifications and changes to my standing orders.
Day after day, I got directives. The messages were almost non-stop, and my head felt like it was stuck inside a virtual-reality loop of the Call of Duty.
Finally D-for-delivery-day, arrived, and I reached full-on delirium. I dashed about the garage, grabbing everything that remotely resembled a video game component and a bunch of other stuff to boot. I’ll bet he needs this, I thought, as I picked up his cub-scout uniform. And I reached for Oscar, Joe’s cat, but he saw the look in my eyes and bolted.
I have no recollection of what all went into that box.
My daze subsided as the adrenaline finished coursing through my veins, and I decided to call it quits. I swathed everything in enough bubble wrap to cover a small aircraft carrier, and crammed it all into an immense cardboard encrusted game-cube.
I then lugged the thing over to FedEx.
The guy behind the counter grunted as he hefted Joe’s stuff onto the scale.
“What’s in this?” he asked warily.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Any explosives? Corrosives? Perishables?”
“Not if you ignore the half-eaten Zagnuts.”
The FedEx guy calculated the shipping costs, including tracking, insurance and some sort of excess bad-karma-nuisance charge. I was in no condition to argue.
After he tallied the bill, and I handed him a wad of cash that exceeded the cost of my first car.
But I didn’t care because I was free! Free! Free at last! I’d shipped the all-things-electronic to my son. All that was left were his unwashed socks, drums, bicycles and, of course, the cat.
While I was savoring the moment, Joe texted me.
“What’s the tracking number?” he asked.
I gave it to him.
A few minutes later, he texted me again.
“YOU SENT OVER 50 POUNDS OF STUFF! WHAT’S IN THE BOX???!!!”
“Mostly everything,” I replied and then added, “except the cat.”
A long time passed before I got his next message.
“Gee thanks, Dad. But I don’t know where I’m going to put all this.”
“Not to worry,” I said. “With your engineering skills, you’ll figure it out. HOOYAH.”
He didn’t reply.
Days later, I got a text message with a photo. Sure enough, Joe had figured out how to arrange all his stuff, the two X-boxes, TV and computer, into the space he had. Life was sweet. He was happy, and I was out of the shipping business.
Then the phone rang.
“Hey Dad,” Joe said. “I have a small request.”
No! I thought, this can’t be happening!
“I’m missing a cable,” Joe.
“Arrgh!” I groan. “How is that possible?”
“I must have left it in with my DVDs,” Joe said, “in the barn.”
“The Barn? You have stuff out there?”
“Yep. Let me talk you to it.”
Oh, boy, I thought. Another Go-Navy search-and-recovery mission.
But I realized resistance was futile, so I grabbed the cordless phone, and braved the potholes and hazards of our back yard, sliding into the semi-darkness of our cobwebbed barn. Once inside, I found the Catacombs of Joe.
Silly me, did I think those few boxes in our garage were all that remained of our clutter-king son? That was just the stuff he deemed important—mostly his games. I’d forgotten about the maze he’d left out in the barn. Clothes, musical stuff, bicycle parts, a dead desktop computer, some old furniture, and dozens of boxes of God-Knows-What that came out of his car.
Buried in all this, somewhere, is one last much-needed cable. Ever the dutiful Dad, I let him talk me through a box-top-to-box-top search.
“Having fun?” Joe asked
“How about I join the Navy and you do the searching?” I said.
“It’s gotta be there somewhere,” he said.
So I press on.
I was in the middle of this mess when I hear Joe’s muffled voice. He’s covered the mouthpiece to speak to someone else.
“Hey Dad, I have to leave in a sec.”
“Just keep looking. I know it’s in a blue bag,” he said. “Might be wrapped around some headphones.”
“Any other tips?” I asked.
“I’m thinking it’s in my desk,” he said.
Then I heard more muffled voices.
“OK. I’ll see that you get it,” I said.
“Thanks, Dad, gotta go. And one more small request….”
“Yeah son, what?”
“When you find it, please don’t send the whole desk.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County. He can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.