A few months after Dave and dad made that “business deal” in the woods, dad decided to take us all out for dinner. We weren’t going out to a Chinese buffet either, this was a fancy French restaurant where just ordering from the wine list will bankrupt most people. Most restaurants have a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy, but that particular restaurant will throw you out if you don’t have a Louis Vuitton bag with matching Cartier necklace. So we had to all dress up incredibly fancy. Dad and I had to put on a suit and tie, while mom and sister had to wear fancy dresses.
The restaurant was a very nice place, the ceiling was studded with chandeliers and molding in the style of neoclassical architecture, the walls were lined with red velvet and mirrors, and each table had a centerpiece made of flowers and hand-blown glass. The maitre d’ sat us down at a table, then brought us glasses of champagne. Sister and I were too young to drink, so we had sparkling cider. When we were all comfortably sipping our drinks dad said, “You must be wondering why I took you all out to a fancy restaurant tonight.”
“I never wondered why,” sister said, “I just thought you stopped being a cheapskate.”
“That maybe part of it, but the reason is that I have an important announcement. Drum roll please.”
I starting beating my thighs in increasing tempo.
“I just quit my job because I founded my own company and will be working for myself as my own boss.”
Everyone around the table clapped, and even some people sitting at nearby tables clapped too. Mom smiled, and said, “Well, this was a fortunate turn of events. I thought you couldn’t get your company off the ground because you couldn’t get any sane investors.”
“Well, fortunately for me one of the investors who wasn’t interested initially changed his mind.”
“What did you do to convince him?”
“Let’s just say I caught him having a close encounter of the third kind.”
“I don’t get it,” mom said, blinking blankly.
Dad smiled, looked around while holding his champagne glass and said, “I’ll explain it later in greater detail, I don’t want to say it in front of children because it’s not appropriate for them.”
Mom thought for a bit, then whispered in dad’s ear.
“Yeah, that’s basically right.”
Mom opened her mouth in surprise, slowly giving away to look of delicious schadenfreude on her face. “I didn’t think you were such a sly fox; I think you just made me love you more,” she said. The two held each other in a loving embrace, then kissed.
Dad raised his drinking glass and said, “A toast! To the new and exciting journey of starting and running my own company.” My mom and sister raised their glasses as well, I followed their example and clanked our glasses together.
After taking another sip, dad said, “And my first act as the boss, I’m going to get rid of my tie.” He started to pull the tie through the knot to loosen it from around his neck. “I never understood why anyone would want to wear a tie, it’s like a dog collar around your neck all day. My only guess is that it was a way for depressed businessmen to hang themselves. Having known many businessmen, I can understand why.” After successfully taking off his tie, he took out a lighter and said, “And now, to make sure this never bothers me again…” and lit his tie on fire.
We all clapped for dad’s expression of freedom, and after he stomped out his flaming tie he said, “To be honest, I don’t like suits either, they’re itchy and get too warm in the summer.” He took off his coat and started burning that as well. Unfortunately the coat burned too well, the flames got out of control and the flames licked up his shirt. To prevent himself being burned he threw his burning coat on the table. But the table cloth also caught on fire, so he pulled the table cloth onto the floor so he could stomp it out along with the flaming coat. This sent the centerpiece tumbling to the ground, making a terrible noise as the glass shattered. Dad tried to stomp out the fire but a piece of broken glass went through the sole of his shoe and into the bottom of his foot.
“Jesus Christ!” he yelled, “That will be the last time I bought shoes from a street peddler in Hong Kong.”
As dad limped in pain, mom ran over to the fire extinguisher, broke the glass, and ran back. She was in such a panic that she emptied the entire content of the fire extinguisher onto the flames, turning dad’s coat into a pile of yellow powder. Seeing that the fire was out, we all breathed a sigh of relief. But then we all look around and saw the eyes of everyone else in the restaurant staring at us blankly through a thin veil of smoke. We felt a silent awkwardness for a few seconds, then the fire alarm went off.
We had to evacuate from the restaurant. When the fire alarm stopped we thought we could return, but when we tried the manager stopped us. “What were you doing lighting your coat on fire in my restaurant?” the manager said with a stern voice as we stood outside the entrance.
“Uh…sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight, but I can promise you it’ll never happen again.”
“I know what you mean, but I can’t take risks with someone like you.”
“But we have a reservation!”
“Yes, but I have a restaurant, and if it gets destroyed there would be no reservations from anybody.” The look on the manager’s face was fascinating, he was very restrained but underneath you can see he just wanted to tear dad apart, so dad did not rebut but left to find another restaurant.
Dad drove us to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken; at first he wanted to go to McDonald’s but he remembered that he had been banned from all McDonald’s in the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. (I never found out why he was banned, whenever I asked him he always changed the subject. It was as if I asked him what sex position he and mom used.) We felt overdressed when we entered the restaurant; everyone around us was in T-shirts, tank tops and spaghetti straps, with all kinds of stains all over their clothes, while we looked like we stepped off the set of Downton Abbey.
Mom, sister and I sat down at one of the plastic tables while dad stood in line to order food. The three of us didn’t have anything to do other than to look at one another’s frustrated faces. Dad finally arrived fifteen minutes later carrying two buckets of chicken along with some biscuits. He appeared very cheerful as he looked down on us and said, “What’s better than a bucket of the Colonel’s extra crispy chicken?”
“I don’t know,” sister said in a disinterested voice, “maybe poached eggs on toast with prosciutto smothered in hollandaise sauce?”
Just hearing my sister say that made my mouth water; we may not see everything the same way, but at least we have the same taste in food.
“Yeah, but you can go to a fancy restaurant and get that dish anytime you want, but if you want to eat at KFC…well you can also get KFC food anytime you want, unless it’s really early in the morning or really late at night…” dad mumbled to himself for a bit, then said, “…hey! Dinner’s ready”
“Yay!” we all said un-enthusiastically before putting our hands into the buckets.
After eating a few bites sister asked, “What will your new company be doing? I hope it has nothing to do with that stupid panda Robbie has been carrying around all this time.”
Mom glared at sister and said, “Theresa! That is no way to talk about your brother, or your father.”
Dad laughed and said, “It has everything to do with that Panda. You see, I invented that toy but I couldn’t find any company that will put it into mass production. But after receiving an injection of a few million dollars I can finally set the forces of production into action; maybe I can finally reap the rewards of having put so much work and money into making that damn toy.”
Mom stopped sipping her soda and said, “Yes, then maybe you can pay back the bank for getting into all that debt. You know, the debt you had to pay off by re-mortgaging the house, which you somehow conveniently forgot to tell me about for year.”
“Whoa, let’s not go into that argument again,” dad said with a shudder.
“No, I wouldn’t start an argument with you here.”
“Why? Because the kids are in front of us?”
“No because all the chairs here are bolted down so I can’t pick one up and throw it at you.”
Dad, sister and I all stopped chewing and looked at one another anxiously. We all know that this was not an idle threat but something she was fully capable of doing. For the rest of the meal we didn’t talk to one another.