This millennial piece of shit just took a picture of his nasty-looking orange drink, took a pursed-lip selfie of his ugly face with the drink next to it, set the drink down, typed some stupid shit with his stupid thumbs, which I can only guess led him to post the pictures on some social media platform. A nanosecond passed before he giggled like an imp at two messages that leaped up from somewhere in the galaxy. Then he took two more pictures of his face and the bar, laughed out loud (I suppose this means he LOL’ed), set his phone down, and finally took a sip of the nasty Orange Julius-looking motherfucker.
A mere two stools down from me, the kid noticed I was glancing his way. He gave me a half-committed hand wave, and before I continued to discount every ounce of his existence, my right hand replied with a similarly friendly greeting.
“What is that?” I grunted. I couldn’t stop looking at the orange slice floating on top of a layer of white foam atop the orange-hued mix beneath it. It looked like a weathered, citrusy spare tire in a Sunny Delight bubble bath.
“Pornstar Martini,” he said with glee, like his mom had bought him his favorite crayon. “It’s vanilla vodka, De Kuyper’s passion fruit liqueur, passion fruit puree—”
“Never mind,” I said, shutting him up with a wave of my hand. I must have been distracted by a wild animal or something since I missed the part when he ordered it. It was the first time I had heard of that drink. “I stopped listening after ‘vanilla.’”
Instead of pissing off as I hoped, he laughed like we shared an inside joke in grammar school. Then he asked, “Whiskey?”
“Bourbon,” I said as my aged and aching fingers surrounded the heavy-bottomed lowball.
“That was my dad’s drink,” he said with a chirp.
I squared him up, guessing he was about twenty-three or twenty-eight, with the skin of someone living safe and short hair long enough in the front to sweep up into a swirled point like soft-serve ice cream.
“I’m old enough to be your old man, so that makes sense. It’s an old man’s drink.”
We both fell into the quiet I prayed for, but the silent nirvana felt awkward. I spoke again.
“You said, ‘was.’ Old man still around?”
“He passed away last year. Heart attack.”
“My condolences,” I said, shelving my disdain for swirl head and his technicolor froth drink. Losing a parent is a heavy burden to carry. I used my genuine earnest-as-possible voice as I raised my glass and said, “To your pops.”
“What did he do for a living?” I asked.
“Construction,” the kid said. “Specifically, deconstruction. Demolition.”
“That’s an explosive occupation,” I joked.
He nodded and grinned before he said, “Dad worked out of the Midwest. He was in Oklahoma City. He worked on the Murrah building.”
My brain drowned in the white noise blast of an explosion and the red hot flash of incendiary death. A box truck flying upwards, outwards, into a billion deadly shards of shrapnel. The resilient axle with the VIN stamped on it. The lucky busted tail light that brought down that bastard, McVeigh. The firefighter and the dead infant.
“That was a Wednesday,” I said into the glass before taking a sip.
“You remember the day of the week?”
“I was driving up to Kalamazoo to do some work through the weekend. I had a book on tape keeping my brain occupied, but I took a break since the story was dull as shit. I turned on the radio, and all they talked about was this explosion. NPR hosts are good with words, but I had no idea how bad it was. Once I got to my hotel, I turned on the TV and didn’t move for two solid hours.”
“I’d never seen such crazy shit in my life,” I continued. “Certainly not on our shores. It’s one thing when you see old pictures of bombed-out places like Beirut or Dresden. You think, ‘Man, that’ll never happen here. We’re too good for that.’ Then it happens.”
“Dad told me some stories,” he said after his pause. “He waited till he thought I was old enough to understand. It’s like…” He paused, hoping the right word would walk up to the bar to order a drink. “It’s like it was important for me to know. He worked on hundreds of buildings, but Oklahoma City is the one he kept telling stories about.”
I stared into my drink’s dark brown depths. The warm hue of the bourbon blended into the tan facade of the building that remained standing yet gutted like an animal.
“How old are you? Twenty-nine?”
“Gosh, no. Twenty-four.”
“You weren’t alive for it.”
“Nope,” he said with a bashful smile. “1998. I barely remember the Twin Towers falling a few years later.”
Shattering glass and groaning steel. A dense, grey cloud of ash moving left to right, blocking the cloudless Manhattan morning. I can still see it passing by the window of the dry-cleaners after I ducked inside for safety.
“I remember my parents crying that day,” he continued. “One of my earliest memories. I didn’t figure it all out till I was in my teens, and we talked about it in school.”
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t lift a finger.
“Where were you on 9/11?”
“Nevada,” I lied.
I lacked the strength to say truthful words. I didn’t have the power to fight through the debris cloud of my memories. I couldn’t relive walking downtown on that crisp pre-fall Tuesday, heading to my dad’s office in the North Tower. How do you tell some bar schmuck about the sound and feel of the unthinkable? How do you tell someone about the underfoot crunch of pulverized concrete, shattered glass, demolished furniture, destroyed businesses, spilled blood, broken bones, and ruined lives? My fingers hurt for a week from clawing the phone and dialing over and over, trying to reach him.
“I was selling cars outside of Reno.”
That’s all I said, and he didn’t ask for more. Good kid.
“Guess it’s time,” the kid announced, catching the bartender’s attention, then turned back to me. “I’m headed to mom’s house now, and we’re off to the cemetery to bury him.”
“A year later?” I asked.
“Dad’s been on the mantle for a year in a jug. She’s ready to say goodbye. I’m not, but she gets first dibs, you know?”
The bartender walked up and slid a receipt in front of the kid.
“Hey, Larry,” I said to the bartender. “I’ll get his.”
“You don’t have to—” the young man protested.
“Drink’s on me,” I said, holding up the last sip of mine. “To dads.”