Otis grew up yesterday, and it was all my fault.
It all started when I asked him to bring me a beer. We were down by the pool, warming up after a swim. The kids had what Luke (2) calls “special drinks,” a euphemism which I imagine derived from a previous conversation that went something like this:
“This is a cocktail, this is for me.”
“No, no, this is Poppa’s special drink.”
“Deedee want special drink!”
“Okay, okay, hang on…”
In small plastic cup, mix the following:
3-4 ice cubes
3 oz “bubble” water
1 Tbs maraschino cherry syrup
1 maraschino cherry
So they’re enjoying a couple Special Drinks and I’m feeling a little left out, so I ask Otis to grab me a beer. I’ve never asked him grab me a beer before and it felt like a rite of passage — bringing the old man a beer. He came back with a vintage can of Miller Lite.
Reinstating the original can design is a wonderfully spooky thing to do to a nation of nostaglics. Like so many, these were the beers of my youth. I fetched them for my folks out of the basement fridge. They swarmed deck boats and 4th of July parties, empties haunted the woods by the train tracks. Lite was beer before beer had IBU units on it, before we talked about notes of grapefruit and session brewing and San Diego County. And here was my boy who looks just like me as a boy, bringing me one.
A Clark Griswald feeling came over me. I shapeshifted into an 80s dad, my dad. And so I asked,”Wanna try it?”
Otis was a pretty safe bet. His flavor profile is limited to sweet with an occasional foray into salty. He held the can to his nose and took a whiff.
“Does it taste like what it smells like?”
“I think so,” I said. It’s such an old smell and taste, it’s hard to know.
“No thanks,” he said.
“Deedee one (slurping noise),” Luke said. For reasons still unclear, Luke calls himself Deedee, and even though he can say a great many words, he doesn’t say “sip.” He makes a short, quick slurping noise. These are the kinds of things you never want to change.
“Okay,” I said, and held the can out for him. Luke’s a little more of a wild card. He’s more daring than his brother with both his body and his palate, already developing a taste for kombucha, coffee and chicken soup on a hot day. He smelled the beer and then looked up at me.
“Maybe later one (slupring noise),” he said. “Maybe.”
The afternoon slid into the evening. Otis and I had one more swim while Luke and Elizabeth went up to cook. After we got out, I lay on the concrete saying thank yous for much good fortune when Otis asks, “Wanna read Playboy?”
In the little guest house are three Playboys that I salvaged from the Wisconsin lake house before we sold it. They were my grandpa’s and date from the middle 60s. They’re decorative conversation pieces, reminders of the lake house, and Otis has taken a recent interest in them. He’d flip through the pages spending equal time on the nudes, old electronic equipment, car ads, etc. But yesterday, at his behest, we flipped through each page very deliberately and identified which was a drawing of a naked woman and which was an actual photograph of a naked woman.
A more puritanical sort would have been made very uncomfortable and certainly we had waded into some weird waters. But with so much potential damage at stake, I knew that reserve and feigned normalcy was the only way forward.
“Why do they take pictures of naked people,” he asked, squirming to try to manage the part of himself that had left his control.
“I guess because people want to see it…” I ventured. He pointed at a single panel comic of a man with an umbrella talking to a naked woman. “Drawing,” we agreed.
“But why do they show private parts?” he asked.
“That’s just what Playboy does,” I said.
“They show private parts?”
“But why do they show private parts? You’re not supposed to show private parts.”
“I guess because it’s something people want to see, and this is a place where it’s okay to see them.”
“And show them?”
“Would you show your private parts in Playboy?”
“Um, I don’t think anyone wants to see my private parts in Playboy.”
“Yeah because it’s only women. There’s no naked men.”
Here was my boy, torn between worlds of understanding. His mind cranked full tilt at what the pictures meant, his hormones at the wheel for the first time, characteristically stepping on the gas and careening for the first available cliff. His spirit, his little boy-ness had been left in the pool, still diving for toy-pedos, prisoner of the bright afternoon.
He pointed at a image of Jane Mansfield, naked and draped over a bed of red satin sheets.
“Picture,” I muttered, sadly wondering where I was going to hide these Playboys.