Doing Crimes with My Dad
a true story
Last month I flew to Rhode Island with Lauren and baby Wilder for for lil dude’s first visit to stay with my parents / his grandparents and meet my grandmother / his greatgrandmother, a spry 89 year old sudoku addict named Nona.
As we eat my mom’s world famous omelet (top secret recipe: eggs + water + bragg’s liquid aminos), my dad asks if I can help him get rid of an an old TV. He’s got a bad back and can’t lift the TV himself, making this a rare opportunity for the adult father and adult son bonding that's becoming more elusive as the years, in predictable fashion, keep on keepin’ on.
“Move it where?” I ask.
“To a dumpster nearby. Two minutes away,” he says in English with a Russian accent because Lauren is around.
“Okay cool, let’s go now?” I respond, in English with no accent because we moved here when I was seven and my vocal cords hadn’t yet hardened.
"Ehhhh...let's wait. For night time." he says back, in Russian, quietly.
Aha. So we’re doing a crime. Got it.
One Last Job
From here on, everything starts to feel like a heist. I’m Brad Pitt and my dad is George Clooney. I’ve given up crime, obviously, doing things on the straight and narrow. I’m happy, I’ve got a family, and for god’s sake I run and operate a successful coffee and pastries shop in the mountains. Until one hot day, so hot that even the iced coffee tastes like hot coffee, in walks my dad and says “one last job.” To finish what we started which, in this case, is getting rid of a TV.
Waiting for nightfall, we spend the day doing what we do best: eating. My mom serves dinner: baked cod with sweet potatoes and buckwheat. The buckwheat comes special from a Russian store in Boston which, my mom reminds me, isn't easy to come by right now given everything going on with the war. Russia's not sending any buckwheat over here and so there's a shortage. A buckwheat shortage. I explain that I can’t eat buckwheat because it makes me fart but everyone says that makes no sense so I eat the buckwheat anyways.
As the sun sets, we head down the stairs to the basement aka my parent's Costco Away From Costco. With the amount of Poland spring water and canned garbanzo beans they have stashed down here, my parents have made themselves indispensable come any post-apocalyptic scenario. "Let's go see the Russians," people will say, "and get us some Garbanzos."
And there, in the corner, is the TV. Its old, probably from the mid 2000s? And not huge either, but THICK. Like 30 inches diagonally but also 30 inches deep. A hoss. Since they did not have the ability to take photographs back then, here’s an artist’s rendition of said TV:
I lift the TV - it’s heavy but doable. My dad tries to help but I say I got it and we argue about whose gonna carry it. After much hemming and believe it or not even some hawing, he lets me carry it on my own.
In hindsight I should have probably just carried it with him, but some part of me - the 12yr old boy halfway through puberty, wisps of mustache hair that will ONLY grow on the sides of the upper lip and under NO CIRCUMSTANCE on top of the lip - still needs to prove to my dad that I could do it by myself. That I was a man.
Nightfall arrives. I say goodbye to Lauren and Wilder knowing I may never see them again. I grab Wilder’s face close and say “If I don’t come back, tell your mother I love her,” which of course his mother hears because she’s holding him. No one laughs even though this is a funny joke.
Cruising at 5mph in my dad’s Prius Prime, silent as the buckwheat farts I’ve been producing for the last couple hours, I scan the sidewalks. Empty. Phew.
Not even a full two minutes later and we arrive, pulling up slow toward the dumpsters. We move in stealth like the k in knife, a word my dad loves discussing as one of the many things that’s wrong with the English language.
I grab the TV and my dad says "Let me help you" in Russian because its just us and I say "no I got it!" in English. This is how we talk when there are no Americans around - him and my mom in Russian, me in English, a cold war of words fought till the bitter end.
I put the TV it down next to the dumpster as directed by my dad. "Place it upright," my dad says, "maybe someone will want it."
I look back at him. Yes, maybe someone will walk by it and say "hey, that TV from the mid 2000s reminds me of the salad days of my life when watched Jerry Springer and Judge Judy - I was happy!" and they take it back to their house and get rid of their 70 inch flat screen and put up this behemoth. For the memories.
We drive home in silence like the and walk back through the door, much to my mom and Lauren's elation. We are safe. We are sound. There will be no more crime. We all drink vodka until the morning jk we scroll through photos of Wilder for like ten minutes until we all get too tired and agree its time for bed.
That is until my dad, sitting now in a leather tan recliner chair says, back in English, "I'm starting to have doubts."
We all freeze in place. Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?
He continues, "I don't know, maybe it wasn't the right thing to do? We could get in trouble."
He anxiously walks us through his thinking: that you're not supposed to dump electronics in the trash, period, let alone dump your trash in another man's dumpster. Plus what if there were cameras? What if they get his license plate number and give him a ticket?
My mom, ever the cold blooded pragmatist who's primarily worried about how he'll lift the TV on his own once I'm gone, tries to convince him its really not that a big deal. Lauren agrees, and I do too. I can't go back out there. This was supposed to be it for me, god damn it. I promised myself - I promised my family - I'd never do crime again. Also my stomach is reeling from these buckwheat farts.
We convince my dad to sleep on it. My mom says "forget about the TV" and I say "what TV?" and that seems to be the end of it.
Lying in bed with Lauren, we fantasize about all the things we can do now that I'm done doing all that crime. Let's travel, let's fix up an old farmhouse, let's start a podcast. ‘We can do anything’, I tell her, when I hear a mechanical vrrrr coming from downstairs. Is that?
It is. The garage.
"Is he going back for the TV?" I ask Lauren. And she says no, probably not, why would he do that?
"Why else would he open the garage" I ask.
"Well, we'd hear the car right?" she says.
"No the Prius is too sneaky," I remind her, but then we hear that low robotic hum of the little Prius going vrrrr like a fan on low setting and I know deep in my bones that my dad is going back.
I pop out of bed and call him.
"Hi" he says, all casual and shit.
"Are you going back for the TV?" I ask.
"Yea" he says.
"Ok well wait, I'm coming with you.”
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We Have To Go Back
I throw on some pants and a sweatshirt (no t-shirt, there's no time) and run out the bedroom door when Lauren says "Alex wait. Don't go. I can't risk losing you. Not again." And I think about it and I say "Babe, it's my dad. I have to go."
"I Googled it," my dad says in Russian as I get into the car, "and if we leave the TV, there could be some 'nepriatnasti'" which roughly translates to "issues" or "some feathers could be ruffled.”
I agree, I guess, though I think he's being paranoid, a trait it appears we share more and more by the day. We pull back into the scene of the crime - I see the dumpsters in the distance and, yep, the TV is still there. “No one took it,” he says, joking.
I laugh. "What if a bunch of SWAT team guys pop out from the bushes right now and scream 'we've got your surrounded." I say.
And he laughs. Like really laughs. In a way I haven't heard him do on this trip, and maybe for a whole lot longer. It's music, that laughter. The best kind too, the kind I grew up on, his laughter and my mom's too, a song that transcends language and says sure, life is hard and we don't know what the fuck we're doing in this weird country, but hey - that shit is funny, no denying that.
"We're going to get arrested now for taking the TV too." Which is funny as hell, and all of a sudden, there in the Prius Prime we are riffing like two best friends, alchemists transforming the stupid into the profound, the bit into a lifelong bond.
"It was a crime to illegally dump the TV, yes," I say, pretending to be the apartment management.
"-but once you did dump it,” my dad says, completing my thought in Russian, “it became our property. And now you are stealing our property."
"That's two crimes, so double the trouble," I finish.
I laugh and he laughs some more, like two leafblowers that keep pulling each other’s jump cords or whatever those things are called you get what I’m saying we’re revving each other up!
My dad says this whole thing feels like a Seinfeld episode.
"Wasn't there an episode with a TV?," I ask.
"Yea the parking garage one, Kramer has the TV," he responds.
That's when it clicks - my dad always laughs this much when he watches Seinfeld. And Office Space. And his favorite movie of all time: My Cousin Vinny.
And now I am hearing that laughter because of something truly so dumb and beautiful that we, acting like two fifteen year olds who did something bad and got away with it, are doing in the parking lot of an apartment complex two minutes from my parents’ house.
We take turns pretending to be apartment complex management, "Yes it WAS your TV. But once you left it on our property it became our TV, which you stole."
"You shouldn't have put it there but once you did, you definitely shouldn't have taken it."
"Someone could have used that TV. Someone who deserves it, not you two schmuks."
We used to do stuff like this, my dad and I. Not the crimes so much but the goofing. When I was 12 and we were driving to Costco or wherever, I would be a greeting card salesman and he'd play an old lady who didn't want to buy any cards. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, A+ for specificity in what was most definitely the first improv scene of my life. Though I bet neither of us knew how to 'yes and' the other, devolving instead into a child playing a man yelling at a man playing an old lady. Which, to be fair, sounds funny as hell.
But now, here in this sneaky Prius Prime with one TV, two adult men, and a whole mess of silent but somehow getting stronger farts, all one can hear is the laughter.
We bring the TV back and I prop it up on a box of 1 gallon Poland Spring jugs in the garage (my parents have Poland spring accessible at various points throughout the house, just in case). I take a photo of the TV cuz at this point I know I’m gonna write about this:
Walking up those few steps back into the house, I’m overwhelmed with the love I feel for my dad. I want to hug him and tell him how much I love him, how glad I am to be having this moment. But I don’t - whether because of fear of ruining the moment or not wanting to seem weak or a million other reasons - it doesn't really matter why. He pats my back a few times, an 1/8th of a hug each time, and I think to myself that without a doubt this will be one of my favorite memories of us together.
Back in bed, I recount what happened to Lauren. I am safe and sound, babe, I say, and I feel giddy, the bit the joke the moment from ten minutes ago lingering, still swirling around in my mind. So I do what I always do when I want to keep the bit alive: I send him a text. "I can see the headline now Two Unarmed Ukrainian Men Dump And Then Steal 20 Year Old TV on Private Property."
He responds right away "Search warrant is being issued by (redacted: name of the community my parents live in) board of trusties”
And I respond "hahaha".
A couple months later, back in LA running my coffee and pastries joint, I receive a text with this image:
My dad got rid of the TV the right way, at a dumping site for electronics that was literally two minutes from their house. Finding the address was hard though - he first tried to taking it to a building that ended up being someone’s private property. But after thirty minutes of hunting, he found it. The bit goes on.
Then, a few days ago, he texts me this image with the caption “the drum bit of illegal dumping is getting louder.”
There are enough signs and hidden meanings in that text message to solve cancer.
First - instead of beat, he wrote bit. BIT! Like the whole thing has been a long hilarious bit, and now he just went ahead and said it. The bit of illegal dumping IS getting louder - it’s like a command from him to me that says - write about this, make it louder, tell the world.
But even more important: A drum. Where the TV was there is now a drum. This is important. The drum is not a random object. Drumming is my dad’s thing. Growing up he wanted to be a drummer. And here was a drum. I don’t believe in God, but this? This is divine. I call him and ask if he took the drum home. He and my mom - both there on speakerphone, they always both talk to me on speakerphone, respond at the same time:
“I’m not allowed to,” he says.
“It’s dirty” my mom says.
We laugh. The bit continues. And once more all I hear is the drumbeat of their laughter, both his and hers, a duet that can best be described as family.