“The prolem with you,” the professor said, “is that--is that you lack the nessary vision to sthee beyond the brooder scheme of things.”
He held a goblet filled with ice and vodka, waving it around as he talked. A spider-web of blood vessels painted his cheeks, and the side of his mouth drooped slightly. Condescending eyes, half-shrouded by withered eyelids, looked me over.
“You need to thing about the future,” he said. “You need a plan--a long-range proshection of where you want your pathetic life to go--what’re going to get, and how’re you going to get it.” A crooked finger pointed generally at me. “Because while baggy jeans and a Mötley Crüe t-shirt might build you a nice career stocking shelves at Wal-mart, they won’t buy you a house on Park Avenue.”
His head bobbed forward then, a tussle of white hair flowing down across his brow. Wiry eyebrows lifted as if asking whether or not I understood what he was talking about. I wanted to say that Park Avenue was a continent away and I was quite happy living within the sight of Mt. Rainier, thank you very much; instead, I nodded. Sure it was placating and definitely less than a little insincere--and the old man probably knew it as much as I did--but so what? Part of the game or not, the conversion had already lasted fifteen minutes beyond the five I originally gave it.
“Now take her last boyfriend--Matt”
Glancing at Amanda, the professor’s daughter, seeing an I’m-so-sorry look in her eyes, I knew she was ready for this to end as well. I couldn’t blame her. In her shoes, I would have felt the same way.
He squinted. “No, not Matt. Mark.”
“Yes, it was Mark.” He nodded. “Now, Mark couldn’t grasp the complexuries of life. To him, life was… a Happy Meal. Something with a cheap toy to play with.”
“I don’t consider Amanda to be a Happy Meal, sir.”
He smiled. “Well, that’s something, at least.”
Amanda slipped her arm around mine. “Daddy, we really have to go. We have reservations.”
The professor glanced at her and took a deep breath. “If you must.” Looking at me, he said, “We can finish our talk later tonight.”
He turned away.
Walking out, her arm still wrapped tightly around mine, Amanda said she was sorry. “I don’t know why he always does that to me. Don’t let it push you away.”
I opened the door of my Corvette, a vintage 1965 model. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I see the same thing every day from some of my employees, the ones who think they’re smart enough to run the company.” I gave her a reassuring smile as she climbed into the car, and the panic left her face.
I started to shut the door, but stopped. “By the way, when do I get to meet your grandparents?”
She shrugged. “Someday, I guess.”
“How old are they again?”
“Eighty-five and Eight-three.” She frowned. “Why?”
I shook my head and shut the door, thinking that tonight might be just a couple of beers, maybe a burger--nothing special. As I made my way around the car, I stopped and took one last glance at the house. In the window, I saw the professor standing there watching me.
I smiled and gave him a wave.