Johnny America




My fa­ther shouts in­to the tele­phone as if the chat­ter of sales­men on my end of the line is as loud as the rock mu­sic on his.

“Put it on VH1!” It’s the mid­dle of a week­day afternoon.

“Dad, I’m at work.”


“I’m at work.”

“Oh.” He knows there is no tele­vi­sion in my cu­bi­cle. In the ad­join­ing work­sta­tions, the oth­er loan of­fi­cers con­vince strangers to in­stall that jacuzzi now that in­ter­est rates are down.

“Lis­ten!” he insists.

“Dad -” But he’s al­ready turned the phone to­ward the stereo speak­ers through which he routes his tele­vi­sion. Present­ly the vol­ume on his end es­ca­lates. Over the line, or satel­lites or what­ev­er, the bass and drums and gui­tars and voice all bleed in­to a sound like waves crash­ing in a junk yard. I pic­ture him stretched out on his couch in front of his plas­ma screen, the re­motes for his tele­vi­sion and DVD and VCR and satel­lite dish lined up with­in reach on the cof­fee ta­ble. When he comes back on the line he paus­es for dra­mat­ic ef­fect, and then, as if I haven’t al­ready fig­ured out what he’s watch­ing, he screams:

“Pink! Floyd! Yeaaah­h­hh!” His words ex­plode across the line as if there is no greater sen­ti­ment to ex­press in all the uni­verse. He catch­es his breath. “I wish I had a joint!”

“Dad!” I protest. “You can’t say that on this line. Some­one might be listening.”

“Re­mem­ber when the ra­dio sta­tion se­quenced *Dark Side of the Moon* with the lu­nar eclipse?” I was nine, my broth­er sev­en. The eclipse had come at 2:00AM. He’d giv­en us each a half cup of cof­fee to keep us awake. We’d laid on the floor with the lights out, our buzzing heads cush­ioned on the so­fa pil­lows, feel­ing the bass vi­brate through the floor. Out the liv­ing room win­dow, Earth’s shad­ow smudged the lu­nar surface.

“The song is about a so­lar eclipse,” I re­mind him.

“What dif­fer­ence does it make?” he says. “I must’ve worn out three copies of that al­bum. Hang on, this is my fa­vorite part!”

He starts to sing along with the rock band on the television:

“All that you touch, and all that you see…”

“Dad, I’ve got calls to make. I work on commission…”

“All that you taste, all you feel.”

I hear a click, and then my fa­ther is joined on the line by the voice of Bar­ry Murtree, my su­per­vi­sor, who mon­i­tors my calls for qual­i­ty as­sur­ance. Murtree is singing with my father.

“All that you love, and all that you hate…”

“C’mon, See­ber,” Murtree breaks off singing to en­join me. “Hu­mor the old man!”

“All you dis­trust,” they shout, “all you save.”

My fa­ther is old. This song is old. There’s a bald patch spread­ing across the top of my head. I can’t sep­a­rate these thoughts.

There’s an­oth­er click on the line. “C’mon, every­body,” Murtree says.

My col­leagues on the phone bank join in, Brooks and Chattworth and Tevins, then Phillis Gawain, who won’t even look at me un­less we’re fever­ish­ly shtup­ing our way through a cof­fee break in the janitor’s clos­et on the third floor. Their voic­es rise above the par­ti­tions and make the goose­flesh rise on the back of my neck. I can feel the blood pool­ing in my ears.

“All you cre­ate, and all you de­stroy!” they sing, and I re­al­ize that I know the words like I know the beat­ing of my heart. But I can’t go there. I can’t con­tribute my voice to this spon­ta­neous chorus.

“All that you eat, and every­one you meet!”

“Yeah­hh!” my fa­ther screams over the phone. “This is so fuckin’ great!”

I feel like a bald­ing, di­vorced, phone-bank work­ing kid be­ing sung Hap­py Birth­day to by the wait­ress­es at Sam­bos. I hate Hap­py Birth­day. I hate Sam­bos. This is so em­bar­rass­ing. I hate Pink Floyd. The past forty years flash be­fore my eyes.

“Man, we had some good times,” my fa­ther says over my har­mo­niz­ing col­leagues. He’s sound­ing wist­ful. “I sure do love you, son.”

The rest of the phone bank is lean­ing over the grey par­ti­tion now, singing down in­to my cu­bi­cle. The mouth­pieces of their head­sets ob­scure their lips like alien or­tho­don­tics. They fin­ish the song and clap, as if to shout, “and many more…”, then dis­ap­pear back in­to their cubicles.

“Dad,” I say, “I got­ta go.”

“Hang on a minute,” he says, “your moth­er wants to talk.”

Filed under Fiction on September 25th, 2008

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