We’re sitting on a red leather sofa in the lobby of the New York Athletic Club. My dad’s wearing a blue and white pinstripe dress shirt, gold cufflinks and a salmon-colored tie. I’m wearing a navy blue cocktail dress so tight it gives the illusion I’ve got a great ass and the same pair of nude heels I wore to my sister’s wedding.
I’ve just told him about a memoir I’m working on. “Am I going to be in it?” he asks, fear filling his eyes, undoubtedly picturing the actual, unfiltered truth of my childhood, and not loving the idea of it being published for the world to see.
“Of course,” I say.
“Then can my name be ‘Tom’?”
“Sure, dad. You can be my dad named ‘Tom’ in the memoir. I’m sure no one will put two and two together.”
Just then a flood of old men in power suits enter the lobby and head straight for the elevators. “Looks like some Cedar Hill men,” my dad says. Cedar Hill is the private high school my dad attended. Tonight the school is hosting a cocktail party that he’s been talking about for months. He’s excited to see old friends, but mostly excited to find me a husband. My dad’s hell-bent on finding me a man (because at this point in my life, I still haven't had the nerve to come out to him), and if he were a Cedar Hill man, his heart would pretty much explode. Basically, this night is the closest I’ll ever come to having a debutante ball.
“I thought you wanted to set me up with these guys?” I ask, looking skeptically at the group of AARP members huddled by the elevators. “My age limit is 40.”
“There will be younger alumni, trust me,” he says as he gets up and adjusts his tie, eyeing the crowd for familiar faces.
After we check our coats—and I sheepishly check my visibly decaying $2 backpack from Good Will—we shuffle into the elevator with a bunch of old men in suits. Disclaimer: there are a lot of old men in suits in this story. To help you keep them straight, I’ll refer to them all as “old men in suits.”
The elevator is a million years old, like the rest of the building, and it painfully creaks its way up to the fourth floor. “They’ve updated this building a lot,” my dad says, “just not the elevators apparently.” Every old man in the elevator laughs. This is my dad’s demographic. He’s already killing it. Best wing man ever.
Finally the death trap makes it to our floor and we exit to find a long table covered in nametags. My dad walks quickly up to the table. “Beauchamp,” he says to whoever might be listening nearby. The man doesn’t waste time. “Yes, sir,” the polite woman behind the table says, hurrying to hand us our nametags. I pin mine to my jacket, silently seething that I have to put a tiny hole in my Ann Taylor blazer meant to disguise me as an actual adult.
“I was going to tell them you were my fourth wife and really freak them out,” my dad says.
“That would have been hilarious,” I say.
The asshole doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Just as we’re about to enter the lavish, Titantic-esque ballroom where the event is held, we’re approached by my father’s high school Latin teacher, a tiny old gray man in a suit. “Tom!” he says, only he uses my dad’s actual name, unaware of his alias.
“Brother Wentz!” They shake hands. My dad introduces me. I’m somewhat amazed my dad’s Latin teacher looks this good. I’m terrible at math, but I assume that someone who taught my dad when he was a teenager must at least be a few centuries old, but Brother Wentz doesn’t look a day over 80. If all else fails… I think to myself.
Brother Wentz tells us a little bit about the alumni who will be honored this evening. One was a teacher and Marine officer who was killed in Vietnam and the other is a General Manager at Sheraton Hotels.
After we part ways with Brother Wentz, we head straight to the bar. I stopped drinking this past January (one of my brief, six-month stretches of sobriety), and almost immediately regret this decision when I see the crowd. There are about nine people there so far, and the mean age is around 432 years old.
“Gin and tonic,” Tom orders.
“Seltzer,” I say with sadness in my eyes. The bartender looks confused but pours it for me anyway.
“Lime?” he asks as if a lime wedge makes this whole situation better.
Huge floor-to-ceiling windows line the back wall, facing out toward a beautiful view of Central Park. Squinting at the scenery, my eyes can barely make out the trees because it’s so bright. I remind myself to get out more, because this doesn’t seem normal.
We set up shop at a cocktail table in the middle of the room, right next to the assorted meats and cheeses, because that’s how we roll. My dad hits up the apps and gets us a nice assortment before we scope out my options. While my father is a heterosexual, happily married man, tonight, by the way he is eyeing them up, every young man in the room must assume he wants to sleep with them.
Just then, a man who looks almost identical to my dad walks over to our table. My dad’s lookalike shakes my actual dad’s hand. “So nice to see you, Tom,” he says. I read his nametag to see he graduated in ‘72, a few years after my dad, class of ‘69. He’s the Sheraton GM being honored this evening. He and my father catch up, exchanging humble brags about their daughters.
“This one writes for The Huffington Post and Oprah Magazine,” my dad says, nodding in my direction. Save this stuff for the young meat, I think. My dad’s twin looks apathetic as I attempt to choke down a piece of pepperoni I accidentally dipped in hummus. I’m already owning this night.
The guest of honor makes an exit and my father and I are back on the prowl. The room is filling up now, and the ages are getting younger. A group of very young looking men to our right (in suits of course) are chatting and drinking fizzy drinks with lime. This is a very gin-and-tonic kind of crowd. Not a lot of Budweiser guys in the room, or guys my father calls “scrubs,” because my dad’s only cultural references are from the late nineties.
“Their nametags say they graduated in ‘09,” my dad says, eyeing up the tall toddlers nearby. While all of their suits fit, they somehow still look out of place in them. In order to read their nametags, my dad’s small eyes narrow in on their chests—definitely not creeping them out at all.
Now might be a good time to mention my father is a six-foot-three, 240-pound man who has never “blended in” anywhere in his life. I’m basically him, but five inches shorter, 30 years younger, female and a redhead. “Stealth” isn’t really something we understand.
“What year did you graduate high school?” he asks. My dad’s usually able to guess at least within three years of my age, so this question isn’t surprising.
“They’re a little too young,” he says, disappointed. “They look like children.”
“What about him?” I nod toward a very, very old man in a suit, perhaps even an automated corpse, headed our way.
Grandpa sets his small plate of hors d’oeuvres down on the table. He’s wearing a dark navy blue suit and his hair is white as snow and barely clinging to his scalp. I consider making a wish and blowing on his head like a dead dandelion.
The volume at which this man speaks is barely audible. My father and I are leaning in so close to him, people probably think we are trying to make a move on him right there in the middle of the ballroom, or that we’re inspecting him for cavities.
“You’re about 10 years younger than me,” the man says to my dad. “Class of ‘58.”
“Good for you!” my dad says, genuinely congratulating this man on still being alive.
Father Time begins explaining how he’s been retired for a few years, or at least I think that’s what he’s saying. I just keep nodding and smiling. There are times when I think I should laugh, so I do, but then his somber expression leads me to believe this isn’t the right response. I desperately hope he didn’t say his wife just died or something. As he speaks, large bits of food fly from his mouth and onto my arm. I keep backing away, discreetly wiping bits of cheese cube off of my arm while still pretending to have any goddamn idea what he’s saying.
“Should we get you another drink?” my dad asks, gesturing desperately to my empty glass.
“Most definitely,” I say.
“Exit stage left,” my dad says out of the corner of his mouth as we head to the bar.
Once we see the coast is clear, and that the old man has found a classmate with whom he can wax poetic about the invention of the radio, we return to our post. There’s a gaggle of 30-somethings to our left. I read their nametags. They graduated in ‘03. Now we’re getting warmer. While I don’t actually expect to meet anyone I am interested in at this event, the idea of picking up dudes with my notoriously awkward father is too fun to resist.
Before I can tell my dad to check out the babes at 9 o’clock, two old men in suits come out of nowhere. “Tom!” the shorter, thinner one says. “Marty recognized you from across the room,” he says. “We can’t read your nametag, so it was a genuine recognition.” It’s probably been 40 years since they last saw each other, so this is impressive, and I don’t blame them for bragging.
“You came all the way in from Philadelphia?” the man who isn’t Marty asks my dad.
“This one lives in Brooklyn.” He nods toward me. “I thought I’d visit her, too.”
“Well that explains why he’d take you to this.” Not Marty gives me a pained look.
“I’m here to get me a Cedar Hill man,” I say.
My dad laughs, probably in case these men don’t find me funny.
“Oh really?” Not Marty’s eyebrows go up. “Well, you might have come to the wrong place. A third of these men are married, the other third are cheating on their wives, and another third are gay.” I like this guy already. I also wonder where the gay third is and if I can hang out with them instead.
“You’re not exactly encouraging her,” my dad says, as if I was at any point encouraged.
After the three of them recap who’s dead, who’s living, who’s gone crazy, and who they still manage to keep in touch with, I notice the 30-somethings are now gone. My dad and I then mosey into the other room, also a large, ornate ballroom, in search of more young men and better appetizers. Can I get an egg roll? I think as I stare out at suit after suit after suit. I feel like I’m seeing double. Not having a drink and seeing double is no fun.
At this point, my dad is not even trying to hide the fact that he’s scoping out dudes, and is blatantly checking out a circle of men in their mid-twenties. “You do realize it looks like you want to have sex with them, right?” I ask. My dad laughs his big, room-filling laugh, and admits, “You’re probably right.”
Once he’s circled the group a few times like an animal stalking its prey, he says, “Alright, let’s go in.” I try to compose myself as my dad approaches a group of 27-year-old men to hit on them. “Hey there,” my dad says, completely inserting himself into their conversation. “I’m here to tell you what it’s like to be an old alumnus. It’s good,” he says grinning wildly, as if to say, “you’re gonna make a whollleee lotta money.”
Apparently they already are. Finance, marketing, investments, something with taxes. All of these guys have jobs that, while albeit sound super dull, probably result in them making bank. I’m not interested in people for their money, but in my opinion, if you have to be boring, you might as well be rich. My dad introduces me and suddenly these guys realize why a 62-year-old man is making moves on them. I stand there like a prized pig, being sized up by the group. A few duck away, maybe assuming my dowry won’t be worth their time.
A tall guy who looks like Richie Cunningham with a beard starts talking to us about his job in marketing at the New York Times. When it comes to me, I say I’m a writer, but not for the Times, for The Huffington Post, mainly the entertainment and comedy verticals. “Not bad,” he says nodding his head to the side. “I don’t know who writes about that for the Times. I don’t really read that stuff.” He rolls his eyes in such a way that I can’t tell if he feels guilty about this or is being condescending. He also admits later in the conversation that he actually doesn’t even read the newspaper, so I’m really not sure what this guy is into.
He starts talking about the new Wes Anderson movie and why he’s such a big fan of his work. “It’s all about the symmetry,” he explains to my dad, regurgitating something he picked up in a viral video. My dad’s impressed because he’s never been able to successfully use the Internet. “He really knows his films,” he says.
There’s a short guy in the circle and I feel bad because no one has asked him a question yet. I always feel bad for short guys in big groups. I’m trying to make eye contact and bring him into the conversation, but my dad keeps talking to Cunningham. I’m not even sure my dad has realized there is a short guy standing to his left.
Somehow everyone in the circle has dissipated and I finally strike up a conversation with short stack once my dad offers to refill our drinks.
“So where do you live in the city?” I ask him.
Whelp, there ya go. Not a love connection, but at least a nice guy.
He talks about his job, something with taxes, and how he likes living in New Jersey and about how he once visited Pittsburgh for a wedding (after I tell him that’s where I went to college). I share with him the statistic Not Marty told me earlier, about one third of the crowd being married, one third cheating on their wives, and one third being gay. “Not sure if that’s accurate or not,” I make sure to add.
“I never would have guessed,” he says, hopefully not taking me seriously.
“Who said that?”
“An old man,” I say, looking around. “Ya know, one of them.”
He laughs and says he should probably go meet some of those old men. Okay, shorty, I get it, you’re not into me, but blatantly exiting a conversation after I’ve told you the room is full of ancient adulterers and gay men is just kind of rude.
“Yeah, go network,” I say, my pride totally not hurt at all. Also, I’m so glad I don’t have to network. I’m so glad I’m not there to get anything out of it. Except some dick, of course.
“It was nice meeting you,” the nice short guy says as he gently touches my elbow, the universal symbol for “I totally wanna bang you.”
Finally it’s time to honor the Vietnam vet and present the Distinguished Alumnus Award to the Sheraton GM. Guests gather around the podium, and my dad and I stand in the front row, most likely pissing off everyone behind us, because we are both very tall and fidget nonstop. For my dad and I to stand still for more than 15 minutes is some kind of miracle. I’m shifting my weight from side to side because my feet hurt so badly. I never wear heels.
“These shoes are going to drive me to drink,” I whisper to my dad. He’s not really listening to me or the speaker, just kind of gazing at the ceiling. Our attention spans are also pretty minimal.
A lot of people talk for a very long time. “And one more thing,” the Sheraton GM says. My dad laughs a short chortle, meaning “somebody get the hook.” I silently agree as I try to unclench my butt cheeks, which I’m subconsciously squeezing in attempt to take pressure off my feet. Once the speeches are finished, the crowd disperses. We scan the room to see if anyone new might have shown up for whatever reason, but no one has.
“Ready to head out?” I say like I’m my dad’s platoon leader.
“Yeah, let me just say goodbye to some of the Brothers.”
“Why do you call them that?” I finally ask, not really caring enough to ask earlier.
“They aren’t priests, they’re Brothers.”
“You went to Catholic school?”
My dad gives me a look like, “Are you really this dumb?” But I’ve gotten it so much from him at this point I find it endearing. And also, yes. Yes, I really am.
We find the Brothers and the honoree and say our “goodbye”s and “nice to see/meet you”s, and we sashay out of the musty ballroom like we’ve always owned the place.
“Maybe your friend Caroline would have made a better wing man,” my dad says.
“No way, dad,” I assure him. “Trust me when I say you were the best wing man I’ve ever worked with.”
We leave with two aching feet and stomachs full of cocktail wieners, neither of us having gotten laid. “Not even any of the Brothers looked interested,” I say to my dad as the elevator doors screech closed.