I broke up the beef with the back of a wooden spoon until it was no longer pink and spread it with the fat and spices and aromatics into a weave and stood there in my apron, regarded myself, got aroused even, thinking chili is a man’s dish with its crude, simple components: no woman could make chili like this, not even on International Women’s Day, or A Day Without Women, or any day: we men, we own this.
And I was pleased Lily wanted me to make it for her birthday, of all the things she could pick, which wasn’t many.
When she came into the pizza restaurant and we met Saturday night I told Dawn, she looks like she just walked out of a Prince video with her black, floppy hat and her matching blazer, the ripped jeans and accessorized hoops and pendant, the teal highlights in her hair, the exposed midriff. I said she looks like she just walked out of a Prince video, but Lily didn’t seem to get it. And then, after we’d eaten and I went to the men’s room and opened the door the song “1999” came on and I stood there, regarding some announcement about a Brahms concert but with a good-looking girl promoting it which didn’t make sense, but got my attention. And then the kids wanted to play video games there, they had the old, arcade-style ones that took quarters. So I stood watching both Lily and Charlotte at the sit-down driving game, where you can pick from various course themes (like Hong Kong, or Las Vegas), and Charlotte chose Vegas, and couldn’t keep on the track: she kept going up these off-ramps and hitting palm trees and so on, but it looked just like Las Vegas. And I thought, that’s the thing about Vegas: it looks like you’re in a 1980s video game, in a fake car.
It was a hard day. Charlotte had been in an after-school problem-solving team-building activity since December culminating in a series of competitions with hundreds of kids that started at 8:40 AM on a Saturday, and then the awards ceremony was an hour later than planned, like 4:30 PM, and she and the other 3rd graders in her group stood there expectantly, waiting to be recognized but didn’t place, and didn’t understand that means you basically sit down (they just kept standing there smiling until someone came over and said, sit down): and it was the opposite of the over-awarding culture I think, where kids get badges and trophies for like everything and in this case, they got jack shit.
So when Charlotte came home pouting with her arms crossed and went up to her room, I gave her some time. When I came in she was on her Kindle playing a game where she’s a digital snake eating these glowing balls. We talked about where to go for dinner (to celebrate) and settled on pizza, but I was fed up with the high-end suburban pizza so we picked a smaller shop in a strip mall run by some Mexicans, with Christmas lights and a salad bar that didn’t look hygienic but man, it was good: they had the old-school metal risers on every table where they put the pie and light a candle underneath to keep it warm, and when we left, Lily said she wanted to come back for her birthday the following weekend. And Dawn’s mom Beth held me in the parking lot when we said goodbye, and said what a lovely family you have. And Lily rode home with me, explaining how she feels about Christianity. And me, I said I’m basically selfish and Sunday mornings are sacred to me, and I don’t connect with Christ like that. And while they were at church the next morning I walked the dog to the lake and came home thinking about that, wondering if I should feel bad, but didn’t.