Carlo in the City

Carlo called me up to his room last night as he was going to bed. He was a bit miffed.

“Dad, Anna always gets to do stuff. I want to do stuff,” he said.

“What do you mean, buddy?” I asked. “You ‘do stuff’ all the time.”

“No, I don’t. It’s always stuff we do together with Anna and everyone. And sometimes Anna gets to do stuff and I just stay home. I want to do stuff where it’s just me. Can we do stuff where it’s just you and me tomorrow?”

Carlo is certainly not a deprived young man, but I could see what he was getting at. Whether it’s because Anna is more outgoing and adventurous than he is or because – as has often been the case lately – his bad behavior causes him to lose out on some outings and privileges, he does find himself around the house more than his sister does. I don’t have any misgivings about how he is treated, but I did agree that it was time for a father-son day.

After lunch today Allison took Anna out for pedicures. Carlo and I hit the town.

About six months ago Carlo decided that he likes comics. I got him “Bone,” and he likes that a lot. He and a friend started drawing their own comics He knows I like Batman and asks me about Batman things sometimes. But really it’s just been a matter of him deciding that comics would be his thing. So our first stop today was Carlo’s first ever trip to the comic book store.

The guy at the store saw us come in and walked right over to us. I told him that Carlo likes Teen Titans and Bone and that he had asked a couple of questions about X-Men, so where should he start? The guy asked me if Carlo could handle teen-level intensity (some non-graphic violence, but more adult themes) and I said I thought so. After that it was like I wasn’t there. 

“What do you know about the X-Men, Carlo?” the guy asked.

“They’re mutants. Wolverine is cool. That’s kind of it,” Carlo said

“Do you know who Cyclops is?”

“Not really,” Carlo said.

“Great. Don’t worry about it then. Here, you want to read these.”

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The guy handed Carlo issues 1-4 of “Amazing X-Men,” a series which started late last year. He told Carlo that there’s a lot of X-men stuff out there, but he’ll want to get into something he can keep up with as it’s coming out, so this new series is the way to go. Then he can go back later and read other things.

He probably could have handed Carlo anything at all and it wouldn’t have mattered. The important thing was that someone was talking to him man-to-man and letting him in on something on the ground floor. Carlo was thrilled at this and spent the rest of the day explaining and re-explaining to me where “Amazing X-Men” fit into everything and how, if I was unaware, this series just started and he would probably be all caught up by tomorrow night and would get the new issue the day it came out from now on. Really, there was so much I did not know, Carlo said, so if I had any X-Men questions I should probably ask him.

There’s a Jeni’s Ice Cream across High Street from the comic book store. We walked up the block, crossed at the crosswalk and then walked back down the block to Jeni’s. After Carlo’s ice cream sundae, it was back up the block, back to the crosswalk and then back down the block to the car. Carlo was strangely silent during each portion of the walk. Finally, he spoke.

“I like walking in the city, dad." 

"Mmmhmm, I said,” not thinking much of it.

“Can we walk more in the city? Like, someplace else? I want to walk around the city.”

It occurred to me that we spend almost all of our time in the suburbs. We have sidewalks and things but it’s all so controlled and so quiet. An actual cityscape is rather foreign to him. Carlo was digging the noise and the relative grit and the walk/don’t walk signs of actually being in town. It was a nice day today and we had nowhere else to be so, sure, let’s walk.

I drove us downtown and parked on Third street near Gay. We had parked at meters before of course, but it was nothing he had dealt with or thought much about. So before I got out of the car I handed him 50 cents and casually said “go pay the meter for me.” It’s something so mundane to all of us, but to him it was a big important task which he undertook with the utmost care while simultaneously trying to look like he did it everyday.

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We walked up Gay and I pointed out restaurants at which I’d eaten before and the buildings in which I had worked. I told him that this place used to be that business and that apartment building used be that office. When we got to the corner he saw someone walk out of Cafe Brioso with a coffee.

“Dad, you probably want a coffee, don’t you?”

“Um, I dunno. I guess I’d drink a coffee,” I said.

“There’s a cafe,” he said. You could hear the quotation marks around the word “cafe.” “We should go get some coffee.” Because that is what one does when one walks around the city.

We went into Brioso. I ordered a coffee and he ordered a hot cocoa. The barista made a fancy tulip design on the top of his with the hot milk. Carlo thought it was the most amazing thing ever. We sat in the high barstools at the window looking out onto Gay Street.

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He looked around as we drank, obviously taking in the differences between this place and the suburban Starbucks he’s more used to. The bicycle wheels hanging from the ceiling, the handbills on the bulletin board, the stickers on the front of the counter and the tattooed and pierced clientele inside the place.

“The city is different than the suburbs,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Yep. Sure is, Buddy.”

“There are more restaurants here. And you can walk places more easily,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said. “What do you think about it?” I asked. “Do you like the city better?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I like it. But I like living where we live too,” he said.

I told him that I have lived in the city before and that I like it better than the suburbs. But that there are some reasons we live in the suburbs now. I said that there were a lot of things I miss about living in the city. But sometimes I want to live out in the country – way out in the country – even more than I want to live in the city. And that no matter where I’ve ever lived, there were always some good things and bad things about it. Nowhere is perfect. Nowhere is simply awful.

“Maybe we’ll live in the suburbs for a while and then later we can live in the city,” he said. He basically had our life plan figured out the way I did.

After a silence, we watched someone pull up to the empty parallel space in front of the window. He took four or five tries to get into the space. Carlo made an audible scoffing sound and said “look at this guy trying to park,” and shook his head in disgust. Mr. City, over here.

We left Brioso and walked down High Street past the Statehouse. Then down State to the Supreme Court building, around it and over to the river. He asked me if I ever worked in the Supreme Court building when I was a lawyer. I told him that I had a couple of cases in there, but not too many.

“Was that the time the guy you worked for went to jail for a long time,” he said?

“Um, er. No.” I said. “That was different.” That damn kid remembers everything.

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Up the walkway along the river to Long Street. Down Long past the YMCA. Outside, on a bench, were several old men who looked to be in pretty bad shape. One of them yelled out at us.

“Nice day for a walk, eh son?" 

I looked down at Carlo to see if he was going to react. He looked forward and kept walking.

"Can y’all help out with a dollar for the bus?” the man said.

I looked at Carlo again. Stone-faced. Still walking. Maybe I’ll move with him into the city sooner rather than later. He takes to it pretty well.

We walked a while longer and made it back to the car. As we drove off, he said that the next time we took a “city walk” we should go to a different part of the city. I told him, yes, this would be a regular thing.

I just put him to bed. He gave me a big hug and told me he had a great day. I told him I did too. Then he picked up “Amazing X-Men” #1 and started reading.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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