My daughter Anna has taken piano lessons for a little over five years. Lessons are at 6PM every Tuesday night at a music school about 15 minutes from home. Since I have the kids every Tuesday night, I have always taken her to her lessons. It’s something I look forward to. Not because of the lessons themselves but because of the drive there and back.
We arrive at about 5:40. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across the parking lot from the music school and we hit the drive-thru for coffee every week. The lady who works the drive-thru most weeks is, I think, either the wife or sister of the man who owns the franchise. She knows us very well after all these years. I always get hot coffee and Anna alternates between iced and hot. When she switches, the lady looks at Anna when we get to the window, smiles and notes the change of order. Sometimes I go through the window myself while running a different errand and she asks me why my daughter isn’t with me. I’ve never really been a regular anywhere, but I guess I’m a regular at the Hamilton Road Dunkin’ Donuts thanks to Tuesday piano lessons.
Anna and I drive with our coffee across the parking lot and sit in the car just outside the music school, drinking and talking until Anna has to go into class. The conversations aren’t necessarily deep. They’re not what you’d call heart-to-hearts. Even if the movies make you think otherwise, high school students generally don’t really bare their souls to their parents. The conversations are always pretty satisfying, though.
Sometimes Anna has something to rant about like, say, why it should be unnecessary to show your work on on a physics test because, really, how could you possibly get the answer right if you didn’t know how to work through the problem? That one often comes after she’s done poorly on a physics test. Sometimes she’ll rant about how she should not have to do group projects at school because why should she have to share credit or — gasp! — have her grade brought down because the others in her group are not quite as brilliant as she is? I can’t tell if that’s just humorous hyperbole or if she’s being genuinely obnoxious. Either way, I learned a long time ago that she’s not really asking for adult explanations for why this or that is so and that she won’t readily accept those answers even if I offer them. I offer them anyway, though, because Anna, to say the least, does not lack confidence in her own opinions even if — or especially if — they are quite wrong. Better she gets pushback from her dad first, I reason.
Sometimes I have things to rant about. Politics. Something dumb I saw on the Internet that day. Just how much laundry I have to do. In those cases Anna usually offers up some variation on “that sounds like a you problem,” or — as kids her age are so deft at doing — she cuts right to the heart of just how unimportant and insignificant the problems of middle aged white men are to the people who will one day bury them, especially given the fact that they already have to save the planet from everything we’ve done to it. Still, she offers that sentiment with an implied wink and usually a joke. I get the sense from her that she actually likes to hear my ranting more than the filtered things she hears from her teachers or other adults in her world. At the very least, when it’s time to bury my generation, she’ll probably stomp a few times less on my grave than the others because she loves me.
It’s not always ranting. Sometimes we just talk about the music playing on the radio. I usually listen to the First Wave station on SiriusXM. Over the years Anna has really gotten to know the 3pm-9pm DJ, Richard Blade, whom she has decided to call “Dick Blade” because, really, why wouldn’t you? She does a pretty good impression of his English accent. She has his patter down pretty good. She doesn’t listen to much Depeche Mode or New Order, but she can tell when he’s about to talk about them just from his windup. She’s gotten really good at predicting when he’s about to plug the memoir he wrote a few years back and, assuming his voice, makes up contrived segues of him doing so that are only a half-step removed from reality. I own the memoir and told her she should read it but she has thus far declined. She gets annoyed at him whenever he lets it slip that, back in the 80s, he used to date Terri Nunn of the band Berlin. He mentions that a lot, actually. Anna would really like him to let it go. It’s been decades and, c’mon Dick, you’re married. Time with Dick Blade has been well spent, though. she knows far more Depeche Mode or New Order songs than most 16 year-olds. She also looked him up and knows that he turns 69 next year. She has set a calendar reminder for May 23, 2021 and has informed me that we are going to get a “Happy 69th Birthday, Dick Blade!” cake, just the two of us.
Anna goes inside at six and takes her lesson. It’s only 40 minutes long, so I don’t have time to go home and back. I usually do some quick grocery shopping at the place in the strip mall between the Dunkin’ and the music school, read a book, or just look at my phone. There’s something about the vibe of the lobby of the music school I don’t care for so, even though it has couches and comfy chairs, I usually just stay in my car. One day last fall, as I was reading a book in the front seat, someone knocked on my window. It was a mother of another kid who goes to the music school. She told me that she had noticed Anna and I drinking coffee for the previous few weeks and asked if we always did that. I told her we did. She told me it was sweet and that I was a good dad for doing that. She meant well, but even after 16+ years of being a father I am amazed at how low the bar is for dads. Not many moms get attagirls for simply interacting with their own kid beyond the bare minimum.
Anna gets back in the car at 6:40 and we go home. There are conversations during that short time too. By this time the caffeine has kicked in pretty well so we’re both a bit more animated. Sometimes the conversations get a little out there. This was tonight’s:
[I’m driving. My text notification goes off]
Me: See what that was.
Anna: [looking at my phone] It’s mom. She’s telling you that if you’re short on paper towels and toilet paper at your house to not go to Costco because they’re all out.
Me: That’s weird. [I tell Anna what to text back]. I wonder if people are freaking out about coronavirus here now and are stocking up.
Anna: Great. Guess I’ve had a full life.
Me: I have a foolproof way of not getting coronavirus.
Me: I never leave the damn house.
Anna: But I do. I’m going to give it to you. RIP you.
Me: I still like my chances. You’re in your room all the time.
Anna: God, spring break is coming up. Everyone’s going to travel all over and bring it back here and we’re all going to die.
Me: Good thing we’re broke and can’t afford to travel anywhere for spring break.
Anna: Yeah, but the dumb rich kids will all go someplace and bring it back.
Me: That’s the rich for you. They’ll always find a way to get you.
Anna: [after a long silence] . . . I have a solution.
Me: That sounds ominous.
Anna: [as we drive through the traffic circle in the middle of New Albany] . . . we put the guillotine right there. Right in the town square. Or I guess the town circle.
Me: So we just kill all the rich people for going off on vacations during spring break?
Anna: Well, for that and their other crimes.
Me: Sounds workable.
Anna: We could put it on YouTube. [assuming the voice of someone who might have their own YouTube channel] “HEY, EVERYONE WELCOME TO MY GUILLOTINE VLOG! WE’RE GONNA KILL SOME RICH PEOPLE TODAY. BE SURE TO MASH THAT LIKE BUTTON!”
Me: . . . I don’t think people would want to watch a YouTube channel of people getting their heads chopped off.
Anna: You’d be surprised. People came out in the thousands to watch them do it in France.
Me: There was nothing else to do back then.
Anna: I am SURE there was more to do in Paris, even 200 years ago, than there is in New Albany.
Me: [silence, because she’s probably right but I don’t want to encourage her any more]
Anna: Eh, probably violates terms of service. They’d take it down.
[we pull up to the house]
Anna: What’s for dinner?
I know what you’re thinking. But scroll back up and see: I said I looked forward to our Tuesday evenings together. I didn’t say they were sweet and heartfelt. If you thought that, well, that sounds like a you problem.