I have issues. And via these stories, I realize more and more every day why I’m so screwed up. It’s great. Best thing about it is it’s free. Some people spend a wealth of time and a chunk of change to discover this kind of stuff in therapy. I don’t need any of that. I have this periodical outpouring of thoughts on paper and that’s all the therapy I need.
I guess it’s because these stories makes me think about my past, present and future. I seem to concentrate on my past, which is when I tend to ponder. Today I’m remembering my dad’s infamous brainteasers.
INT. PHIL BRODY’S WORLD, circa THE WINTER OF MY DISS CONTEMPT
I am eight years old. I’m eating breakfast with my dad. He’s having his usual: two Bob Evans sausage links, scrambled eggs, toast and coffee. I am having my favorite: a big bowl of Cocoa Pebbles.
“I have a brain teaser,” my father announces.
“What?” I say while crunching away.
“A brain teaser,” my dad repeats. “It’s a puzzle you have to think really hard to solve.”
“I want on. I want one. I want one,” I respond. Hey, cut me some slack. I’m eight.
“OK,” my dad says as he leans in and starts to whisper. “But you have to think really hard about this puzzle. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Today is Monday. I’ll give you the puzzle now and then on Friday morning at breakfast you’ll give me your answer. You’ll have five days to think it over.”
At this juncture, I so wish my eight-year old brain was nimble enough to point out to my father that his timeline provided me four days of thinking, not five. I wish, but it wasn’t, which is why I was already at a disadvantage. I realize this now.
“So,” my dad inquires. “Do we have deal?”
“We do,” I respond, confident that come Friday I will arrive at breakfast and feed my dad the answer. Hell, come Friday, I may even have some sausage links and coffee, because solving this little brainteaser will surely propel me into the adult world. I’ll be ready for bigger and better things. No more Legos. No more Erector Set. No more Barrel of Monkeys. It’ll be brainteasers 24/7/365. It’ll be coffee and links for me every morning. Maybe I’ll join the circus as The Eight-Year Old Brainteaser Solving Man. Step right up and witness The Eight-Year Old Brainteaser Solving Man. He can solve any brainteaser. This eight-year old cannot be stumped.
“All right. Here it is.” My dad’s words pull me back to reality. “Here’s the brainteaser. You are in a room with no windows and no doors. There’s no apparent way out. The only thing in the room is a table and a mirror. How do you get out of the room?”
He repeats the puzzle four times. I commit it to memory. My dad goes to work. I go to school. For the next four days I think about the puzzle nonstop. I mull it over during the day. I diligently work on it at night. I ask my dad a couple questions along the way. He tells me the walls are blank and white and of no relevance except that they prevent escape. He tells me the only two items I need to escape are the table and mirror.
I keep thinking. However, I don’t come up with very much. Again, cut me some slack. I’m eight. I am tempted to ask my teacher, brother, or my sister for help, but I refrain. I think about the circus again and decide I don’t want to have to bring any of them along on the road to fame and fortune. I decide to face the puzzle on my own.
Suddenly, my alarm clock wails and I am faced with Friday morning. I have no answer. My theories are stupid. I am still trapped in that room. I have failed. As I get ready to head downstairs for breakfast, I wonder if my dad will even remember my answer is due today.
“Hurry up, Phil,” my dad yells from downstairs. “It’s Brain Teaser Friday!”
Curses. No circus for me.
I head downstairs and greet my dad with the news I don’t have the solution.
“So I stumped you!” he exclaims. He seems to revel in his victory over an eight-year-old. I find this odd. Now. Then, it was just typical behavior for my very competitive father.
“So what’s the answer?” I say as I pour milk over my not-yet-ready-for-the-adult-world cereal.
My dad looks me in the eyes and says, “It’s so easy, Phil. You’re in a room with no doors and no windows. The only thing in the room is a table and a mirror.”
This I know.
“Well, you look in the mirror and you see what you saw. You take the saw and you cut the table in half. Two halves make a whole. You crawl through the hole and you get out of the room.” My dad slaps a palm on the table and laughs. “Stumped you,” he repeats.
I stare at my dad. I stare at him as he shovels a combination of Bob Evans sausage links, eggs and toast into his mouth. He’s unaware I’m staring at him. He’s also oblivious to the effect this brainteaser has on me. I’m eight and he gives me this ludicrous puzzle, which I actually spend days and night working on, believing I can solve it. I suddenly realize it was an impossible task.
At that moment, I said nothing to my father. However, through the wonder of these remembrances and these stories, it’s as if I’m sitting at that breakfast table once again — eight-year old body, but knowing what I know today. My dad is still devouring his breakfast. I clear my throat. He looks over. He speaks.
“You like that little brain teaser? Do you?”
I respond. Years later, I respond. “I’m not sure I’d call that a brain teaser, Dad. If you ask me, it’s more of a mind fuck.”
My father stops chewing. Now he’s staring. His eight-year-old son just looked him in the eye and told him the way it is. And this eight-year-old also just grabbed his old man’s cup of Joe and his last sausage link and gulped them down in seconds flat.
I look over at my dad as I clean my teeth with my tongue. I speak. “You like that little dose of reality? Do you?”
He doesn’t. Believe me, he doesn’t.