Type of Man
Pops and I never got along. According to Mama, he had to be convinced to have children. Convinced. The way you gotta be convinced to get hurricane insurance or convinced to pay extra for the antivirus software. Mama said she leaned into his ear—this is true—and told him, “We’ll get more government cheese.”
Then he became a daddy.
But I could still sense an annoyance from him like I took too much space or I was in his life when he could have had a better truck or a bigger TV or a cruise trip to the Bahamas.
He regularly forgot me at: Wal-Mart (thank God a nice woman let me wait for him at customer service); at school; and once in the parking lot of Santa’s Enchanted Forest. At least he always came back, eyes turned low, ashamed. “Come on, boy,” he’d say.
Mom was always term to pat my back and remind me I was loved and wouldn’t end up living in a cupboard under the stairs. Her attention doubled. She seemed determined that I grow up ordinary and well-adjusted.
When I was forgotten, at a K-Mart this time, the next morning she baked me a three-layer cake with dulce de leche filling and Graham crackers. When Pops disinvited me from a fishing trip up at Pelican Harbor for sitting with my legs crossed, she bought us tickets to Busch Gardens. When Pops refused to teach me how to drive with his F150, she paid a little old man from a driving school to come to our house and teach me.
“I’ve got you,” she’d say, nervously. Mom sometimes seemed worried, like she didn’t know how much longer she could continue fighting this two-front war.
“I got you,” I’d repeat. It always made her lips curl and revealed her singular dimple.
In high school, Pops started seeing me as a man. By sixteen I had hit my growth spurt and had to lower my head to enter rooms. I became someone who could understand him and his desires. Sometimes he’d come into my room and hold up his phone with a woman’s ass pressed against the camera or ponderous freckled breast tied in a thin halter. “Nice, huh?” He’d say, looking at me and then back at the picture. “Right?”
When I turned seventeen, he caught me in the garage packing away one of his Presidentes. I almost spit the beer out when I saw him marching towards me. I expected an ass whooping or for him to smack the can out of my hand. But he grabbed one of out of the cooler and sat down with me.
“Nostrovia,” he said, pulling back the tab.
“I’m not in trouble?” I held the beer at waist-level.
He shook his head. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
Around that period, he started treating me like one of his pals or co-conspirators. It was nice.
However, while my stock rose, Mama’s seemed to crash. They fought constantly. They thought I wouldn’t notice since they had the habit of fighting in the car with the music on.
She got suspicious of his late-night calls, his supposed overtime, and how he had stopped kissing her on the mouth.
One afternoon while Pops and I were watching a rerun of Jerry Springer, Mama dragged herself in like a storm making landfall.
“Let me,” she said, blocking Pops’ Laz-E-Boy. “Come on.”
“Not here.” He pointed at me as I was some prison guard monitoring the rec area.
“Now.” She had a pinched expression and stomped her foot.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I felt like I was watching two episodes of Jerry Springer in picture-in-picture.
Maybe it was after what Mama did that I finally began to understand Pops.
She squatted and dropped her face into his crotch. I heard take a long, deep whiff like the type one takes before free diving.
“Ew, what the fuck?” I shouted.
“Well?” Pops asked, waiting for a verdict. He later explained how she had started sniffing his balls and boxers to see if he was cheating. She was certain that she’d be able to smell another woman there. Or perhaps find some lipstick smudged across his inner thigh.
While Mama analyzed the smells, I noticed that Pops was also holding his breath. He was white knuckling the armrest. He was nervous.
“Fine,” Mama finally said. She walked out of the living room and to her bedroom where we could hear her calling her sister.
Pops took a breath. “Women, am I right?”
We were co-conspirators.
After my high school graduation ceremony, Pops decided to take me “somewhere special.” He wouldn’t tell me where and spoke in whispers. Once we got back to the house from the ceremony at the James L. Knight Center, he followed me into my room.
Looking through my closet, he said, “Wear something nice.” He pulled out a peach long sleeve polo and grey slacks.
“Can mom come?” I asked. I slipped out of the papery blue gown.
His eyes widened as if I had suggested cannibalism. He got close to me. I could see the wisps of nose hairs poking out of his nostrils. “No. And don’t say anything to her, okay?” He stepped back and his scowl softened. “You don’t want to ruin the surprise.”
I was afraid of things going back to the way they were. I’d be the annoyance again, the unwanted tagalong.
“I got you,” I said, imitating Mom.
We sat in Booby Trap’s parking lot for the entirety of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” Pops sprayed menthol into his mouth, checked his pits, and smoothed out the unruly hairs on his eyebrows.
“How do I look?” He smiled wide—the way awkward kids do on picture day, revealing a lot of gum.
I couldn’t remember the last time Pops had been vulnerable like this, if ever. He was bearing his belly. I could have taken his dignity, wiped the smile clean off his face with a simple no. But his vulnerability made me think he had grown to trust me—he showed me his neck knowing I’d never cut it. I said, “You look like a million bucks.”
He patted my shoulder and tossed me the breath spray.
The lot was sparse. There were six cars in total, and I imagined some had to belong to the employees. Maybe that was typical of a Thursday night. Pops continued singing “Free Bird.”
“And this bird you cannot tame…” He stopped when the bouncer held out his palm. We were patted down and paid the $20 cover.
Pops strode in like a regular, head high, greeting the girls. “You want to eat a little first?” He asked, nudging me towards the buffet where a tin of chicken wings was replaced. “This place has the best thigh.” He laughed at his own and filled his plate.
I looked around the place. It wasn’t like I expected, maybe I needed to come on a weekend instead. There was a center stage, like a black box, with one woman who swung around the pole. Her gait was slow, measured and to the beat. A remix of “Hot in Here” played with an added reverb. There were three men in the front watching her. I noticed one of the men kept throwing the same bills. He picked up what he had thrown and waved it in the air.
“Here,” Pops gave me my plate and we sat in one of the side booths.
He ate rapaciously. Not out of a normal hunger but also to get the need of the out way; to not get bogged with the human. Pops was also scanning the club. His eyes darted from the stage to the tables and then towards the stairs.
That’s when I first noticed that there was a second floors. Pops caught me looking and laughed to himself. “You want to go up?”
I didn’t want to sound like a pussy or disappointment him, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for whatever happened on the second floor. “Nah, I’m enjoying this. Next time.”
His eyes lit up at that. A promise of a return or the guarantee that he and I were the same type of man.
After we finished the wings with the rosemary potatoes, which were really good—like surprisingly good, he asked me what type of woman I liked.
“Which ever likes me,” I replied.
“That’s my boy.” He playfully gripped my neck.
Pops bought me a lap dance. The woman wore an American flag two-piece and had pink highlights in her platinum blonde hair.
“How old are you?” She asked.
“Forty,” Pops said, slipping her two Jacksons.
I was nervous and didn’t know where to put my hands, so I kept them close to my chest. It was hard to enjoy any of the dancing cause Pops kept watching me. When the woman turned, I leaned towards Pops. I hoped she wouldn’t hear me. I’d be quick. “I got this.”
“Oh okay, big man.” He winked and gave me a hundred. “There’s enough there for upstairs.”
The woman turned and caught the exchange of money. I quickly pocketed it and she asked if I wanted another. The song wasn’t over yet. She had said it would last the length of one song. I wished I had picked a long one like “Free Bird.”
She walked off to offer Pops a dance. He was already to talking to another woman who had shimmering body glimmer on. They all talked.
I didn’t know where to go so I sat by the mainstage. I assumed the best dancer would be there.
I sat away from the three men, who looked me up and down before returning to their chatter.
Should I tell Mama? I looked around, to remind myself of where I was. Would she have been okay with this? How many times did Pops come here and tell Mama he was visiting family in West Kendal or picking up the night shift with the county? What kind of man was I?
After I had run out of money, which was much faster than I expected, I decided to get more chicken. As I crossed towards the back, I saw Pops and the glitter woman go upstairs. I was looking where I was going and bumped into a server/bartender.
“Sorry,” I said.
“It’s alright.” She reoriented herself and the tray on her arm.
“I’m not a dancer.”
She must get asked to do things all the time. I stepped back to give him more space and not make her feel threatened. “No. I have a question.”
“Well hurry up, little man.”
“What happens upstairs?”
She put all her weight on one leg and seized me up. It seemed like a buffering screen. Maybe she wasn’t sure if I was working my way towards asking her to go with me upstairs. After half a song, she said. “Why do you wanna know?”
“I came here with my dad…” She let out a little laugh. I continued. “And my mom…I just want to know.”
The bartender called for the waitress and she held up her palm. “Nothing your mom would like, trust me.”
The woman walked off and I took a seat at a corner table that looked out directly at the staircase. Maybe he’d come down quickly once he remembered Mama.
I kept watching, waiting to see his hand on the banister ambling down. After forty-two minutes he finally did. There was a grin on his face and a skip in his step. He looked around, then waved when he saw me.
We left the strip club around three in the morning.
He threw his arm over my shoulder and put the Ford keys in my hand. “Don’t drink and drive,” he lectured—I guess, remembering he was someone’s father. I could smell the woman on his breath.
As I laid him into the backseat of the SUV, he propped himself up on his elbows and looked at me. It was a kind, rowdy look. “You’re a good kid,” he said, then fell back.
Once we were in the driveway, I noticed that the front porch light was still on.
I tapped Pops on the shoulder. There was a light rain and the palms on the street waved and bent, almost like spectators. “Come on. You know I can’t carry you.”
He swiveled up with the grace of a bag of rice. I held him like a crutch and we walked up the driveway at a snail’s pace. He stopped at the step. Pops gave me a grave look, more of a pinched expression. “You got me, right?”
“I’m holding you, yeah.”
His eyes widened to impress upon me his meaning. “Not that. You got me, yes?”
I’d have to lie to Mama the way he had. I was a man now and I’d have to choose a side. Before I could put the keys in the lock, Mama opened the door. She was in her white housecoat, holding a mug of tea.
“Where have you been?” She asked.
“Nowhere,” Pops slurred.
We got in and I walked him to their bedroom. He fell onto the mattress with a lazy plop. Mama scuttled in. “Don’t lie to me.”
“We got drinks,” I said while trying to take off Pops’ shoes. “That’s all.”
She grabbed the other foot and took off his other loafer. Pops was already snoring.
Mama grabbed the crux of my elbow and walked me into the hallway. She closed the bedroom door, in case Pops was listening.
“Son,” she stammered. “You don’t want to turn out like him, do you?” I hadn’t thought of the question, but wasn’t she right? If I covered for him over and over again, wouldn’t I become that type of man? “You won’t get in trouble if you tell me.”
I looked at her worried face. He had put her through hell these last few years. I wanted to tell her everything—about the women, upstairs, getting too drunk to drive. But I felt a strange allegiance to Pops. It had taken years to get him to tolerate me, let alone like me. There was something more stopping me, something more tribal.
“Please,” she said. She took my hands in hers. Her eyes were glassy and her nose was ruddy.
I couldn’t go back to the way things were. I was a man now, and that meant something. “We just got some beers is all.”
“What? Damn. Stop being so nosey.”
She dropped my hands. Mama knew who I had chosen after all. She knew what type of man I would be.
Madari Pendás is a Latin-American writer, translator and painter. She is the author of Crossing the Hyphen (Tolsun 2022). Her work has appeared in CRAFT, Pank Magazine, Sinister Wisdom, and more. Pendás has received awards from the Academy of American Poets, FIU, and two Pushcart nominations.