We are sitting in the super king size Whole Foods that is on the way to the Army Navy. There are tables and chairs in front of what looks like a mall Food Court: five salad bars, juice bar, smoothie bar, sandwich bar and entrees made from all organic food grown by local growers, delivered by horse and carriage with a band of trumpeteers and great fanfare. Welcome to Whole Foods Tra La La.
My Dad has a plate of macaroni and cheese and sweet potato fries.
How is it we come to Whole foods and you don't have a single green thing on your plate?
I look over and his mouth is completely full of food. He has stuffed it completely full, (completely) and has now begun the slow arduous process of chewing. There are only two other people in existence who eat like this: my sister and my son.
"Can you even taste?"
He looks up at me and gives me a big open mouth smile. A hunk of mac and cheese plops on to the table.
I shake my head slowly.
He starts chuckling a little.
"If you start choking, I'm just gonna get up and walk away".
Now he's really laughing. He coughs. More food plops on the table.
"Here we go".
He pulls himself together and gets back to the chewing. When he is done, he has to swallow three times, another long, slow process that takes about 20 minutes.
I eat plenty of salad, he says, finally.
My doctor says at my age I can eat whatever I want.
He's given up on you.
My Dad didn't really even start going to the doctor until he was in his 60s but now he refers to him like he's a personal coach, which he probably is in a way. I wonder if suddenly having this person in his world makes him feel like he is prolonging his life or getting closer to the opposite. I start gathering the trays and utensils and napkins and crumbs while my Dad sits in his seat, lost in thought, most likely reflecting on his life. If there is one place in the world to go and contemplate your own mortality, it's the super Whole Foods in Encino. When I come back from putting the trays away, he is still sitting and staring.
I think we should go to the country/western store and look at the jeans.
It's a good store.
You don't like jeans.
I like Wranglers.
Do they even still make those?
Maybe they have the pants I like.
Let's just go to Army Navy. I have to get back.
We can go another day.
When I have more time.
That's fine. (He hangs his head, shrugs his shoulders slowly. He sighs).
(I can't help laughing). Oh fucksake!
Inside the Country Western store, it smells like leather. There is a dead bear mounted on the rafters, its flat, empty arms and paws hanging down above our heads. I stare at that poor guy wondering where he started out and if he ever imagined he'd end up in a crusty old cowboy store on Van Nuys Boulevard in the Valley. The place is so jam packed you have to turn sideways to walk through the aisles. My Dad walks halfway down one row.
They don't have Wranglers here.
Dad, they have Wranglers.
I don't see them.
Omg what's omg.
It's what you say when you're 13 and you can't believe the present condition of your life.
O.M.G.! (He says it perfectly, even adds a foot stamp).
That's a wrap.
We walk through the aisles, past shelves of blue denim, rows and rows and rows. We see the biggest jeans you've ever seen in your life; just one pant leg is 3 feet across. We turn our heads to stare but our feet keep moving ahead towards the shelf with the pants with the little leather tag.
No, that's not it.
It says Wrangler.
That's not what I meant.
But they're jeans. They're wranglers.
I see that but that's not it.
Do they sell guns here?
Up front near the bolero ties.
We have a stare off and this music plays.
Finally we are sitting outside the Army/Navy. My Dad still has his belt across his chest. He just sits and waits for me to unbuckle him, staring at the store.
Are you ready?
Are you feeling good about this?
Do you know where we are?
(He drops his chin to his chest and lets his mouth hang open. He drools a little).
Very funny. I'm glad you're getting a kick out of this. But if you don't get pants here you have to walk home.
(He nods, mouth still hanging).
Okay, let's go.
The Army Navy hasn't really changed for 50 years except that today, for some reason, it is almost completely empty. and I don't mean empty of customers; I mean empty of stock. Almost entirely.
We stand at the front and take it all in. There are rows of shelves with maybe 4 pairs of pants on them, a few racks with some some Pea-coats and Army jackets, a basket of skull caps and one full show-case with knives. What happened?
There's a kid by the register reading a comic book. He looks like he was told to sit there by his mother who is in the back cooking up some meth to keep the family business going. The top of the stool is about 6 inches higher than the counter and his legs dangle.
Do you have cargo pants? I ask quickly before reality sets in and we turn around.
He doesn't answer but slides off the stool and leads us to an aisle where, on a shelf, there are in fact about 7 pairs of cargo pants. I am so grateful I feel like falling to my knees and weeping into my hands.
This is it! my Dad says.
We load him up with a few pairs and send him into the dressing room, a room the size of a phone booth with a tarp hanging in front of it.
What is it about the Army/Navy store? All the uniforms, the green, the gray, the blue. The beanies, berets, the helmets and caps. Scratchy wool blankets, canteens with canvas straps, and the best thing of all: the gas mask. Adventure! Excitement! Courage and Bravery! You never think about killing people in battle, or holding your best buddy in your arms while he breathes his last breath. Jesus! What is wrong with me. All of a sudden I worry that my Dad has been in there too long.
I need your help.
I pull the tarp aside and see he has the pants on but can't get them buttoned.
They look tight.
I have to pull hard on each side but I get the button buttoned.
If you sneeze, that button's gonna pop and kill a bird.
I like them.
Okay let's get them.
Are you sure?
Why do you keep saying Yes like a Stepford wife?
I really like em, they're good. Let's get em.
We have another stare-off. He nods. I nod back. Then I tear off the tag and practically run to the register to pay before he changes his mind.
On the way to the car he is putting receipts into one pocket, wallet into another. He's snapping and zipping. He is whistling. We walk through the nearly empty parking lot; it's starting to get dark. He swings his bag in his hand.
Let's go to Fred Segal tomorrow.
I take a deep breath and look at him.