Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hippos on Thursday

I was sipping coffee on the couch by the wood stove at home Wednesday morning when I overheard Mica run through the days of the week with Emory, our four-year-old, at the kitchen table. When Emory jumped the track and went directly from Tuesday to Thursday, Mica threw up a red flag, "Whoa, you skipped Wednesday." Other than that, Emory did pretty well.

More interesting than Emory's precociousness was when Mica told him that "your mother (Trish) will be home tomorrow, on Friday." Now it was my turn to speak up: "Hey," I said, "today is Wednesday; Friday is two days away." It turned out that Mica, who is 39, is susceptible to skipping Wednesdays also.

Owning up to her confusion, she mused, "I've never really liked Wednesdays all that much. I prefer Thursdays." While that was news to me—I rarely get into conversations that reveal one's day-of-the-week preferences—her revelation brought suddenly to mind my father, Robert Schaub, and one of his favorite jokes…

Picture two hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) languorously floating in a slow-moving river in the steamy jungles of central Africa in the dead of summer. It's the middle of the afternoon and there is no breeze. The air temperature, water temperature, and humidity are all hovering around 100. It's an effort to move at all (even flies are having a hard time), and the two hippos are suspended with only their eyes above water. Finally, after an hour or so of just lying there listlessly in the muddy water, one hippo ponderously turns to the other and says, "You know, I can hardly believe… it's Thursday."

While I was energetically estranged from my father the last 20 years of his life (Ayn Rand venture capitalists don't mix that well with social justice liberals), we did share a love of baseball, cigars, and that particular joke. Whenever someone mentions hippos or rhapsodizes about Thursday, it always tickles me right in the Limpopo. I'm unabashedly amused by the delicious absurdity of pachyderms coping with ennui (as if coping with gravity isn't enough for those big guys).

Actually, trying to picture my father on safari—on the hunt for hippos in their natural habitat—is just about as funny as the joke. An outdoor adventure for my Dad was a round of golf without an electric cart. If he really wanted to walk on the wild side, he'd tee off without a rain jacket or a sand wedge.

My Dad died in his sleep more than 23 years ago. He went to bed not feeling well one night and just didn't wake up at age 72. It isn't often that I think of him these days, and I appreciate Mica for accidentally stirring my memories. After spending the first part of my adult life trying to distance myself from him (and his conservative Republican values), I notice that I'm now more interested in ferreting out our similarities—discovering the many ways in which I am my father's son, despite my best efforts to remove my acorn as far from his tree as I could. 

Now that I am within a decade of the age at which he died, I find that I am more reflective than reactive, and more curious about how the grain of the oak that I have grown into can be traced to the rootstock of my father, regardless of how different the communitarian soil into which I assiduously transplanted the sapling of my youth.

Robert, for instance, was a legendary storyteller, as was his father before him, Fred. And now I aspire to the title of raconteur as well. In that vein, I am sustained by the presence of my father's spirit looking over my shoulder as I type, enjoying this vignette. Somehow I think he'd approve. 

After all, it's Thursday.

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