n my last post, I wrote about the summer trips I took with my father, and they are legend in our family. When I bring the subject up, we all have our own particular stories, and we marvel at how someone remembers an incident that no one else remembers. Most of my memories have to do with the car we drove. Perhaps, mostly because all the trips we took were in the family car.
As I wrote previously, we often visited his senryu friends and distant relatives. My father had senryu friends as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil. But, our family car had neither the will nor the desire to travel such a distance. Our car was a 1960 Rambler. My father bought it brand new when the 1961 models came out, and it was immediately dubbed the electric car by my friends at school. You inserted the key, turned it to the on position, and then pushed the start button of the infamous Rambler Push Button Automatic Transmission on the dash board. It always gave an electrical sounding whine before it turned over. Being the obnoxious kid that I was, I always wished that he had bought a Chevy Impala or some other mainstream vehicle with a steering column shift, but then of course, I wouldn’t have stories to tell today if he had…Anyway, the Rambler was strictly no-frills. No air conditioning, no power steering, no power brakes, and no radio–it used to be optional. But then, who needed a radio when your in the middle of no where’s-ville?
The most memorable trip we went on was a two week trek to Yellowstone National Park in 1965. Before the crack of dawn, we left a city seething with racial unrest for our idyllic journey through the western states. We kids, of course, oblivious to such social issues, simply fell asleep in the back, only to be greeted a few hours later with the burning sun on our faces and nothing but desert around us. Before noon, we had reached Las Vegas and a huge mechanical cowboy rocking his forearm back and forth as if looking to hitchhike his way out of town. We ate lunch at a coffee shop in downtown. I ate a clubhouse sandwich, a special treat for me at 9. I used to love these sandwiches with real turkey breast, bacon and loads of mayo on three slices of toasted white bread. But I was paying more attention to the slot machines at the entrance of the retaurant.
“They gamble when they eat?” I wondered out loud.
“Honey, that’s how they try to pay for their meals sometimes,” the waitress with big hair smiled as she set down our plates. Embarrassed at having my thoughts answered, I slinked down a bit lower in the booth, refocusing my gaze at a tall glass of water and reaching for it as nonchalantly as possible.
Later, as we were leaving the coffee shop, I egged my father on. “Try the slot machine. Try the slot machine.” The cashier giggled as she gave my father change. I suppose he felt trapped. How could I come to Vegas and not try the slot machine at least once? Especially with a noisy boy and the prying eyes of strangers. He took out two nickels out of his coin purse and gave one to my mother. A bit excited, she put it in the slot and pulled the arm. Kaching, kaching, kaching. Loser.
My father put his nickel in the neighboring slot. One cherry, two cherries, three cherries! “Dad! You won!” I screamed as six nickels clinked out of the machine’s mouth. “Play again,” I urged, but my father scooped up the coins and put them into his purse, looking mighty smug. Outside, I skipped sideways around my father, asking him why he didn’t play more. All he could do was say “oh, no,” and walk a little faster. After we crawled back into the Rambler, he jotted something down in a notebook. Another idea for a poem, I sighed, giving up all hope of my father hitting some kind of major jackpot.
Written in code
in a small notebook,
secrets of a journey
This senryu was composed many years later in 1992, but I think it reflects all the times he would jot down an idea in the middle of anything, anywhere… nowhere. If only I had that kind of discipline. As for my father’s modest winnings? Well, those six nickels would buy a loaf of bread back then, so it wasn’t just chicken feed. But still, it would only make four club house sandwiches…