By CHRISTOPHER SOUTH
My oldest son and his girlfriend saw me on the street the other day and stopped to say hello. It was last Saturday, and it was a sunny, windy day, and they were headed to the beach. I was also headed that way, and had been in the wind long enough that my longish hair was rather wind-blown.
Both Ben and Britta said they liked my hair the last time I let it grow out, so I mentioned it was getting longer.
“My hair’s growing out,” I said.
“Yeah,” my son said. “From a distance you kind of looked like Jack Nicholson.”
That sounded like a compliment until he added, “You looked like a crazy man.”
My son doesn’t really think I look like Jack Nicholson, just like a crazy man, which is his impression of what Jack Nicholson looks like.
I thought Jack Nicholson generally looks rather kempt.
Ben is my oldest son, and with or without the wind, he would be more akin to a “metrosexual” than I. He’s always been the neatest one in the family starting when he was around 2 years old. I remember him playing with his little Matchbox cars, and he would line them up front to back on the carpet. When his mother said it was time to put them away she would start putting them in their case, and he would complain that she was putting them in wrong.
In his organized mind, all the cars had to face the same direction.
We also used to take off our shoes at the door to keep the carpet clean. Ben would take our shoes and line them up if they were not straight.
This translated to other things. He tended to keep his room rather clean by normal human boy standards. He generally kept things in their place. By contrast, his brother didn’t care as much about putting away CDs or game disks after their use. That’s something I couldn’t imagine Ben doing.
Dan, the younger brother, learned about things like presentation of food by working in restaurant kitchens. Ben just picked it up “on the streets,” as I like to say. He now cooks food and sends me pictures from his iPhone.
I, on the other hand, take pictures of food in restaurants and tell him I made it. But I’m not sure he believes me.
“Did you really make that, pops?”
“Of course. What makes you doubt me?
“Well, for one thing, the Taco Bell wrappers in the picture.”
Ben also keeps his car neat, for a normal human boy. I tend to use my backseat as a depository for things I’m not quite done using. I think I will need something again so I toss it in the back seat and keep it there. That explains the ski boots, beach chair, gardening tools, end pieces of lumber, about seven years of tax returns, and enough receipts to wallpaper the Taj Mahal.
He keeps his gas receipts in an envelope so he has them at the end of the year for taxes. The only really messy thing in his car is the growth of paperwork under the passenger side visor. Even that is a filing system.
Ben also cleans up well, as my mother used to say.
He is one of those guys who looks sharp in a suit. Perhaps that is why he gravitated toward a job in banking. He started working at a bank that required him to wear suits and he ended up with a collection of nine. He has since started working for a different bank, which doesn’t require him to wear a suit, and he feels like they are a waste. Hopefully he will be promoted to a suit-wearing position before they all go out of style.
The one thing Ben is bad at is he tends to hurt himself at the wrong time.
For example, while waiting for some other guys to go to a three-day concert, he started playing basketball. He attempted to dunk the ball – backwards – and landed on the base of the goal and sprained his ankle.
He was on crutches the whole weekend.
Later, he planned to take a snowboarding trip to Colorado. Before the event we got a little snow locally, and he decided to stand up on the sled to go downhill. He ended up falling and tearing something in his knee.
“If you ever have plans to go on a trip,” I told him, “just don’t do anything for about three days before.” I’m not sure he follows my advice.
Ben is always creating memories, like taking in a kitten he found and bottle feeding it until he could find a home. And his desire to create a banzai tree, when he has never planted a seed.
But two things I always remember about him are, first, when he was nearly 12 and he learned I had quit smoking. He patted me on the back and said, “Good job.” The other is holding him in my hands for the first time and looking in the mirror and thinking, “Wow. We’re now a family.” That was 27 years ago ... today.
Happy Birthday, Ben.
Christopher South is managing editor of the Cape May Star and Wave and a contributing columnist and reporter for sister newspapers the Ocean City Sentinel, Upper Township Sentinel and The Sentinel of Somers Point, Linwood and Northfield. His publisher thinks Mr. South’s car looks like an ogre’s den.