Tony Danza reclines in the booth of Ray’s Famous pizza like a throne. He’s the boss. “It’s sixty.”
In real life, he’s even handsomer. He sits across from us, luxurious, arms spread along the plastic top cap of his side of the booth. We can’t believe it’s really him. On Reddit, he goes by TapDanzaXtravaganza98. My brother, Clay, set this meeting up before we flew to NYC.
On our side, my brother and I flank Dad, and we’re scrunched in dominion of the boss, paying homage. When we say nothing, like the small-town rubes we are, Danza grows annoyed, repeats, “It’s sixty.”
Dad shoots Clay a scowl like, “Is that a good price?” but my brother’s already fumbling with his wallet, shuffling out twenties. I sprinkle red pepper flakes on my slice of cheese. Clay attempts to hand the money across.
“Hey, hey! Outside,” Tony says, and Clay looks like a spanked puppy, shoves the bills back in his wallet and replaces it after several attempts, looks like he’s scratching his ass. Dad scowls as only Dad can scowl.
We all get up and go outside to finish the deal. I bring my slice along to watch, folded because we’re in New York and when in Rome. Outside, it’s seventy-five degrees. Tony’s jacket seems excessive, but, hey, he’s the boss.
We follow him to the corner and Clay and Tony do a palm swap. A sleek, silver Jaguar with tinted windows swoops by and Danza hops into the backseat and rides away. The guy hasn’t aged a day since the 12 Angry Men TV movie (‘97). Nice to see that he’s taking care of himself. I should have had him sign my pizza.
Back in the hotel room, we squeeze into the bathroom, drink Solo cups of Yellowtail chardonnay, crack the window, and roll a blunt. Dad’s not supposed to drink since his diabetes diagnosis, grows humorless and impatient at any mention of the subject, so we just cheers to Mr. Danza. Tony’s weed doesn’t fuck around, and in minutes I’m googly-eyed.
Clay’s got GERD, so he burps when he drinks and/or smokes, and he says “burp” when he burps, which is constantly. He coughs cheap wine into his curly, red beard. We’re twins, so he looks like me but forty pounds heavier and with a beard. People still can’t tell us apart. That says a lot about people.
“What’s the goats and bicycles,” Dad says, which is what he calls an itinerary. My brother describes this majestic taco truck he saw on the Food Network. At the thought of sizzling chorizo, onion’s bite, and zesty lime, I’m floating out this window and drifting via hot stomach balloon toward Chelsea. Wherever that is. My gut will find it. I’ve got faith.
Dad scowls. He wants a hamburger.
Clay says there’s a “burger joint” (in Rome) on the way back from the taco truck (he’s mapped every fucking restaurant in this city; wants some kind of award). The burger joint is hipster–but not too hipster–and we can grab dad his hamburger, hit Midtown Comics in Times Square, then call it a night?
Rather than Uber or cab to Chelsea, we figure the subway is our cheapest option. The most authentic method, too. Dad and I follow Clay, who’s been elected president of G&B. We’re bumbling and bumping along on the subway when I notice that Clay’s got the Gray Face, decimated by Danza’s weed. Although I don’t know NYC for shit, the station signs do not look right. We might be fucked. I mention this to Clay, and I’m correct about the Gray Face. He’s sat us on the wrong train.
Somewhere around Brooklyn, which is several miles from Chelsea and on another island or something, we switch trains. To make the right platform, we accelerate our walking pace, here I notice the first beads of sweat pop up on Dad’s brow. It smells like garlic and piss in the second train, and, undeterred, I want to be topside eating tacos, but Clay says we’re at least an hour away.
This sets off one of our famous squabbles, which Dad ends with a customary, “Y’all, shut the fuck up.” The man was born in a holler in Jackson county, Tennessee; even the jaded Brooklynites sit up straighter.
When we eventually emerge to find the spot where the taco cart should have been, I get a ghostly whiff of cilantro and chorizo. It closed down twenty minutes ago. We head back toward Times Square. At least I’m getting a hamburger.
Except—the hamburger place is “temporarily closed for staffing shortage,” and the street smells like a hot flatulence factory. Dad is scowling and sweating.
“Are you alright,” I say.
“I’m hungry,” he says.
I remember that there’s a McDonald’s underneath Midtown Comics. Dad scowls and we march uptown.
With every block we march, Dad’s t-shirt gets wetter. I point this out to Clay who says we’re close. Dad will be fine when he can sit and rest.
When we reach the edge of Times Square, foot traffic becomes a mosh pit, and Dad looks positively ghoulish. We’re within sight of Midtown Comics when Dad keels over. His fall is broken by a fire hydrant. Fire hydrants don’t make good chairs, and it’s disturbing to witness. He topples to the sidewalk.
I tell Clay to call 9-11, and my brother locates his phone–I watch his fingers explore two pockets like a detective examining a crime scene–and he gorilla thumbs the touchscreen.
I dive-crouch to Dad’s side, who is blue and very dead (his last words: “aw, goddammit”). The EMTs arrive and cart him off. Clay and I don’t join them, or even hear where the corpse is headed, because we’re full-squabble over whose fault this was and how we should proceed. The EMTS shove past us, just whisk Dad away forever.
I grow emotional.
I demand that the ensuing corpse hunt should be my brother’s responsibility. After all, he killed Dad by suggesting the taco truck. And by getting the Gray Face.
To calm down, I walk over to Midtown Comics and buy souvenirs. I purchase a Batman hat because I like it. On the way back over to Clay, I discover that the hat is too small, and everything feels real—real as a big head in a tight hat.
My furlough to Midtown Comics hasn’t relieved me of all obligations. Clay insists I call Mom while he finishes phoning around for the body. That isn’t going smoothly. Of course, there’s more than one hospital in Manhattan, and they’re busy. Also, Clay couldn’t remember Dad’s insurance company. Or his birthday. Or his middle name.
Clay phones every Manhattan morgue while I call Mom.
I hope she won’t answer, but no such luck. “Hey, handsome!” she says.
Having planned nothing to say, I blurt out, “Danza killed Dad.”
There’s a pause, and Mom says, “Put your father on the phone,” so I hang up.
Clay locates Dad’s corpse at Manhattan General Hospital. We can check that off the list. I cry in the street, making a scene. Dad wouldn’t have liked that. A stoic, Dad was. And a diabetic drinker with a bad heart.
“Did you call Mom,” Clay says, shaking me as I sob and wring my Batman hat.
“Well, why is she calling me then?”
I wipe my face and shrug. “Don’t answer. Let the hospital call her. They’re professionals.”
He silences his phone and walks me inside the McDonald’s beneath Midtown to eat and say kind words about Dad.
“Hey,” Clay says, “Dad told me he would keep drinking. He was going to just ‘ride this one on out.'” I think about how that sounds like Dad and picture him scowling. This cheers me up a little, but doubt bubbles like indigestion in my heart. And my brain. And my esophagus.
I take the pickles off my hamburger because I don’t like pickles, and I wish I’d ordered chicken nuggets. When we were little, Clay and I always asked Mom/Dad to tell the McDonald’s drive-thru folks to give us white meat nuggets and different toys for both of us.
I ask Clay if he thinks we should have tried an intervention for Dad. He doesn’t say anything, but I know what he’s thinking because it’s what I’m thinking: we were afraid to. We all loved Dad, who was a good guy, but kind of a gargoyle.
We observe a moment of silence over French fries, and then both say, “We should have stopped him.”
I call jinx and make Clay buy me a Coke.