He can tell a story better than Mark Twain on a riverboat drinking whiskey in the moonlight, although the surreal and the absurd are difficult to distinguish from reality. I hang near him at family gatherings, because I’m a writer and he gives me stuff you can’t make up. And like Seinfeld’s blonde girlfriend who can get away with anything because she is beautiful, Tom gets away with things because he is funny.
Although sometimes the story takes the storyteller to the woodshed and what emerges can’t be fabricated, but only told, and it happens in the warp time of a single sentence. Tom’s extemporaneous fabrication that accelerated him into warp story mode, was molded by a moment of need and suddenly, he is in a Learjet with Jamie Moyer and the Vice-President of Fox News. The twisted moment vaulted Tom from airport mundane to jet set surreal as he uttered these words to the airline reservations attendant, “You don’t understand…”
It began with a white lie meant to get him to San Diego for his grandson’s 1st birthday and to remain in the good graces of his wife. The lady at the counter said, “Your plane is delayed for at least three hours and there are no alternative flights,” which meant most likely the next day. He was only planning to be there two days. “You don’t understand,” he exclaimed with the passion of a Phillies fan booing Santa Claus. “I’ve got to get to San Diego…my, umm, daughter is getting married at Moonlight Beach tonight at 9:00 o’clock.”
He had dropped his wife at the airport early Friday morning and she was flying alone. She was not happy because he told her he had to work and couldn’t make it for the birthday party. “This is a big event, a big deal, our grandchild’s first birthday, and you should be there.” she reprimanded. He didn’t tell her that he was booked on a flight leaving at 5:00 pm EST that same Friday and arriving in San Diego at 8:00 PST.
“Do you have any proof that your daughter is getting married?” the airline clerk asked. Tom said, “Yea, I brought my wife in here this morning. She’s flying out for the wedding.” She typed her name into her terminal and confirmed the flight that morning. “Let me check something,” and she began typing again. “Look, don’t tell anyone I did this, but take this boarding pass to gate 14 and they’ll take it from there.”
Tom took the boarding pass to gate 14 and was quickly boarded onto a Learjet. He sat down, glanced across the aisle and saw Jamie Moyer. Tom said, “Aren’t you Jamie Moyer?” Moyer replied, “Yes, I’ve been in Philadelphia an entire week and you are the first one to recognize me or at least say something.” Tom has been a Phillies fan since childhood so they chatted and talked baseball…and weddings at Moonlight Beach and Moyer bought Tom a drink. Then everyone on the jet knew the mission…get Tom to Moonlight Beach by 9:00 pm. In the meantime, they talked and drinks were hoisted for Tom in honor of his father-of-the-bride moment.
In the meantime, the Vice-President of Fox News chatted with Tom. He told him that he had received a $2 bill as change at the grocery and on it was the name of his wife and her phone number and address from forty years ago, which he had scribbled on the $2 bill as a memo to ask her on a date. Which is exactly what the VP of Fox News was looking for, human interest stories, since most news today is filled with tragedy. They exchanged information.
They were on the ground at 8:30 and exited the plane. The VP stood chatting with Tom and said, “I’ll take you to Moonlight Beach.” Tom replied, “That’s ok, my son is coming for me.” The VP said, “OK, I’ll wait here with you to make sure and if he doesn’t come, then I’ll take you. Don’t you have a tuxedo?” “Ummm, yea, my son is bringing it, he’s in the wedding also.” They waited awkwardly, but then Jimmy arrived.
Tom’s son drove up in a jeep, wearing shorts, flip flops, and no shirt. “Hey Pop!, he said. The Fox guy says, “No tux?” Tom replied, “He’s a surfer!” The TV exec waved as they drove away. No word yet on the Fox News special about the New Jersey couple and the $2 bill.
Tom did walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding a few weeks later, in the pines of New Jersey far far away from Moonlight Beach. He danced that evening with his daughter while wearing sunglasses and his wife snuck up behind him and removed the sunglasses to reveal the Moonlight Beach Dad was emotional?
One can never tell where a story will lead and what will be revealed in a moment of twisted story logic shaped by a Dad’s love. Sometimes, “You don’t understand…”, is the best we can come up with. Sometimes, “You don’t understand,” is surreal with twists and turns of Learjets and moonlit beaches, while other times it’s as clear and refreshing as friends and family and pine trees. Sometimes the pines look like a thousand people through the lense of Ray Bans and moist eyes which seems funny yet real, like Tom’s stories, a thousand pine trees waving and clapping for the funny guy dancing with his lovely daughter in the evening shadows wearing Ray Bans, and he isn’t telling a story, he’s living it.