When Oldest Son graduated from college and rented an apartment in the City, I don't think he had a glass (unless he had smuggled one out of a tavern) and I know he didn't have a plate or a bowl. But he had a clear set of priorities: The first thing he bought was a big flat screen TV.
The TV would be ready before the apartment was so Oldest Son made arrangements to have the set delivered to my home.
When the big box holding the TV was safely in my garage I congratulated my son: "This is exactly the way graduation presents should flow," I told him, "from the grateful graduate to the parents who have shouldered the burden all these years."
He laughed, nervously. I continued. "And as a reward for your generosity, feel free to take our old TV set from the den to use in your new apartment."
He responded to this offer with silence. But I wasn't done: "The only thing I don't understand is why you had them deliver the set to the garage. You should have had them set it up in the den while they were here. Now we'll have to do it."
"Sure, Dad," he said, and he went right back to doing whatever he was doing when I'd so rudely interrupted him.
The day for the move arrived in due course and Oldest Son pressed his brothers into service. He deemed Long Suffering Spouse and me as essentially useless for carrying stuff up and down stairs (and rightfully so). Besides, she and I were somewhere else. Where we were then I do not now recall. But we weren't at home for the move out.
When we got home the first thing I did was look in the garage.
The big box was still there!
I called Long Suffering Spouse over. "You don't suppose..." I started. "No way," she finished.
Upon further examination I could see the box had been opened. I peered inside.
It was empty.
"The swine!" I said. "He just left the empty box here to get my hopes up."
I was kidding, of course. There was no way the kid was going to give us that set, nor was there ever any expectation on my part that he would.
But a running gag was born.
I'd complain about the ingrate son who wouldn't even give his rapidly aging father an HDTV. I'd complain about him teasing me with the empty box in the garage -- building up my hopes, only to cruelly dash them.
Oldest Son had countermeasures. He'd come over and look at our TV in the den. "I can't quite make out the score," he'd say, "the screen is just too small. I have to go home and watch this game on a real TV set."
At Thanksgiving, he was particularly obnoxious.
As regular readers know, I believe there are three times at which the traditional Thanksgiving meal may be served: Halftime of the Detroit game, in between the Detroit and Dallas games, or halftime of the Dallas game. Of course this last choice is the least acceptable: Too many family members are too hungry and/or liquored up. Family harmony may be disturbed.
This Thanksgiving, Oldest Son parked himself directly in front of the TV set and made an elaborate pantomime of squinting at the screen. "It's so small," he added, in case I hadn't noticed. I countered with my routine about my failing eyesight and my ungrateful son who bought himself a big plasma TV but didn't get anything for his poor, old father. For the holiday, I added a new flourish. "Of course," I said, "Christmas is coming."
I admit: I overdid this bit throughout dinner. But all the kids laughed at me and Long Suffering Spouse rolled her eyes and, thus encouraged, I pressed on. And on.
A couple of days later I mentioned to Middle Son that he maybe he should tell his brother that I was just kidding around -- that I wasn't really trying to cadge a big TV from Oldest Son.
"I think he knows, Dad," said Middle Son, also rolling his eyes. People roll their eyes a lot in my house. For some reason this happens a lot when I talk. "Tell him anyway," I said. I felt guilty.
I confided all this to my friend Steve. "You don't suppose he's going to feel pressured to buy me a TV do you?" I asked.
Steve snorted. "Oh, come off it," he said, "that kid is as cheap as you are."
"Yes," I said, somewhat consoled, "that's true.... But you don't think that --?"
Steve cut me off. "Look, Curmudgeon," he told me, "if Oldest Son buys you a TV for Christmas, I'll kiss your ass at the corner of State and Madison."
But then Steve thought a bit. "Oldest Son also has an odd sense of humor," Steve mused. "He might buy you a tiny TV at Walgreens or something, just as a gag." So we haggled a bit about how big the TV would have to be for him to lose his bet and we settled on 37".
Fast forward now to the Saturday night before Christmas. Long Suffering Spouse and I have finally arrived home with the earmuffs Oldest Son had requested we get for his girlfriend. We weren't 15 minutes ahead of his arrival.
And when Oldest Son and his girlfriend came in, both were bearing a number of wrapped gifts, all of them small, I couldn't help but pull the TV joke out one last time: "Doesn't look like there's a TV there for your poor, old father."
"No," said Oldest Son, "there isn't." He and his girlfriend put down their packages and turned back toward the door. "Excuse us a minute," Oldest Son said, "there's more stuff in the car we have to get."
Long Suffering Spouse and I sat behind Steve and his wife at church the next day. During the Homily, I tapped Steve on the shoulder. "You won your bet," I said. "But only by five inches."
"WHAT?" he exclaimed. Fr. Ron seemed to lose his place in the sermon and started off on a new tangent. Of course, that might have happened anyway, even without the interruption, but a number of heads did swivel around in our direction.
Yes, Oldest Son and his girlfriend came back from their second trip to the car with a big box. "It's probably empty," I said -- and Oldest Son later told he had thought about toying with me to that advanced degree. His girlfriend thought it needlessly cruel, however. So you can see, now, why I was particularly glad that Long Suffering Spouse and I had persevered in our so-lengthy quest for earmuffs....
It turns out that my kids were all in on the plan -- one which had been hatched before Thanksgiving. That's why they laughed so hard at my routine at the dinner table. Once again, I was the butt of my own jokes.
But, this time, at least, I don't mind so much....