I went to breakfast at 7am, as soon as the dining room opened, to find dad already there in his running gear, his pale legs poking out from under a breakfast table like matchstick potatoes. His glasses lay on the table and he was absorbed in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. As I approached the table he said "bonjour" and then his entire body spasmed for a moment as if he´d been struck by lightning."I didn´t see that it was you!" he said, returning the glasses to his face, and then, as if picking up on a conversation thread from a previous discussion: "By my calculations, we´re number four and five in here for breakfast," and began a discouse on the wisdom of choosing hotels that cater to the business traveler on weekends, because that´s when the rates are cheapest. "I hate to tell you what I paid for our rooms," he said conspiratorially, his index finger resting on his lower lip. I stood up to get some orange juice and he stopped mid-sentence, continuing right where he left off when I sat down as if I´d hit a pause button on him when I stood from the table, "Eighty-Nine Euros." Two more patrons arrived, prompting dad to tell me that the breakfast count was now up to 7. Some mornings I have patience for his line of thinking, other mornings its like having breakfast with Rain Man. I finished my coffee and told him I needed to make a phone call. "Hold it, you´re not calling from the room are you?" he called after me.
"No dad, I have a calling card."
I walked outside and found a glass walled phone booth on a street corner. Nothing good ever happens in glass walled phone booths. At least once in every spy movie an innocent bystander makes a phone call from one, only to be mistaken by a hit man and killed in a drive-by shooting. I looked up and down the street for any suspicious looking vehicles before walking in. It was midnight in Chicago, and I spoke to M as tiny dogs on leashes stuck their noses underneath the glass and sniffed me as they passed by.
I was glad for the silence, I haven´t attended Quaker meeting regularly in years, but I was tired and it guaranteed me one precious hour of being in the presence of dad minus his incessant patter. I´m not sure I´ve ever seen dad quiet for that long. There were 14 of us present, I was the youngest by at least 20 years. At the rise of meeting everyone introduced themselves; dad presented himself by saying he was born in a town that had not one but two periodic elements named after it - Berkelinium and Californium. I said I was visiting from Chicago and left it at that.
An outdoor pot-luck lunch followed with oysters on the half shell, wine, and other delectable treats that I´ve never seen at any other Quaker pot-luck meal. I watched as the aging Quakers around me absorbed dad´s eccentricities like wine to sponge cake, and realized that I´d hit the jackpot - Quakers always tolerate eccentricities, there are at least five eccentrics in every Quaker meeting I´ve ever been to, why hadn´t I thought of this years ago? I relaxed at the table, absorbing the late afternoon sunshine and the pleasant buzz brought on by wine from local vineyards, confident in the knowledge that I was in good hands.