Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pressed Against the Pane, Part 1

She smiled as she approached Jack and Mary, sitting regally at table 9. She always admired how gentile they were; Jack holding open doors, his hand protectively at the small of Mary’s back. Although he always respectively deferred to her opinion or plan, Jack always seemed to be a few steps ahead of her. Preparing for the unforeseen setback or opportunity before they even glimmered the horizon. Mary’s bravado hid her deep dependence on Jack’s loyalty and stability. Part of his charm was that he didn’t need her to care for him but he let her care for him anyway.

It was Jack who had fallen in love with Gold Coast first. He bought all of his wardrobe at the men’s boutique, Hannigan’s, housed across the courtyard. Jack detested wasting time in stores, and once he had found a suitable tweed blazer, year-round wool slacks, and a tailor he liked, he was set. Hannigan’s loved his loyalty and stablility almost as much as his wife did.

He first saw what would become Gold Coast in the Spring of 1985. Jack had received an unexpected windfall of cash as an inheritance from his long estranged father. He hadn’t spoken to him for over thirty years, even though they both lived in Tulsa. That they never crossed paths in all that time was both a testament to his father’s good planning and stubbornness as to Jack’s.

Although a realist in many ways, Jack’s romantic sensibilities always won out concerning his father. He had been convinced that one day he would come to his senses and reconcile with him. Jack felt too much shame and disappointment to make the first step in forgiveness himself. He’s the father, Jack thought, he should be the grown-up.

The last time he’d seen his father was also the final night of his dancing career. Ironic that his father would cut off communication the very night he ceased doing the very activity that spurred the disownment.

Jack had been keeping his career a secret from his father for years. Male dancers in America, and especially in Oklahoma, were a rare and ostracized breed. Jack knew that the last thing his father, the oil prospector, wanted was a dancing son.

Jack’s father, Harlon, had started with nothing, moving from the plains of Kansas to the plains of Oklahoma in the late 30’s. He came to try his luck in the oil business, and he drug with him Jack’s mother, who in blind love followed him to the desolate former Indian Territory. She couldn’t have imagined how different life would be from Kansas. Flat is flat, she thought. But the red clay soil ate up produce instead of producing it as expected, which quickly left her, Harlon, and their newborn son, Jack, in dire straights.

Harlon though remained optimistic that their future lay not above the ground but underneath it. His brother soon moved down, and they partnered up to drill for oil. Their first big vein hit set the family smiling for nearly a decade. Despite a short setback when Harlon and his brother were sent overseas to serve in the army during the 40’s, with only Harlon returning alive, the oil business continued to pump along quite well.

Harlon fancied himself an “every man.” He was courageous, risky, hard-working and successful, and his oldest son was supposed to follow in his footsteps. But Jack was never awed by or even interested in oil and the tough Oklahoma terrain that was home to it as Harlon was. Jack was a mystery to his father, and instead of getting to know him for who he was, Harlon assumed that Jack was merely rebelling against him and his unspoken expectations. How does a son not know what’s expected of him? he wondered.