Short Yarn: Team Feldman
Gary Feldman hated father-son picnics.
He despised the masked bravado, the constant penis measuring of insecure, fat old men. It was painful to watch the other fathers suffer through the various competitions.Gary was above that; he was a three legged-race god.
Gary feigned a face of amusement for his young, impressionable son. Max was a good kid but he couldn’t help but think that the child slowed him down. His rowing was a nightmare.
He had tried to raise the boy a winner, instill him with a sense of pride and self esteem. Max chose fantasy books and computer games; the kid hated himself. It was embarrassing.Gary’s father would’ve beat success into him with a brick – a brick with jagged edges that made an impression. Back in those days, child protection meant wearing an extra thick sweater.
“Dad, the canoe race is up next!” Max shouted from the bottom of the hill. He was knee deep in the small, man-made lake, pushing a canoe out into the brownish waters.
“What?” Max asked with a shout.
“I said dammit, son,”Garyreplied with a smile and wave. He had to try harder to appear interested.
Max pushed up his glasses and tried to pull himself into the boat. It tilted and swayed as the boy gave everything he had. It kept overturning.
“Son, you should’ve gotten into the boat while it was on land,”Garyshouted as he walked down the hill. “We go through this every year. When will you learn, boy?”
“Sorry, Dad,” Max said. He hung his head and pushed the canoe back onto the shore.
Gary patted his son on the shoulder when he reached the bottom of the hill. He held the beached watercraft while Max crawled inside. The boy wouldn’t look his father in the eye.
Five other teams of father-son competitors were already seated and floating. The boy moped while Gary pushed the canoe into the water and hopped inside. Max picked up an oar and slipped in into the water. Gary was sure the boy would start crying.
“Enough pouting, Max, we’re here to beat the hell out of Jim and Bobby Douglas and I think you’re the rower who’ll give team Feldman an edge.”
It was a lie, but even if Max was a terrible canoeist he could at least steer. Gary was man enough to propel six canoes to victory, yet he still needed a skipper. He picked up his oar and guided them to the starting line. Gary nodded at the man in the next lane. It was Jim Douglas, second place finalist four years running.
“Jim,”Gary said with a smirk.
“Gary,” Jim replied with a tip of his tacky fisherman hat.
“Nice day, ainnit?”
“Nice day,Gary. Ready for a little friendly competition?”
“Words of a man who’s already lost, eh Jim?”
Gary flashed Jim a toothy smile and then turned to Max. He patted him on the head.
“Your pop’s a winner, Max. You should be proud.”
Max didn’t look up;Garycould see the boy’s cheeks reddening under his downcast stare. Max pushed up his glasses.
A hefty, bespectacled man with a whistle around his neck and a megaphone in hand rowed out to the front of the starting line. He gave everyone a nice, friendly wave and clicked on the megaphone.
“I hope everyone enjoyed the weenies and marshmallows!” the man said over the speaker. Someone yelled that he indeed did and clapped. Then it was silent.
“Weenies and marshmallows,”Gary whispered to Max, nudging his knee. “Pretty much sums up the picnic’s attendees, eh son? Weenies and… ah forget it.”
“We come to the final event,” the event coordinator continued. “Teams must paddle across the lake and be the first to successfully tie their boat on the shore and make it to the finish line. This competition is worth five points for the winner and three for the runner up! Are you gentlemen ready?”
All the men shouted; Gary screamed.
“On your mark, get set, go!”
Gary paddled like a maniac, his neck muscles bulged as his paddle tore through the water. Jim Douglas and company kept a steady pace. Gary knew the man had an advantage: his son was built like a Buick. He paddled harder.
“Son,”Gary whispered as he leaned forward. “I’m going to drop back a little and let theDouglas’s catch up. When they do, steer the canoe closer. I want you to accidentally hit Bobby on the wrist with your paddle. Understand?”
“You can’t be serious, Dad,” Max said. He pointed at the Douglas boy. “Bobby is my friend!”
“Stop pointing and keep steering, Max,”Gary said. He didn’t understand the boy; it wasn’t like he was asking him to kill a puppy. He knew Max wouldn’t do it. They were going to have to win the old fashioned way and it ended up, as always, onGary’s shoulders – strong, powerful shoulders that won numerous university scholarships for athletics. It all seemed so long ago, but the sudden sharp suffering felt very immediate.
Something was stinging Gary’s bicep, a slow, pulsing pain that grew stronger as he heaved on the oar. He winced at first, fighting through it with bitter resolve, but eventually succumbing to the unbearable agony. He dropped the paddle and clutched at his arm.
“Max… you’re gonna have to win this one for team Feldman,”Garygrunted. TheDouglas’s were catching up. “Row, boy, row!”
“No, I don’t want to win this stupid race,” Max said, finally looking at his father. “I just wanted to spend the day with you. The more you’re around the more I realize everyone else is right. You are an asshole.”
The Douglas’s sailed past the Feldman’s.Garyheld out his good arm and gestured at the passing canoe. Max didn’t say anything.
“Fine, Max, but know you just got beat by a fat guy and his half-wit son.”
Max stayed silent as the boat glided into the shore. He turned and watched the other fathers and sons excitedly race up the hill to the finish line, laughing and giggling the entire way.
“You know what, Dad; you’re just as fat as everyone else here. At least the other dads are happy,” Max said, pushing up his glasses and crawling out of the boat. “You’re fat, angry and drive a sports car. You think I’m lame.”
Max turned and walked up the hill.
“You know what I went through to get that car, Max?”
“Do you know what I went through when you did?” Max replied without turning.
Gary stared at his son. He finally knew why the boy hated himself so much – Max knew he’d never own a sports car.