Those Bastards are trying to take our house, Dad told me today. It’s possible that soon we’ll be out on the street. Real soon if those Bastards get their way, he says. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when Dad is serious or just goofing but today I can tell. He is serious. I don’t want to live out on the street. Even Bastards can’t just take your house, can they?
It’s just a matter of time, Dad says. I can’t fight ‘em all, he tells me. If there were just one or two Bastards no problem. Or even three or four we’d have a chance, but there are more than a dozen. Even for my Dad the odds are overwhelming. He sells insurance and is used to giant odds against him but this time he says we are up the creek without a boat.
Please God! I don’t want to lose my house. I’m only twelve years old. This time I mean what I say. If you let us stay here I’ll never complain or ask for anything again. How about it?
Dad says we have no money to buy another house. All of our savings went to buy Mom’s share of the house when she wanted out. I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad she isn’t here while this is going on. She would throw it up to Dad and make us both more miserable if she were living here.
I can hear her now. “You are never serious! Everything with you is a big joke. Let your wonderful sense of humor get you out of this – MISTER PERSONALITY!”
Mom is a shrink. She says she left Dad because he wasn’t serious enough about life in general, her in particular, or the concept of relationship at all. She always wanted heavy discussions and Dad would tell her, “Lighten up”, and she would get real pissed. Then he would tell her, “Lighten up, Babe”, and she would get more pissed. Mom hated to be called Babe and Dad knew it.
Dad has this ability to find anyone’s weak spot. He can be a real crusher when he wants to be and that’s pretty often. He’s usually kind of funny unless you’re the one that’s the crushee.
One day I came home from school and on the refrigerator in Mom’s own handwriting found the now famous and framed forever in the living room note.
7 P.M. LIVING ROOM.
ALL FAMILY MEMBERS.
What a laugh. There were just the three of us and we had never been in the living room alone, just with company on holidays. It was off limits. In fact, with all the velvety kind of furniture and highly polished tables it looked so much like a museum room Dad had named it the Millard Fillmore Room.
Precisely at seven we marched into the Millard Fillmore Room where Mom was already seated. She sat straight as a rail, her back not touching the chair, and her hands were clasped in her lap.
She looked at me silently for a minute or so and said, “You’re just like your father.”
“Thanks Mom,” I said.
“It’s not a compliment,” she said.
“Lighten up Mom”, I said.
“Yeah. Lighten up Babe,” Dad joined in.
“Goodbye,” she said getting up. “I’m leaving you two clowns for a more serious environment.”
“She’ll be back,” Dad said.
“Not on your life,” Mom said as she walked out of the door and out of our lives. Dad and I put our feet up on the coffee table for the first time, leaned back with our hands clasped behind our heads and just nodded and grinned at each other.
That night Mom went to live with another shrink. His name is Phillip and he is a short, gaunt man with serious bulging eyes, serious high forehead, gray goatee, and Elvis sideburns. Dad says Phillip had his smile surgically removed so he and Mom could relate. Mom says that Phillip is everything that Dad wasn’t, and she’s never been happier.
Mom also says that when the Bastards take our house I can live with her and Phillip if I clean up my act. Dad says to Mom she is probably going to be sued by the Bastards too for being an accomplice because she knew all the time that he was performing the wedding ceremonies. Mom said words I’m not allowed to use and Dad tells her to lighten up, he was only kidding.
Dad said things just got out of hand and he didn’t think anyone was getting hurt so why the big deal? The Bastards say it’s not funny and he ruined their lives. That’s the big deal. My Dad asks, “Can’t they take a joke?”
Their lawyer says yes, they can take a joke and they can take his house, car, and savings. Hopefully, the lawyer adds, they can even take his freedom for a few years.
Listen. Even I think Dad may have overdone things a bit on this one but jail? C’mon now.
Dad says it was a good fifteen years ago when a group of local business friends would meet at the King George Café on Fridays after work. It was at one of those really happy hours that two of the group announced they were getting married and by the way did anybody know anyone who could perform the ceremony since neither of the local justices was available? So Dad, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, and two hours of happy hour under his belt, said – well I guess I’ll just have to dust off the old Bible and do it myself. When is the happy occasion?
Are you a justice they asked? Better than that, he told them without a smile. I’m a Notary and would be proud to do a Notary wedding. How’s two weeks for you they asked and Dad tossed down another Kamikaze and said fine by me.
Nobody ever asked him if Notaries had the power to marry people. They may not even have remembered the Notary part. Dad says that he never intended to go through with the ceremony and expected to be called on it at any moment but that moment never came.
Suddenly, he says, it was two weeks later and both families were standing around on someone’s lawn and Dad married them. Everyone shook hands, he kissed the bride, slapped the groom on the back, and notarized their license.
Over the next two or three years Dad performed about a dozen ceremonies for the group. Dad says that he was asked to perform weddings for outsiders but wouldn’t. He says by the end he was getting pretty darn good at it too.
The Ceremony Bible was a Gideon he had swiped from the local Holiday Inn for the first occasion and used it ever since. Still got it, he says. Every couple he ever married signed the inside cover. Great evidence, Dad says, slapping himself in the forehead.
Dad never told anyone he was performing illegal marriages. He’s the kind of guy that could take satisfaction in a practical joke all by himself without bragging or sharing it with others.
Twelve years had passed since Dad last performed a wedding and he kind of forgot about the whole thing until one day he and I were downtown playing pinballs and this guy comes up to Dad and starts telling him his life story.
Next thing I know they are sitting in our house sucking up beers and eating nachos when Dad says to me that in his younger days he married people and this drunk guy sitting next to him crying and burping was his second ceremony and now was about to go through an expensive divorce. A couple of beers later Dad tells this guy that he can save him a bundle in legal fees on the divorce. The drunk guy asks Dad if he does divorces too, and Dad laughs and tells him that since he did a Notary marriage and was still a Notary, he could do a Notary divorce.
Dad stumbled into his study and returned with a yellow legal pad and his Notary seal. He wrote the date and DIVORCE GRANTED in large print, had me sign as a witness, and then put his Notary seal on the paper. This is my first divorce, Dad said, slapping the drunk guy on the back and giving him a good natured noogie. On the house! My first Notary divorce is on the house.
The next day the drunk guy tells his wife that he just got a Notary divorce and she isn’t getting anything. She calls her lawyer and he tells her that Notaries can’t marry people or divorce them and that she was probably never legally married. She starts screaming at him that their kids are Bastards and then things got interesting.
She went to the police station and filled out a complaint against my Dad and the newspapers got hold of the story. They started publishing weekly articles about my Dad and his troubles. Some young reporter, smelling scoop and fame, reported the full names of all the families involved and I couldn’t go to school anymore because some of the Bastards were in my class and were pissed. Real pissed! Like beat me up pissed.
Dad couldn’t go to work because his boss was one of the guys he married and his three Bastard daughters were his pride and joy. The day the paper came out with the names the boss’ wife had a breakdown and Dad got fired.
Next, one of the Bastards called the other Bastards together for a meeting and they hired a lawyer to come take our house away.
Dad says it doesn’t look good for us, but in the meanwhile he has gotten kind of famous. The big city newspapers have all written articles about him and he has been on two radio talk shows as well as the nightly news. Next week he’s going to be on David Letterman. Letterman wants to call it STUPID NOTARY TRICKS.
We get lots of calls and letters from people now. Most think that this is the funniest thing in the world. Almost everyone but the Bastards and their families think that Dad’s a riot. Mom and Phillip don’t think that he’s so funny either.
Dad says he doesn’t know what all the big deal is about because this sort of thing happens all the time. Why, it was about ten years ago, he says, that he got a letter from someone from his hometown and in it was a newspaper clipping about their old minister who married hundreds of couples and it turns out that he wasn’t really a minister after all. You were just a toddler when the letter came, Dad says, but even then your Mom had no sense of humor so I never told her.
I did try to tell her when she wanted the divorce that it wasn’t necessary, but she just said, tell it to someone else, MISTER PERSONALITY. You never know when to stop with the jokes – do you?
Okay. No big deal, Dad says. So what? Can’t anyone take a joke anymore? What’s this world coming to?