For the most part, Dad is a lame and boring man—a man who, like a toaster oven or mailbox, is largely a creature of utility, reliably doing what’s asked of him day in and day out with no detectable passion. So on the rare occasions when Dad does become emotionally invested in something, it’s a very exciting and memorable event. Here are the five times Dad was irrefutably in the zone.
From the very beginning of our 2010 family vacation to Punta Cana, it was clear that Dad was in special form. Having expertly navigated the family through airport customs in five minutes flat and having later flaunted his credit card status at the hotel check-in to get us upgraded to a room with a partial ocean view, everything was going the old man’s way, which is perhaps why he felt empowered to pull off a truly extraordinary Dad feat: haggling an $8 puka shell necklace down to $2. After leaving the resort grounds to check out a sketchy outdoor market someone on TripAdvisor had recommended, Dad spotted a puka shell necklace at a stand selling cheap beachy jewelry and picked it up off the rack. The worker at the stand said, “That’s yours for $8,” to which Dad replied without looking up from the puka shells, “This definitely isn’t worth $8—I saw the same necklace at another stand for $5.” Seemingly taken aback by the weird, insulting negotiation attempt, the worker then said, “I can’t just give this stuff away, man. But fine, $5.” And right then is when Dad proved without a doubt that he was, in fact, fucking feeling it, first bartering the necklace down even further to $4 and then threatening to walk away unless the worker went lower, ultimately forcing the poor guy to fold and drop the price to $2. Two motherfucking dollars! To this day, Dad still wears that puka shell necklace if he’s going out with his friends, and every time he puts it on, he’s sure to tell anyone who’ll listen that he haggled it down from $8 to $2 back in 2010, on a day when he was irrefutably crushing it.
2. The time Dad 100 percent broke his collarbone and refused to go to the hospital because “there’s nothing they can do for that there” and ended up healing himself just fine
When Dad fell off the ladder while cleaning out the gutters in June 2007, no one could have predicted that the dipshit move would end up putting him back in the zone for the first time in years, but that’s exactly what happened. As Dad hobbled his busted-up ass inside, hunched over in pain, Mom understandably freaked out and told him to sit down while she called an ambulance. That’s when Dad, visibly heating up for a performance for the ages, told her, “I’m not going anywhere. There’s nothing they can do for this at a hospital.” Mom fired back by frantically telling him that his collarbone was broken and needed to be looked at, to which Dad responded with heat check after heat check, like, “An ambulance ride costs $2,000” and “All they’re gonna tell me to do is rest it, and that’s what I’m doing right now.” Presumably seeing that Dad was firing on all cylinders, Mom eventually gave up on arguing and carefully put his arm in an old sling we had in the basement. The old man capped off his hot streak by popping six Advil and plopping down on the couch to watch Private Parts on VH1. To everyone’s surprise but Dad’s, his color was back after an hour or so and he was basically fully healed within the next few weeks, all without ever going to the doctor or anything. It was a truly monumental achievement that could’ve only happened as a result of Dad being very deep in the zone.
3. The time Dad drummed along to “Tom Sawyer” on his steering wheel so well that everyone kind of wondered if Dad used to play the drums
There was no indication that Dad was about to slip into the zone as he drove the family home from Josh’s middle-school graduation in May of 2009, and that only worked to make the whole thing that much more incredible. As Dad merged the family Toyota 4Runner onto the highway, the Classic Rewind channel on his SiriusXM radio began playing “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, and when the big synthy whooshing sound kicked the song off, Dad immediately started tapping along in absolutely perfect rhythm on the steering wheel, nailing every single part as if he’d been practicing for weeks. Using his right index finger to tap out the hi-hat parts on the bottom of his steering wheel, his left middle finger to slap the back of the wheel for a sharper snare sound, and his left foot to mimic the bass pedal, Dad was so flawlessly in sync with Neil Peart’s drumming that Josh asked Dad from the backseat if he used to play the drums, to which Dad responded by executing an amazingly timed fill on the dashboard, a move he briefly took both hands off the wheel to do. The song was still playing when we rolled into the driveway and Dad turned the car off, ending the show as abruptly as it had begun. But for that brief time during the first 80 percent of “Tom Sawyer,” everyone in that car felt like they were in the presence of greatness.
4. The time Mom and Dad drove separately to Olive Garden and Dad drove like a goddamn maniac to prove his route was the fastest
Another time Dad found himself in the zone while driving was around seven or eight years ago when we were going to a family dinner at Olive Garden and for some reason had to take two cars. As everyone was piling into the cars, Mom offhandedly said to Dad from her driver-side window, “Saw a speed trap on 276 yesterday, so be careful,” which prompted Dad to snap back with “I would never take 276 to get to Bloomville. County Line is way faster.” Mom responded by kind of laughing and shaking her head before pulling out of the driveway, and god knows why, but Dad seemed to take that as an insult to his manhood. The dude immediately peeled out of the driveway like a goddamn lunatic, barreling the car through the neighborhood at 40 mph—not even slowing for the “DEAF CHILD AT PLAY” sign—before turning onto County Line and then gunning it even faster. Tightly gripping the steering wheel with both hands like he was Jeff Gordon or some shit, Dad went on to pass about 15 cars as he flew up County Line, even though the road has those solid yellow stripes that mean you’re not allowed to pass people. He didn’t even fiddle with the radio or anything. The dude was just dialed in. And after somehow managing to breeze through about eight straight traffic lights along the route right as they were turning green, Dad finished off his magnum opus of a drive by cutting across the PNC Bank parking lot to get to the Olive Garden so he didn’t have to wait to turn at the intersection. Dad only ended up beating Mom by a minute or two, and he probably would’ve lost had he driven at a safe speed, indicating that Mom’s route was honestly probably quicker. But that’s besides the point. The dude was in the zone, and it was a beautiful thing to behold.
5. The time Dad absolutely destroyed the room with laughs during the white elephant gift exchange at the 2003 family Christmas party
The annual white elephant exchange at the family Christmas party has long been the time when the adult men in the family go toe-to-toe in an alpha battle of wits, each using their loudest, most unnatural voice to try to make funny quips about the wacky presents being opened, and Dad won the 2003 showdown by a landslide. Although he’s easily one of the least funny old guys in the entire extended family, the stars just happened to align from the get-go for Dad in 2003. When Uncle Howard opened his first present, a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee beans, Dad immediately declared, “Perfect, now you can have more energy to not exercise!” and all the old people in the room exploded with laughter, giving Dad the confidence to keep hamming it up. Whether it was Aunt Kathy opening an iPod Shuffle and Dad half-yelling, “Hope someone got her some hearing aids, too, so she can use it!” or Uncle Howard opening a pack of socks and Dad saying, “There you go Howie, some workout socks!” in a callback to the exercise joke from earlier, Dad had achieved some kind of special flow state, firing off an endless string of jokes that weren’t actually funny but that nonetheless made all the old people fall off their chairs laughing. Dad was so in the zone that eventually all the other old people stopped making quips altogether, knowing that Dad was in the midst of his own Michael Jordan Flu Game and that there was really no stopping him. It’s been years since that sensational 2003 white elephant performance, and although he’s tried every year since, Dad has never been able to recapture the magic he had on that day, when he was undoubtedly in the goddamn zone.