In my mind, I see the black ring on my dad’s finger, his hands on the steering wheel, driving two Turnpike-exits away to my aunt and uncle’s house in Oakmont. There are two ways to ride in the car – just riding, listening to music, eyes on the telephone wires along the highway, or having such a deep conversation that you lose track of time and scenery.
Car trips with my dad were always the former. Because of this, I don’t remember specific things my dad and I talked about when we drove; I remember what cars he drove in what years (the red Nissan, the silver Mazda 626, the green Saturn, the gold Saturn), I remember things from alongside the highway, I remember the songs that he played. Our trip went from mile-marker 67 to 48; right around mile 51, I’d look out my window on the passenger side for the Mushroom house (it was rounded on top, like an igloo, but calling it that made less sense). The play list – cassette tapes dubbed from compact discs to preserve the originals – rarely changed over the span of my childhood. The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Chicago, and Simon and Garfunkel (The Concert in Central Park, recorded on September 19, 1981).
When I think back, these seem like the only albums we ever listened to. My dad would sing along, always harmonizing, never leading, in an airy, raspy voice that spoke not only of his years spent in a barbershop quartet but also of the decades he spent smoking Marlboro lights.
“Am I a good singer?” I asked my dad once.
“You have a good voice, but you aren’t a good singer,” he said. “You don’t sing enough.”
“I want to take voice lessons.”
“You don’t need to take lessons, just sing along. Learn Art Garfunkel’s parts – they’re in your range. Practice them, you’ll get it.”
I’ve listened to The Concert in Central Park so many times now that I know both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s parts. I can tell you the banter they exchanged in between songs: the jokes about selling joints in the crowd, the reference to then-mayor of New York city, Ed Koch, the way that Garfunkel stumbled on the first few lines of “The Boxer” in the encore, starting the line “I have squandered my existence on a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises” too early. I put it on when I walk to class, when I’m trying to sleep, when I’m playing the garbage game in my own apartment.