An 81-year old, blue-eyed Kappa Alpha Psi merrily hit on me at Whole Foods as he was getting out of his car in the parking garage. Next to him, a Lena Horne-look alike in enormous black sunglasses made the passenger seat look like a royal throne.
"I'm finna dump her and take you instead! I like your car better!", he winked.
"Says the man whose car is nicer than mine", I retorted.
His obviously long-suffering wife was slightly amused.She pushed her glasses into silver hair, rolled her eyes elegantly and smiled.
Somethings about him reminded me of my Dad. The polished brown color of his skin. His full mustache. The gregarious, easy way he spoke to a stranger.
We saw each other again, inside when I was boxing up my lunch at the hot bar.
"Oh, you want some of those?" He gestured at the gorgeous blue hydrangeas in my basket. "I have those all over my backyard. Can't get rid of 'em if I wanted! Come take 'em all. You'll have to come to Jersey, though." His eyes twinkled.
"Is that where you're from?"
"Yes it is."
"Is that where you were a Kappa Alpha Psi?"
"How did you know?" He feigned shock.
"Um, the license plate frame, the decal...the hat on your head."
"You know, when I was in school, I scared everyone. You scared?"
"I had just gotten back, with a bronze star and a purple heart. I was a paratrooper, older than my classmates." He pointed to his class ring. '54.
"Oh, wow. What brings you to D.C.?"
"I'm here for my daughter's birthday. We're going to surprise her with champagne and sushi, two of her favorite things. She turns 50 in...an hour!" He continued to gaze at his watch, then paused, remembering. "Yes. She was born at 2 in the afternoon."
"Aw, happy birthday to her." I wished that it were after instead of during work. He was delightful to listen to, but my boss wouldn't be pleased by my dawdling. Still, I didn't want to leave. Every word he said was dipped in sweetness and tasted like wisdom. At the best of times, being with my father felt like this.
"She makes a lot of money-- but spends it like it's water, too. Got a car like yours." He leaned in closer, looked both ways, then whispered-- "She makes over $200,000 a year! My girl!" He was elated, beaming, so proud. Was this what Daddy was like, when he made friends out of complete strangers?
"Listen to me.", he said. "You married?"
I shook my head. No.
"Sell that car. Be like my daughter-- her husband passed away 17 months after they married and she never remarried, never had any children. She goes gallivanting all over the world, has a beautiful life. Explore. Bear witness. Go to Africa. If Eden still exists on this tiny spot called Earth, it is there, in the Serengeti. God lives on endless plains. You'll see. You'll remember me when you see the wildebeests and buffalo graze in paradise."