I don’t know how dad got from the Aquinas of his youth to the philosophy summed up in one of his favorite sayings — “Everybody’s got to be somewhere” — but get there he did. Throughout my childhood, he said this frequently. To my mother looking up a phone number. To his friends, wondering where yet another someone was and what they were up to now.
“Like a greased pig:” this he said of everyone who moved out of his grasp, who got away, who refused to be held down or held back. Of children playing tag. Of Mom’s little Lhasa Apso, running away from her to do another crazy fur-flattening circle around the lawn, running for her life and the joy of it.
“New potatoes with their jackets on:” said about the eponymous side dish every time he saw Mom fishing them out of the pot of boiling water with her slotted spoon. She was not born to wield that spoon but did her best, the potatoes shiny and steaming in their dish, the cold butter on the plate.
“I made all my mistakes before I was forty:” said several times during my growing up, usually in or close to the bar room where I did my homework on a flat wooden card table every night. I was always very impressed. Decades later, when I was forty and taking many classes in calculus and finding out the value of learning from a mistake, I thought of his saying this, and started to feel a twinge of pity for him, long since gone by then.
“The bishop’s price:” My father believed he was owed a discount on whatever object he believed he wanted at a given time, and he grew up in a time when the Church actually commanded a great deal of respect in all of society. Therefore, a bishop should get a discount, and my father felt that he was as good as a bishop any day. The bishop usually owed him a few dollars anyway from the yearly poker outing with the local priests that my father and my uncle hosted. This was self-evident: QED, as my father might have written on my homework had I ever found myself in a logic class.
Once, shortly after I was married, my father took me to an appliance store, wanting to get me a new television set for my new house. Our salesman was new and young and hoping to make a good impression. He explained to my father and me the various virtues of the set in front of us. Time for the price and the delivery options: my father took his cold cigar from his mouth, turned his head to spit out an imaginary bit of tobacco, and said, “Now what’s the bishop’s price on that?”
The salesman looked confused. My father was clearly not a bishop, standing there in his ordinary business clothes and his tweed cap, cigar in hand. There also was obviously no private deal between the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and, well, anybody in the appliance business. But the salesman was young enough to ask my father with a straight face what he meant. He was genuinely puzzled.
My father explained in a short, emphatic sentence “What sort of discount can you give me?” Rhetorical in form if not in substance.
A bit timidly and regretfully, for this was not his absolutely first day on the job, the salesman explained to my father that the price was the price, that it could not be changed.
My father erupted with invective, surprising both the salesman and me into silence, though the salesman did try to get out an exculpatory sentence or two in there somewhere. The gist of what my father said: if there was no “bishop’s price,” there would be no sale. He used many more words than that to get the idea across, though. He stuffed his cigar back into his teeth and turned and walked out of the store. I gave the salesman a “sorry” glance and hurried after. Everybody’s got to be somewhere.