Now Only A Memory

My dad’s office burned down two months ago. Well, not his entire office, just one building of the three owned by Island Drafting and Technical Institute, a drafting and computer school on Long Island, N.Y.

Luckily, it was only a peripheral building. It wasn’t one of the two primary buildings – “Main” and “Annex” -where classes are taught and where most offices were. It was the admissions building, home to three offices, a photocopier, the office microwave and refrigerator and a storage room that held all of the forms, envelopes and letterhead that anyone would need.

It wasn’t a stand-alone building but part of a small strip of stores that struggled to compete with the larger chains further down Route 110. The TGI Friday in the local mall routinely forced owners to abandon the bar and grill next door to the admissions office. The bar changed hands so frequently that it was simply “the bar” – no one could ever remember its current name.

Next to the bar was Tom Sawyer’s place. He was a barber who actually shared monikers with Mark Twain’s most famous creation. He had been there since the beginning of time. Well, that’s a subjective estimation – he’s been there as long as I’ve been alive. y dad took me there for some of my first haircuts, and I loved to look at the old knickknacks on the wall and listen to the old-fashioned radio in the corner that only seemed to play Glenn iller.

When I was little, and when I still had parents with the power to order me to cut my hair, my dad would take me there on Saturdays for a haircut. Afterward, we’d walk over to the main building and he’d buy me an orange Slice out of the 30-year-old soda dispenser in the little room by the rear student entrance.

Then we’d walk across the alley and into the admissions building. He’d sit me down at the admissions officer’s desk, slide the adding machine in front of me and turn on the small TV that sat on a shelf across from the desk. Normally, the TV was only used for recruitment videos, but Dad would fiddle with the rabbit ears until I shouted my approval at the screen’s reception. It was a lot of effort just to get Bugs Bunny on the screen.

Then he’d go in the back to his office and catch up on his paperwork. I never really knew how long I’d sat there. It could have been for hours. I completely tuned him out. I sipped my Slice, watched Bugs and played with the adding machine. I still remember how fascinated I was to see it print out numbers in black and red ink. I’d generate rolls and rolls of meaningless numbers before Dad came back in to take me home. I pretended I was doing some kind of important accounting job. Before heading out to the car, we’d stop by the photocopier in the back and play games with it. We’d photocopy my hands, and he’d make me laugh by smushing his face against the glass and printing out a paper with my mangled father in black and white. Sometimes we photocopied my butt to show my mom.

I hope she threw those out.

Our little Saturday ritual continued for a few years. In preschool and kindergarten, I’d make little photo frames and pencil holders for him. He placed them prominently on his desk. He occasionally changed the photos in them, but, when I was last in the office four months ago, I noticed that they hadn’t been updated in at least 10 years. I saw pictures of a family I could barely recognize on his desk, sitting in a green felt frame with little red hearts.

I didn’t think much of it while I was there. I didn’t play with adding machines anymore when I went to his office. I played with lap tops. I designed Web sites. I compiled data so he could see how many of his students were getting jobs after graduation. I licked envelopes. I sat next to that TV and talked to the admissions officer.

I was shocked when Mom told me that the admissions office had burned to the ground.

Dad rented the office, so that lessened the blow. The student records were recovered. No one missed class. Dad signed a lease for a new office down the road a few days later.

But something was lost in the fire. My earliest memories of father-son time originated there. I started my first job licking envelopes there. I spent hours cleaning that back storeroom. I learned that my grandmother was dying while standing near the front door.

My father and I chatted on Instant Messenger a few days after the fire, and we talked about it. He said that they were able to recover a lot of stuff, and the insurance was going to cover the rest. However, he said, he lost those photos and frames. He asked me if I could make him another felt-and-cardboard frame.

I can’t replace it. But I’ll think of something.

Days on the Hilltop appears every Tuesday in The Hoya.

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