My father， Dale， hits on P.J. Harvey at her rock show. Actually， it is a P.J. Harvey lookalike. There are dozens like her， wannabe rock stars wearing ankle boots with pin-sized heels. The others， boys with thrift shop tees over crisp oxfords， men like my dad whom everyone assumes is a roadie because he looks like he’s in a heavy metal band， and older women with scattered hair and dry lips， jostle to prove they’re up to it. I prefer the latter. They have a startled， somewhat embarrassed look， as if they tend to people’s vanity and ailments like a bikini-waxer or hospital attendant. Under cover， with the aid of protective gear. I think， these are the women my dad should be interested in， not the ones everyone else wants. I thought my dad was an original， but I am wrong.
"This is not New York，" Dale tells me in his van. On its side is a sign that reads， "Daddy’s Little Girl Flooring." It’s alarming how many calls he gets out of this. He used to work with another guy， Greg， in Manhattan， but he died so I came to work with him. Now， if we’re refinishing， there’s usually a woman at the door who will say by way of greeting， "You must be Daddy’s Little Girl." I imagine people wondered who the little girl was when it was just my father and Greg.
"I know this isn’t New York，" I say. "It’s been ages." I am fond of outdated expressions that make me feel madcap and carefree. He doesn’t mean we left New York a half-hour ago， and are well into the heart of New Jersey or Connecticut. He means， we left New York for good. We did， four years ago. After a year of doing floors together in New York， we moved the business to Fort Collins， Colorado. What Dale refers to is the traffic outside Denver， where we’re headed. We’re idling on I-25. Unlike some people who would’ve said， "What’s the holdup， this isn’t New York，" or if they’re really pissed， "What the hell， this isn’t fucking New York，" my father states the obvious as if he’s unsure of it’s veracity.
My dad loves P.J. Harvey as much as he loves Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. He admits it is odd， given the fact that most parents find her music to be just a lot of noise， but something about her speaks to him. He heard my boyfriend Larry playing her album To Bring You My Love when he came to pick me up for work， and asked if he could borrow it. Larry tried to convince him to take her first album instead but Dale would have none of it. This was a cardinal sin. Larry believes in listening to music chronologically， from the first album to the last， always. I have questioned him on this extensively. What if the first album sucks， and your favorite is the most recent? Or you hear a song on the radio， and go to buy the CD， only to find the song your looking for is on the second， or third， or fourth? What then? According to Larry， you’re screwed. You have to start from the beginning， every time. In fact， the whole notion of "favorite" is blasphemous. There’s a larger picture to see. He doesn’t listen to the radio， for this reason. Larry goes nuts when he comes across a Greatest Hits collection. Concerts are out of the question， since they’re a Greatest Hits collection with amped up applause and bad feedback. Hence， his absence at tonight’s show.
"You need to dump that dumbass，" Dale tells me. "He’s probably getting fries with that shake， if you know what I’m talking about." Not even P.J. Harvey can make my father hip， I’m sad to say.
But we all have our music quirks. I tolerate album covers that feature the band by a warehouse far， far away because I have to. As for solo artists， I’ve noticed that most women artists I like are often on the ground， playing dead， but done up glamorously， they might as well be on a satin ottoman. The only difference is a smudge of blood and bruise around the lip and eye. My father has nothing but contempt for music videos， especially ones that feature an artist tied to a chair with a bunch of "thugs" around him， who ends up in a psychiatric ward， unshaven， in a dirty robe.
My father has never liked Larry because he wears shorts all year long， and has one of those jobs that are hard to grasp for people who don’t do what he does. After careful scrutiny， followed by an afternoon of light stalking， I’ve only been able to come up with this: he works in a laboratory. Larry does smell antiseptic， with a trace of Sweet n’ Low. The first time we had sex， I thought he had a cold， and was overdosing on throat lozenges.
It was a sad smell， and as we were having sex， I vowed to stop seeing him.
I changed my mind midway through it when Foreigner’s "Feels Like the First Time，" came on the radio. It did too， and not only because we were in my Honda in a parking lot. The truth is that I hadn’t had sex in a year， and this occasion didn’t make up for lost time. You would think the coincidence would have solidified my decision to break up with Larry， but a catchy tune that belies a darker meaning is like a lightening bolt to pay attention. So I didn’t.
At the show， my father and I take turns going to the bar. I watch the crowd， which can only be described as a panorama of déjà vu. The music scene is small here， and people appear and reappear no matter where they are. Tonight is a real happening. We find a good spot against the wall， to the right of the stage. It’s important to be on the right， since I lost some of my hearing in that ear when I was eleven. My best friend， Gabe， tried to drown me at the pool. I kicked him in the stomach so he smashed my head against the concrete. They evacuated everyone from the pool， and the blood in blue and white reminded me of a rocket pop I had before I went in. Afterward， everything sounded as if I was underwater.
I was never mad at Gabe for what he did. He was trying his hand at bigger things， and would go back to what he knew best， torturing smaller， defenseless creatures. I figured， the worst is over， and invited him to a sleepover. After some pleading， my mom consented. She made popcorn and Rice Krispie treats but refused any to him. He didn’t complain. Out of fear， I guess. I was terrified of my mother， who divorced my father a year later.
When Larry’s pissed off， he’ll talk in my bad ear， or move his lips as if he’s speaking. But I know there’s no sound coming out. I have gotten so used to not being able to hear， it took me a while to realize that sometimes I can hear like everyone else. Like P.J. Harvey， who is famous for whispering and going so quiet it’s impossible to understand. She treats her music as if it’s a secret she’s reluctant to share.
My father hands me a beer before the show， and turns his attention to the plethora of young women around him. Doesn’t he know this makes me uncomfortable? Of course all the hetero boys are doing the same， and the girls go by with grim faces and stiff necks. Not seeing but seeing. The youngest ones laugh too loudly， and sprint down the aisles. The boys fall for this act， willing to see mystery where there is none.
"Dale， what’s yours?" my dad shouts over the opening act， a punk band from Kansas City. The woman is about my age， with low breasts and tattoos up and down her arms. She shakes my father’s hand. "Laura，" I hear her scream.
"This is my daughter， Penelope." He puts his arm around me， and squeezes. I can be a prop.
"Nice to meet you." Her hand is sticky and cool.
"That is so sweet，" she says and gives me a smile a five year old would find condescending. I offer to go to the bar. Laura orders a Jack and coke， my father another beer. He makes a big deal of handing me a twenty. When I get back， Dale gives me a half-smile that’s really a question. I pat his arm. Yes， I answer. I’ll get lost.
P.J. Harvey comes out in a white pants suit. She’s tiny， but has a voice that defies her size. I’m several rows behind Dale and Laura， and watch them head bang to the music. I want to move as well， but am surrounded by a passive bunch. They feign thoughtful attentiveness through cocked heads and closed eyes. During a ballad I can barely discern， my father lifts his left arm high and sways， a lighter poised in his hand. The singular flame hovers over his companion’s head， threatening to catch it on fire.
Looking at him， unabashed as the sole lighter possessor in the entire place， I realize he’s happy. When we first moved to Fort Collins， we were sick from the altitude. With the mountains so far west， we didn’t think we were up so high. Each day presented a new symptom. Bloody nose， earache， vertigo. My ears felt full and hollow， and I couldn’t tell what was close or far away. My dad had dreamed of living out west all his life， but began to think he had made a mistake. The west my father sought didn’t have suburban sprawl. Nevertheless， he has thrived beneath its sunny disposition， where afternoons are warm， even in winter.
After the show， I wait for my dad in front of the theatre. The smell of smoke is everywhere. Dale and Laura wander toward me， new-fangled and affectionate. They begin to walk ahead， in the opposite direction of where we’re parked.
"The van is this way， Dad." Laura laughs， a little uneasily. She grabs my father’s shoulder. The veins in her hands are prominent. She’s older than I thought. On her arm is a tattoo of the Virgin Mary， done up like a cowgirl and surrounded by stars， with a lasso in her right hand.
"You go on without me，" my dad says. I hear one word of this. It is "oust."
"We’re going the wrong way." I say. My father stops. Under the streetlight， they both look soft， with pink skin and translucent hair.
"You’ll be fine， Lope. I’ll see you tomorrow." We’re an hour away from home， and have a seven a.m. appointment in the morning. He must be thinking the same thing， because he says， "I’ll catch the bus."
If I had known earlier， I wouldn’t have had so much to drink. "OK，" I say. My father hums P.J. Harvey. I recognize the song， "You Said Something，" which always makes me miss New York. I go into a 7-Eleven for a coffee and bottle of water， to sober up. I think of Larry waiting at home， eyeing the clock while listening to Kris Kristofferson. At this late hour， it’s most likely Who’s to Bless and Who’s to Blame.
Outside， I drink my coffee in the cold air. I see my father and Laura cross the street. Their hands are stuffed into their jean pockets， and their pace is brisk， purposeful. Even though he’s blocks away and my ears are ringing， I can hear him sing:
And I’m doing nothing wrong
Riding in your car
The radio playing
We sing up to the eighth floor
Driving home with the windows down to keep me awake， the shape of the mountains glow above the city lights. In the four years we’ve been here， we have yet to visit them. They’re as foreign to us as a picture postcard. Beautiful， but not to be trusted.