I know Father’s Day is still a couple weeks away. With my own dad still very spry and fun at age 86, it will be a special day for my brothers, sisters and me.
But I’m pretty sure my Father’s Day came early. It did not come in the form of a handwritten note. Neither was it an expression of appreciation from a long-lost son. It wasn’t planned; it just happened.
This all came down on Saturday, May 14. That was the first Saturday Maggie, our daughter, moved back from KU. “Dad, I need to go to Verizon,” she told me. “My phone is fine but it’s three years old. They’ve come out with a couple models since I got mine.”
This was an unprecedented announcement. A Keenan kid trading in a good phone. A working phone. A phone that has never been found the bottom of a pool, bounced off a sidewalk, misplaced at The Wheel, dropped down the crack of an old suede couch, lost in a cab, immersed in a beer.
This is obviously the daughter’s phone. She was due. “Sure,” I said. “But afterward I need to go to J.C. Penney’s at Corbin Park.”
We headed to the store on 135th Street. Generally speaking, Verizon stores are highly efficient operations. An employee greets you at the door and when it’s your turn, they are adept at problem-solving. I should know. I’ve taken many problems there, including two named Robert and Tommy. And I’ve learned among the waiting customers that there are two distinct demographics — the teens who know about P-Diddy and those who think it’s a urological condition. To the flip-phone crowd, Drake is a duck, not a rapper.
On that Saturday we strolled in at 11 a.m. The store was empty. No customers. Not a one. Just behind the counter were five employees, ready to go into action. Maggie got the first one, a young man in his mid 30s.
“Let me look up your account.” I knew this drill. It takes about five seconds for the tech guy to understand that I’m no regular customer. With six phones, two iPads and enough extra data charges to prompt a Verizon stock split, I tend to get concierge treatment.
I watched him pull up my numbers. His eyebrows arched a bit and he looked up. “Yes. Mr. Keenan. I have it here.”
“I know. My account is big.”
“I’ve seen bigger,” he said. I held the rejoinder to myself: “Who? Bieber?”
In a couple minutes Maggie had a phone. “It’s going to take a while to upload your photos and music. Come back in a couple hours and it will be ready.”
For the next three hours I had my college daughter with no phone. How many parents living outside of Amish country can say that? Our next destination: Penney’s.
Long before Penney’s became a darling, and then a devil, of hedge fund managers, it was the jewel of small towns like mine. In Great Bend, Kan., it was a Saks Fifth Avenue, Dick’s Sporting Goods and pre-Walmart Gibson Discount all rolled into one. It had the first escalator we’d ever seen — and that was so cool. They sold men’s suits, top coats, bedding, fishing lures, Ping-Pong tables. It was across the street from my dad’s law firm, so we would wander over there when bored. I remember one Easter they sold baby chicks, which in a moment of weakness Larry and Mona decided would make an appropriate pet. It did not end well.
So even today Penney’s is my go-to resource for undergarments.
So imagine father and phone-less daughter in the men’s boxers section of Penney’s. And then throw in one more aspect of the day — I talk to people, particularly strangers. My kids think it’s weird, creepy, awkward. And so I’m gabbing up a storm. I read once in The New York Times where researchers concluded that kindness to strangers improves your mood. And my mood was euphoric.
Maggie couldn’t do anything other than stand by and listen. There was no escape to text, tweet, Snapchat, Facebook, plug in headphones and pretend to zone out. She wasn’t going to escape to the ladies fashion section to find Tory Burch shoes. She was mine. We had a deal.
The salesman in the men’s section shared my devotion to conversation. He and I talked about men’s boxers, waist sizes and other random topics. He was helpful, interesting and flattering. Like Dale Carnegie only better. I bought shirts, socks, undies and a pair of jeans.
Mission accomplished. Next stop: Land of Paws.
Like Penney’s, LOP also occupies a special place in Keenan history. It was the first home to Bernie. On this day, however, we didn’t see any Wheatens. Instead they had all kinds of Aki-Poos, Terri-poos, Cockapoo mixes — everything was miniature. Looking for a pitbull-German shepherd mix with a bad rap sheet? This is not your place. But if you want a lap dog that guarantees a billion likes on Facebook — this was pure gold.
Staring into the pens were children on the verge of an emotional breakdown when their parents declared, “Not today.”
They sold dog treats more elaborate than any cupcakes or cookie that I’ve had in my life. I was about to taste the icing myself, before Maggie reminded me that it was, in fact, for dogs. They had a selection of official Royals uniforms for your four-legged pet that would put Rally House to shame. We inspected cat condos with carpet that lacked something from our own carpet at home: pet barf.
There was a furniture section. I noted a handful of stair steppers: not for your toddler learning to crawl, but for your aged animal who can no longer reach your bed. I was amazed at the expansiveness of the store, with even a frozen dinner section for pets with paleo or gluten-free restrictions. Meanwhile, the lively lap dogs occupied the back corner of the store.
Maggie and I laughed. And laughed some more. And in the couple hours that remained where Maggie was phone-less we did a lot of talking. Actually I did the talking.
All in all, a five-star day.
Matthew Keenan writes the first and third Wednesday of the month. Reach him at email@example.com.