, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Chris Milam

I found him at Taco Bell on a boring Wednesday afternoon. Craving authentic Mexican cuisine, I slid through the doors into an oasis of sub-zero air conditioning, and there he stood in a yellow V-neck, #1 Dad stamped on the front in block letters. He was short and thick, a horseshoe hairline, or as my street pals would say: Morehead. Because he had more head than hair.

He ordered a beef burrito and a cup of water, one packet of mild sauce. The #1 Dad was frugal and controlled, had a taste for unpretentious food. The key to the crown? I ordered the same thing, paid with coins.

In a booth by the front window, he tore into his meal with blue-collar elegance, hands cradling the burrito like an injured baby sparrow. Sunshine punched through glass, splashing him in butterscotch glow. I dozed in his spiritual aura for a beat, then approached.

“Hi, I’m Alan. You’re the #1 Dad, love the shirt. Such an honor.”

“What? It’s just a shirt, dude.”

The #1 Dad called me dude. He talks like a commoner. Awesome. “Just a shirt? Please. I would firebomb an animal rescue shelter to be named #1 Dad. Did you win a contest or were you elected? Did your kids write an essay about your parenting skills? How does one go about being anointed #1 Dad?”

He dragged a napkin across his face, sucked on a straw, sighed liked a steaming tea kettle. “Are you some kind of idiot? I bought this at a thrift store for a quarter. Can I finish eating now?”

I could wrap his modesty in a tortilla and stuff myself. “Sure, no problem. But one more thing, is there a difference between World’s Greatest Dad and #1 Dad? Can someone hold both titles at once?”

“You’re about to get your ass stomped by #1 Dad. Get the hell away from me, dude.”

If I were #1 Dad, I’m pretty certain I’d ask for a ruby-encrusted, golden codpiece to pair with the shirt. Maybe a tiara made from velociraptor fossils. I’d chill in the back of a white convertible during a parade, wave my hand like a beauty queen, or a wounded war hero. “Can you at least explain your path to glory. What are the magical qualities of #1 Dad? What’s in your secret sauce?”

Eyes as dark as aged Jamaican rum assaulted me for approximately 27 seconds. “Look, it’s a stupid shirt. I’m not #1 Dad. I’m just Frank trying to eat a goddamn burrito. Now get lost.”

See, I’m the opposite of #1 Dad. I’m a sometimes weekend dad. I’m not Frank with the regal V-neck. But I still have time to land somewhere in the top million of dads, which is better than being a zero.

On the way out of Taco Bell, I tap him on the shoulder. “See you later, #1 Dad.”

“Whackjob loser,” he says.

Frank aka Morehead, #1 Speaker of Truth.

Chris Milam lives in Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, FlashBack Fiction, formercactus, Train Lit, Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, JMWW, and elsewhere. He was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2018. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.