Phil Shumpeter Has a Beer with His Father’s Ghost in Minneapolis

Phil Shumpeter, in Minneapolis for a sales meeting for High and Dry Camping Gear, Inc., takes a seat at the bar at the Kit Kat Klub off of Hennepin Avenue. He orders a beer and fries.

He’s reading Butler’s The Lives of the Saints, and the guy next to him, in a rumpled suit, not unlike the one he is wearing, an undone tie, and an empty glass in front of him says, “Good to see you, kid. Interesting choice of reading material.”

“What?” says Phil, and the guy comes back with, “Don’t what me Phillip, I mean, I get no hello, or a how you doin’, Pop?”

Phil is flummoxed. The man surely looks very familiar and Phil recognizes the aroma of Vitalis hair tonic.

“Flummoxed again Phil?” says the old man.

This man is, or was, his father, miraculously transformed. The tubes and IVs are gone. He can talk and move like he was 35 again; the light in his eyes is restored; he can speak; the fullness in his cheeks returned. And the leg they amputated when he was living in Shady Acres Rest Home looks whole and like new.

His father says he’s here to meet his recently-departed cousin Minnie. The one who was married to Fred, the dentist from Nostrand Avenue.

“So how’s Mom doing?” Phil says, thinking of nothing else to say. They never had much to talk about.

“Your mother? Doing fine,” his father says, eyeing the plate of fries.

“You want some?”

His father takes a few and dips the ends in a puddle of ketchup. “She’s been hanging out with Stevenson and your old Aunt Goldie.”

“God. Goldie? And you, what about you, how are you doing?”

“Me, I’m great. Never better. I’ been sort of seeing Rita.”

“Rita?, the one from Atlantic City?”

“Nah, Hayworth.”

“You’re shitting me. You and Mom split?”

“No. It’s nothing like that anymore, we all kind of hang out with whoever comes around, but see, and here’s the weird thing, say, like the other day me and Rita are shooting the breeze and all of a sudden, Eddie, my friend from the button factory, he comes over with Truman…”


“No, Capote. Anyway, they both look like they’re 8 years old or something and, wham! Right away we all turn eight years old too, I mean like how we all were when we were eight. Except now we’re all like wearing French berrets and we’re reciting lines from The Ballad of Gilgamesh in the original Sumerian.”

Phil takes a pull of Guinness. Buys one for his father. “How the hell does that happen?”

“Beats me. It’s crazy, like, someone gets an idea and then we’re all in it. We’re all like, I don’t know, metaphysical chameleons. They call it telegenic morphological transmogrification or something. It’s been around a long time. Anyway, I’m really stoked. No telling what I might be like next.”


“Yeah,” he says. “That’s the lingo there.”

Then his father looks over toward the crowd smoking out by the door and he waves to this tall slim woman. It’s Minnie, who looks like she’s twenty and she waves back and he slides off the stool, pats Phil on the shoulder. “Look,” he says, “I gotta beat it.” And he starts toward the door.

Then he stops, turns around, comes back, and leans into Phil and says, “Hey, remember that guy Moses? We call him Moishe. He keeps telling us those plagues he got blamed for, the murrain and the boils. He thought they were all pretty harsh and then the first-born thing…he says that was not his idea, but who you gonna believe?

“Oh, and one more thing,” he says, “and this is what I came to tell you: I bear you no grudge and all but if you ever hear anyone, like one of your kids, whispering in another room about Shady Pines or, you know, some place like that, when you can still walk and talk pretty good… you go find yourself a really high cliff overlooking the deep blue sea, and you spread your arms way out wide and jump the hell off as fast as you can.”

And with that, he spins on his heel and says, “See ya ‘round kid. Maybe Hoboken next time, right?

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