Steven Markow is a writer and comedian in Brooklyn, NY. His written work has appeared in The New Yorker, Paste Magazine and McSweeney's. He's appeared in sketches on Late Night with Stephen Colbert and The New Yorker. He's been a featured performer in Time Out NY and was listed in Paste Magazine's "Top 10 Alt Comedy Shows in NYC". His podcast Turner Masters Memory Hospital, co-written with Catherine Cohen, was spotlit by The AV Club. He's currently a sketch writer for The Kevin McDonald Show, starring Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall.
New Dad Stories
Religion and Science
My dad says religion and science have their place, separate but equal, in the lives of human beings. He also has a Civil War era cannon that still fires. He sets it off after he mentions the religion and science thing. I’m not sure what the connection is. Something to do with war? Maybe war is the meeting place of the two? Honestly I think he just wants an excuse to fire the cannon. He brings up the religion and science thing no matter what anybody’s talking about. We could be talking about the weather and he’ll go into it. When you think about it, there’s almost nothing that can’t be connected by a degree or two to those subjects, even though almost nothing can be connected to firing off a Civil War era cannon inside your suburban home. That’s his genius, to connect the three, so he do whatever he wants and make it feel like it’s our fault.
One time I was at my son’s track meet and I made the mistake of looking down at my phone while standing in the middle of the field. I thought I was well out of range of the javelin toss, but then suddenly one pierced through my back and chest and pinned me to the ground. I strained to look over my shoulder to see where it came from and I saw my son, sort of half-heartedly waving in apology. Later on, he confessed, or at least implied, that he might have done it on purpose, maybe on some subconscious level, to get my attention. He didn’t think it would hit me, but then he seemed disappointed I didn’t compliment his aim.
One time I made a workout smoothie and I accidentally switched the protein powder with my dad’s ashes. Granted at the time I had them stored in an empty container of protein powder, but when I received them I didn’t have anything else to put them in. I was lucky to even find one of the large plastic tubs in my car. I had considered carrying them home in my hands, but then the crematorium guy said I’d have to wash my hands for a long time afterwards, because these types of ashes stain the skin. When I drank the smoothie, a sort of possession happened, but honestly it might have just been my gut flora being off-balance. People don’t realize how important stomach bacteria is, the good kind. Everybody should be taking probiotics and drinking more water and carrying around urns all the time, just in case.
One time I got something called a cytoscopy, which is when they insert a tiny camera on a long, thin metal pole into your urethra. I was having prostate problems and they wanted to make sure I didn’t have a bladder cyst or something. I remember the doctor wheeling in a monitor and saying, you can watch what the camera sees, it’s interesting actually, the inside of the bladder looks like the surface of the moon. And I remember thinking, I don’t even care what the actual surface of the moon looks like, why am I awake for this? The doctor told me to take a deep breath and inserted the camera, which the numbing gel did little to make more comfortable. I have to admit, the inside of the bladder does look like the surface of the moon, but even more fantastic, because there’s these tiny pores opening up to spray urine like tiny geysers. At first it seemed like everything was normal but then they found a tent which my dad had been camping in. He seemed disappointed we’d found him. He said he just wanted a little peace and quiet. I didn’t even bother asking why he just didn’t go back to Maine or Delaware, places he’d gone before just for fun. I stopped trying to reason with that guy a long time ago, and obviously no reasonable man would go camping in his son’s urethra.
One time I went fishing with my cousin, uncle, and dad. We didn’t go too far out, but it was way farther than I ever swam. And then it was night, and I started feeling ill. I made the mistake of lying down too long, and my cousin, uncle, and father, in the deep sea dark, mistook me for bait. They tied me to a lure and dropped me into the violet water. I woke up surrounded by fish, whales, and shark thinking, “Wait, what?” It’s my instinct in awkward social interactions to try to fit in, so I tried making conversation that I thought would interest the fish, like, “So how’s the swimming been?” But as soon as I opened my mouth, I drowned. Eventually, my cousin, uncle and dad realized their mistake and pulled me back on the ship. They pressed the water out of my lungs and revived me, and the first thing they said was, “Why didn’t you bring anything back up with you, you were down there long enough.” Little did they know that I had brought something up from the deep: revenge.
One time a large column of ice appeared in our front yard. My dad said he thought the plow man had done it. Sometimes they push all the snow into one place, instead of evenly distributing it around our cul-de-sac. That was the winter when it was cold, so the ice was slow to melt. My dad took up residency there, building a rickety bridge from his computer office to the turret of the ice castle. He wore a little paper crown and just sat in a chair, thinking I guess, maybe trying to see how he felt in that new situation, and maybe if he liked it enough, he’d move there permanently, or find a similar, more sustainable version of castle-living. But then I’m sure he realized he couldn’t afford it, which reminded him of his resentment towards me for going to an expensive liberal arts college. I could see his regret as the castle melted and his bridge fell in the new spring sun.
My Dad’s Private Prison
One time my dad saw a documentary on private prisons and thought it would be a good investment to build one. He has this thing though where he suddenly gets so polite and submissive around strangers, so he didn’t have the heart to arrest anybody and put them in his new jail, really just a cube constructed of animal cages connected by plastic zip-ties. I was living at home then because I had graduated from college was trying to figure out my deal. He said I should start paying rent, and when I said I couldn’t afford it, he kicked me out onto the street. Minutes later, I saw him wearing the cheap policeman costume I’d bought for a skit. I make skits because I’m a comedian. He was dressed like a cop and had me arrested for vagrancy. I didn’t get a trial, he just threw me into his private prison, which he said he had specifically built for me. Eventually my mom got me a laptop so I could look for jobs from my cage, but I didn’t get any replies to my hundreds of applications, no interviews, I guess because in my cover letter I couldn’t help mentioning that I was currently detained in a private prison. No, I lied actually, I did get one response from a pharmaceutical company, I think. They asked, “What’s the prison made of?” and I said, “Dog cages,” and they said, “Yeah, we figured.”
The Clothing Map
One time my dad went into my room, took my favorite clothes, and hid them somewhere in the house. He gave me a map which was just a picture of a stop sign and a giant arrow underneath, its tip touching the bottom of the page. I couldn’t make any sense of it and haven’t seen those clothes since. Later on, he denied ever taking them. He used millennial pink to paint the negative space between the stop sign and the arrow. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by the whole gesture, but I think it was an insult, or at least kind of negative.
One time my dad declined to visit me in New York because of something he called “The Pigeon Parties.” I asked what that was, and he said it’s when a bunch of pigeons jump on you and just go wild. I said, what. And he said, it’s a city thing. I said, I’ve never seen that happen, and I’ve never heard of that, but the next day, wouldn’t you know it, I did see a Pigeon Party, only it was rats. So I guess he almost got it right. And I haven’t invited him to hang out in Times Square since.
A Wonderful Time
When your dad draws a dick on your desktop computer, then tries to erase it, but it’s still visible. This is not a wonderful time. This is that point in history that the great thinker Walter Benjamin called not a wonderful time. Maybe if I had a better relationship with my dad, he could’ve just said what he wanted to say, not resorted to a primitive symbol game. He ruined my desktop. I couldn’t drag it into cafes after that without getting a lot of looks and laughs. Don’t get me wrong, getting laughs is what I do, as a comedian, it’s pretty much my whole deal, but not this kind. These were like little arrows plucked and fired from little bows. I don’t know whom I hate more, my peers or my dad. Maybe hate’s a strong word, maybe it’s just better to leave it at saying, this is not a wonderful time.