A Bucket of Fried Chicken and a Couple of Playing Cards

The whole world is scraping and fighting against itself. It can’t make up its mind whether or not to pull or whether or not to push, and so it tries, so miserably, to do both at the very same time. It doesn’t know when to stop and when to go, when to open and when to close, or when to rise and when to fall.

I thought, for a while, that my dad knew some kind of secret about the way the world worked. He would sit down on the front porch of our ramshackle house in Oakwood and pull up a bucket of fried chicken next to him, and then proceed to eat, licking his fingers as he went.

“You gotta diverge. Then you gotta converge.” He would say, just like that. “Diverge: Explore. Don’t cut off any options. Converge: Close in and decide that it’s your damn thing. For example, me converging on this bucket of chicken. Converge. That’s what that means.”

Of course, I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but the image of him sitting on the doorstep wearing nothing but an undershirt and sweat pants licking his fingers stuck fresh in my mind. It wasn’t until a dozen years later that I might have figured it out.

Diverge. Even the way he said it sounded meaningless. But that didn’t matter. On an early summer morning in the near blazing heat of a Carolina July, diverging was the last thing on my mind.

I had things planned out – the kind of planned out that you might have done when you were a kid and you laid out an array of playing cards on the floor in no particular order, thinking it was a work of artistic genius. I set things up the way things should be set up. Stay in town, work for that company, work for this company, live downtown, live in Oakwood. I had an offer at Sanders & Klein. I had an offer with Triad Inc. All of my options were there, and they grew and grew, slowly.

But on this early summer morning, they all shut down. They converged. Faster than my dad eating a bucket of greasy fried chicken.

I got a call. I answered. It had been a while since I’d talked to my dad.

We’d always talked about moving out west, if we could both find a job out there that would support us, but I hadn’t talked to him in months, and hadn’t seen him in even more.

“This is it, buddy. This is what we been talkin’ about for all that time. You should come on out here! It’s sunny and we’re gonna be working together.”

I tried to explain about diverging, and all of the work I did to diverge, just like he said – except I didn’t use the word diverge. I said things like, “I’m still exploring my options”, and “I’ll think about it”, and “I’m keeping things open”. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like those.

He told me that they had to know by the end of the day. I said okay, I would let him know. We both said goodbye and hung up.

I lowered the phone, and stared at the carpet on the floor, the kind on which I might’ve laid out an array of playing cards when I was a kid. The jack of clubs, the ace of spades, the four of hearts, the nine of diamonds. Each card meant something and each card was another option. Fifty-two options. Each one, face up.

But with that phone call, my dad had just started to turn them over, one by one. As the minutes clicked by and the summer sun rose over Oakwood, the cards flipped until there were two left.

The Jack of Spades was me moving west with my dad. The Three of Diamonds was me staying in damn Oakwood. Every other card lie stacked in a nice pile, beside the two cards that glared at me. All of that shuffling and sorting, but it didn’t matter, because at the end of the game (whatever game I was playing), I only had two options. No matter how many I had in the deck, there was only one three and one jack to choose from, and those were my options.

Finally, I picked up the phone to call my dad and tell him that I couldn’t move out there with him. I dialed the number.

And all I could think about was that undershirt and those sweat pants, and his finger-licking, and the way he said ‘convergent’.