All my life I've tried to find a suitable gift for my father, a guy who asks for nothing and means it when he says he doesn't want anything.
But this past weekend, in my 59th year as his son, I figured I'd finally found the perfect gift for my old man: a dropcloth.
I've been helping him paint his house and the dropcloths we've been using are, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Scraps of plastic sheets that he probably salvaged from a construction site dumpster.
("Salvage," by the way, is a vital verb in the Carillo family vocabulary.)
These sheets are peppered with holes and tears, which pretty much defeat the purpose of a dropcloth.
So when I showed up to paint on Sunday, I handed my dad a real dropcloth - a light-brown cotton canvas sheet measuring 4 X 12, hard-folded into a square. Perfect for the work we were doing.
He studied it in wonder. "Did you BUY this?" he asked.
I should have expected that question. You've got to be careful in my family before you admit to having purchased anything that can't be cooked and swallowed.
My mind raced through a litany of verbs to fit the acquisition of this obviously brand-new dropcloth. "Acquired?"... "Got?"... "Shoplifted?"...
"Found!" Yes! That ought to work!
"I found it," I said at last.
"What do you mean, you FOUND it?"
"It was in my closet. I forgot I had it. "
"Had" was a nice, soft verb. It implied that perhaps the dropcloth had been left behind by the previous occupant of my apartment, and no money had ever changed hands.
My father still wasn't comfortable with it. In his mind, there's no such thing as a new dropcloth.
A ragged, ancient tablecloth or bedsheet could conceivably BECOME a dropcloth -- but the main thing is, a dropcloth always, ALWAYS had to have been something else on that long road to dropcloth-dom.
My mother appeared and saw the new dropcloth. I thought she'd be happy about it, but she's been living with my father for sixty years, and the guy has a way of rubbing off on you.
So when I told her what it was, she cradled the dropcloth protectively in her arms.
"This is beautiful," she said. "You don't want to get paint on this!"
I clutched the sides of my head. "Mom. It's a dropcloth! It catches drops of paint! That's its purpose!"
"Ooh," she said, rubbing at a smudge on the dropcloth, "there's a mark on it!"
"There are going to be a lot of marks on it!" I replied, but she was already hurrying off to clean away that smudge.
The battle of the dropcloth was over, and I had lost. My father and I went outside to paint the woodwork on the garage, using those same old plastic sheets to catch paint drops.
My parents are not cheap. They're the most generous people I've ever known. But somewhere deep down, they can still hear the echo of the Great Depression, and I'm guessing very few people had money to throw away on dropcloths back then.
I should have understood that. My bad.
Anyway, Dad and I finished the paint job and we all sat down for dinner. My mother brought up the dropcloth, which had mysteriously disappeared.
"It's like the material I use to cover seat cushions," my mother said. "Too nice to ruin with paint."
I stopped chewing. "Mom. Are you going to cut it up and cover stuff with it?"
Her sheepish smile was my answer.
So now, Mom and Dad, here's my full confession -- yes, I bought the dropcloth at a hardware store for 13 bucks.
A waste of money for a dropcloth, I admit, but an absolute bargain for re-upholstery.
Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." His website is www.charliecarillo.com