My dad learned how to eat ketchup by watching Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. The scene at Tommy’s mother’s house, when Billy Batts is bleeding out in the trunk, his character, Jimmy, rolls the Heinz bottle between his palms and it comes out smooth, because of physics or gravity or whatever.
He loved Robert De Niro. Goodfellas was his favourite, but he liked them all. He hung a framed Raging Bull poster above the fireplace.
I’d come home from school and Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or King Of Comedy or The Godfather or even Meet The Parents would be playing in the living room, my dad in his lounger, either enraptured or asleep.
A few years back, the local paper announced that De Niro was visiting our local mall. Promo for a movie that later tanked at the box office. My dad read and reread the newspaper article, grinning. “Bobby’s coming,” he told me.
We drove in early. It was snowing. My dad was nervous, expecting huge crowds. The room was maybe half-full.
De Niro and his team were sat at a long table. Fans would queue up, he’s sign something, then a security guard would move them along. He looked smaller in real life.
“Is it really him?” dad asked me, as if De Niro sent out stand-ins to visit small towns, like Santa Claus.
When his turn came, he was shaking. Dad passed De Niro a Heinz ketchup bottle. He looked confused. “From Goodfellas, that scene at the table,” my dad said. “One dog goes one way; one dog goes the other way.”
De Niro nodded and signed it. He never looked my dad in the face.
“Thanks,” he said, “hey, how about a beer after this? One beer with me and my son.”
“I don’t know about that,” De Niro said. “Come on, just one beer” my dad said, holding out his hand. A guy from the publicity team batted it away. Dad lunged forward and the security guard grabbed him, twisting his arm behind his back.
He held him like that all the way to the exit. His shoulder hurt so badly that I had to drive us home.
We never talked about it.
Two years later, I found the ketchup bottle at the back of the pantry. We were eating burgers.
I took it from the shelf and rubbed the dust off with my sleeve. The signature was faded, but still there. I held it over the sink and turned on the tap. I peeled the label off and brought him the naked bottle.
My dad took it, momentarily confused, tracing his finger where the label once was. He sighed, then held it above his burger, rolling it back and forth between his palms, just like Bobby taught him.
Joe Marczynski is a writer from Leeds, UK. He’s been published in Misery Tourism, Terror Mag, Expat Press and The Cardiff Review. He has Twitter @jmpolish.