Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Thirty-two

Posted by ilbebe on December 24, 2008

I had a great conversation with a guy last summer in which he made the statement “It’s an amazing thing when you realize that your parents might actually have something to tell you.” This piggybacked on to my earlier bon mot that it’s a fascinating day when you realize that they weren’t kidding, you parents actually were once your age. It would be physically impossible for that to be untrue. That thought was probably borne out of my friend Benji’s comment when facing the prospect of moving back in with his parents for the summer after earning his BA, “I’m going to try and spend as much time with them as possible, because they have, you know, skills, that they could, you know, pass on to me.”

However, I can recall several specific instances that convinced me at younger ages that my parents had nothing to offer but shelter and rides to places. My Dad was fond of doing work on the house and in the yard on Saturdays starting shortly after breakfast and continuing until the mid-afternoon, when he would invariably fall asleep on the living room floor with the TV tuned to the Discovery Channel. Just about the only thing that could awaken him from his slumber was changing the channel, which would snap him out of his reverie with a scornful I Was Watching That!

Shortly before my twenty-third birthday, my Dad called me to ask if my apartment had a number or something like that. It was one of those moments where you move the phone away from your head and stare at it for a moment before responding, and then look behind you for some hidden camera crew waiting to capture your response to such a ludicrous question.

“Uh, yeah, Dad, it’s apartment C, same as it has been for the past three years.”

“Shit. Well, I’m sorry, I overnighted a birthday card to you, and I was in a rush to get it in the mail and forgot if there was a number or not, so it might get there a few days late.”

“Eh, that’s fine…why’d you overnight it in the first place? You know I don’t really care if cards and gifts arrive on time.”

“Look! I tried, okay, I’ve got a lot on my mind!”

“That’s fine, I understand, I’m just saying, how did you forget that my apartment had a letter? You’ve been mailing things here for three years…what kind of apartment doesn’t have a letter or number?”

“LOOK! I’m SORRY! Happy BIRTHDAY!”

He hung up on me.

I got a parking ticket in Berkeley a few weeks before I was going to move up to Arcata and start college, my first one. I was pissed, sure, but there was some sort of excitement about going to the gas station and getting a money order to pay it, as if it were a demented rite of passage that would get far less exciting on subsequent occurrences. I figured the situation had been addressed until I received an angry phone call from my father the first week of school.

“You think you can just run around town getting parking tickets and I’ll pay them just because you’re in college now? THINK AGAIN, PAL!”

I was baffled. I had no idea that some cities mail out courtesy notices after you get parking tickets, as I mentioned, this was my first run in with the Draconian forces of municipal parking enforcement bureaus. My first car was registered in my father’s name, and apparently when he got the notice in the mail, he paid it, even though he hadn’t been to Berkeley in months. The phone call ensued moments after he realized it was for my car. I explained that I’d already taken care of the ticket, which enraged him further.

“So now you’re telling me I wasted MY money on something YOU already paid for?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Well, that’s just GREAT. How am I supposed to get my money back?”

“Well, Dad, I don’t know, and frankly I don’t see how it’s my problem…”

[Insert rant about having put a roof over my head, bought that fucking car for me, etc…]

“Well, all of that’s true, but why didn’t you call me before you paid the ticket? Then we could have avoided all of this.”

“Well, I didn’t REALIZE it was YOUR ticket. I thought you were RESPONSIBLE!”

How does one respond to this sort of logic? Wouldn’t the fact that I had already settled the fine establish the fact that my father was, eh, CORRECT in thinking I was responsible? I attempted to end the conversation by going on the offensive and asking who was eighteen and who was a grown-up. Strangely, that didn’t work.

It is significant to note that this conversation occurred a few days after my father and mother had given up trying to reconcile their marriage and file for divorce. They had separated for six months, and then my father had moved back in for three months over the summer of 1999. A few days after dropping me off in Arcata, he moved out again, and that was it. Days shy of what would have been their twenty-first anniversary, their divorce was filed, and the slow machinations of law began determining the financial future of their relationship, giving no heed to fact that they still had hearts, and some feelings for each other, and four children.

Given that, I can see why my Dad flipped out over something so trivial. There are things to be learned from our parents that if we only take the time to listen to might save us years of grief. No one is perfect. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and give people second chances. Tread lightly in this life, and keep your head up and eyes open.

And fuck parking tickets.

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