Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I Am My Father's Son

Those who read my blog and don't know me personally--at last count, that number was somewhere between zero and one--might assume I am always sarcastic and spend my life making snide remarks. While this isn't completely inaccurate, I am also an almost unfailingly polite person, averse to confrontation and generally willing to let insults and harsh words pass. In other words, my snide remarks are made under my breath or among friends and family.

My father, however, is different. At age fifty three, he is far more likely to smooth over a dispute than exacerbate one these days, but he retains a sharp tongue and once spoke to adversaries in a manner so fearless--so reckless--it's a wonder he has lived this long. My father would say anything to anybody without reservation or self-censorship and most people--myself included--alternately admired, feared and loathed this quality.

There was once a man named Gary who haunted the jobsites where my father and his former employees used to work. Gary held a variety of jobs because he was never happy doing what he was doing and bounced around from trade to trade. He also appeared to have taken a few beatings in his time, leading my father to nickname him "Pruneface", but only when he wasn't around. Or so I thought. One afternoon, he engaged my father's employee in a conversation, the gist of which involved Gary's perpetual absence of capital. Dad's employee said that one reason people have no money is they spend too much time in bars whereupon Gary adamantly denied that he ever went to bars at all. My father happened to be passing by at the instant this denial took place and remarked, "Yeah, right. That's why your face looks like that!" Pruneface frowned and looked quizzically about, waiting perhaps for my father to laugh or apologize or say he was just joking, but he did nothing of the sort, so the hapless man with no money went back to his definition of work without another complaint.

I am like my father in many ways but I never thought this tendency to shoot from the lip was one of them. I'm caustic, but tend to measure my words, lacking both his speed and his nerve. That's why no one was more surprised than me by a recent exchange at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Some loud-mouth with a porn mustache and a superior manner lamented the condition of the meatloaf. Rather than approach the staff in a civil manner, he decided he would chide them as though they were children. "Ice cold," he sneered, pointing a reproachful finger at the server or hostess or whatever her title was, "This is ice cold. It's ridiculous! Ice cold!" Then, without forethought or concern for the consequences, I said out loud, "Kind of like you." Kind of like you! Get it? He was an "ice cold" person. Not the sharpest insult a person could conceive, nor the most defaming. But had I actually uttered these words aloud? I had. My father's words coming out of my mouth!

My comment elicited no reaction from the grumpy meatloaf coveter, although I'm fairly certain he heard me. We were no more than a few feet apart and I didn't exactly whisper it. I didn't know whether to be proud that I had apparently flummoxed such an impolite person or ashamed at my own lack of politesse. What would someone else have said? What would my father at twenty five have said and how different would his response be if he were faced with such a situation today? I have no answers, but I do know that this incidence carried far more significance for me than one would normally interpret from a simple smart-aleck remark at a buffet.

I am my father's son.


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