My Father the Party Animal

My father came by earlier to drop off some produce from his garden, and I gave him some Korean garlic from the farmers’ market because I thought he and my Chinese mother might enjoy it. I may have written about the Korean garlic before, but it’s worth saying again: this garlic will blow your mind. Truly. It is a firey, intense experience, and when I pulled the garlic out of its wrappings, the whole house suddenly smelled garlicky.

For once, my father wasn’t in a big hurry to traipse off somewhere, so he sat and had a slice of chocolate torte with ice cream. I’m not sure where I went wrong with this particular torte, but it unfortunately came out a little too dry. The rich, fudgy texture which it acquires after a night in the fridge helped to save it, but not entirely. However, given that there’s about $20 worth of Scharffenberger in there, I feel obligated to eat it. After my dumpster diving at Scharffenberger’s mighty fine plant in Berkeley, it does feel a little odd to pay for their chocolate.

At any rate, I was reminded recently of a story from my childhood, when my father was still working at the bar. Throughout my childhood, I had one solid best friend, whom I’ve kind of lost touch with in the last few years, unfortunately. At any rate, her mother was rather impish, and she was always executing elaborate practical jokes or taking the piss out of someone. This trait sometimes led to entertaining consequences, as occurred during the party animal incident.

There was a brief period of time when I used to play with two girls who lived down the road from me. They didn’t usually spend the night or anything, but we would romp around and sometimes my father would take us to the beach or on some other expedition. Their mom was a single mother, so I think she was pretty stoked to have someone look after her girls for a few hours now and then, and I would hang out at their house periodically as well.

One day, on our way home from school, I asked if they wanted to come over when they were done with their homework.

“Oh,” one of them said. “Well, our mom says we’re not supposed to go over to your house anymore, but you can come over the ours.”

“Oh, well. Why can’t you come over?”

“She didn’t say.”

When I got home and duly relayed the story to my father, he was a little mystified, but also somewhat concerned. As, understandably, a parent would be when his child says that her friends “aren’t allowed” at her house anymore. So he called their mother, and it turned that she had “heard from someone” that my father was a bit of a “party animal” and she didn’t want her girls coming over to our house anymore, because she didn’t want them exposed to “bad influences.” My father patiently tried to explain that this was in fact not the case, and that working in a bar does not make someone a party animal. But the mother was adamant, and said that while it was fine for me to come to their house, she didn’t want the girls at ours.

Puzzled about the conversation, my father politely said good bye and hung up. Given my propensity for telling tall tales, he asked me if perhaps I had been spreading tales of hijinks at school. I assured him that I wasn’t, and we left things there for the time being. My friendship with the girls down the street sort of dissolved, not because of the party animal incident but because we began to drift apart, as young girls do, and then they moved away.

Over the next few months, every now and then my father would encounter someone who would give him the nudge and the wink, make a comment about his wild ways, or pull their impressionable child away while glaring. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what was going on until there was a big art opening in the art gallery we lived in, and my best friend happened to be staying the night. When her mother dropped her off, her mother nodded at the chaos in the art gallery and said “I see you’re quite the arty animal tonight.”

My father narrowed his eyes at her for a moment, and then shook his head as though dismissing an idea. My friend and I romped through the evening, and the next day we had pancakes and went to Jughandle beach to build some sort of fantastic construction or another. When he dropped my friend off at her house, he started gently teasing her mother, carrying on a long tradition between the two of them of elaborate joking and double entendre. She, of course, brought up his slowly growing reputation for rambunctious doings, and my father said:

“Yeah, it’s the weirdest thing, I don’t know where people got that impression. It seemed to happen overnight, but it makes me feel really awkward because people seem to be making all sorts of odd assumptions about me.”

“Oh, no,” my friend’s mother said. “I never thought it would come to that! I was just joking around with so and so’s mother, and I was making a pun, you know, because you live in an art gallery, about you being an arty animal. I didn’t realize she thought I said ‘party animal’ until it got entirely out of control!”

Once my father had tracked down the source of the rumors, he had the good grace to not be too irritated by it, and his party animal reputation became a running joke among the people who knew him. Periodically, someone who had not been straightened out would bring it up, but as a general rule I thought the rumor had died.

That’s why I was kind of surprised the other day when I was in Harvest and I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in awhile, who inquired after my health and asked how my father was doing. “He used to be quite the party animal, you know,” she said*, nodding sagely. “But I suppose he’s over that now.”

“Oh, no,” I said with a smirk. “He’s still out living it up at the Tip Top every chance he gets. Really, his wacky doings put me to shame.”

“Oh, well then,” she said, and our conversation continued awkwardly for a few more minutes before she wheeled off, muttering something about a sale in aisle three.

Given the nature of a small town life, we’ll see if my glib comment causes my father’s party animal reputation to be revived or not. I give it another two weeks before it works its way back to me, probably richly embroidered with a few Irish nuns and a drinking contest with some Australians.

*Now, while it is entirely possible that my father was indeed a party animal, and somehow concealed this fact from me, I think it’s far more likely that this woman, who has never actually met my father, was simply parroting a widely spread rumor, as often happens in this part of the world. How do I know she hasn’t met my father? She kept calling him “George” and referring to a large tattoo of an eagle on his forecep.