My father hadn't been north to visit in quite a few years. As a big fish (Chair
of Psych.) in a small pond (Morehead State University
) he was generally either teaching, working on his motorcycle
, or going to conferences to do anything else.
But this time, it was different. His best friend, the Dean of an even smaller college, was going to be honored with a function including a showing of The Laramie Project. Knowing there may not be many chances left to see me, he visited.
I was his black-sheep daughter. Evicted in March, I'd been living here and there trying to find an apartment. The Feds, the State and the City were working to find something, anything to help me get my life back together.
I'd heard about him gambling. I do not myself, not even lottery tickets -- it's a recreation too lowbrow on the cheap side and too expensive on the classy side for me to get much pleasure from it. "I always win five hundred dollars!" he'd brag. "I stopped concentrating on gambling and started concentrating on winning!" I'd remain unmoved -- there was always something odd in his voice when he said it.
So it was, that when he visited, he vetoed my suggestion for lunch (Zinc, a very posh, but modestly priced restaurant) and go to Foxwoods, a casino on the Pequot reservation.
It was a somewhat uneasy trip. From his opening statement "Gee, you've gotten fat!" onwards, his speech was a brew of insults, family gossip, insults, queries about family members, and more insults. When we got there, he gave his SUV to Valet Parking and headed straight to the Non-Smoking Craps tables. Expressionlessly, and without a word, he lay down two hundred dollar bills, and gave me one.
For a while I watched him, a man with a spill of long white hair down to his waist and tweeds among the other old men who gamble at noon on a weekday, then the croupier remarked this table was for players only. I walked around the room, looked at some jewelry in the lobby -- cheap, flashy stuff arranged like it was worth far more -- and finally got his ear.
"We were supposed to have lunch."
"I'm not hungry. You can get a Pepsi from the cocktail waitress."
"We need food. And talk."
After a long walk, and a longer wait, we were seated in a small sit-down deli. He had a sandwich, I had a steak.
"That looks wholesome."
"It is." I smiled.
"Do you know about the Laramie Project?"
"Matthew Shepard? Sure."
My father, trying to sound both profound and obnoxious, said "We teach our children to do these things."
I said "I'm sorry, I missed that class."
"We teach our children to do this."
I said, "How do we do that?"
"Through examples like going to war with Afghanistan after September 11 and beating anyone who doesn't say the 'Pledge of Allegiance'... Anyone who's not like you...."
I tried to differ. He said, "So you're going to be closed-minded like all those other people--" he gestured out into the crowd "--who are 99% programmed by the media."
I looked at them. Mostly retirees, Middle Americans, some younger folks wearing the flashy Western-flavored sportswear affected by Natives in this state. "I'm sorry, but I am." I said slowly. "You are too."
"Listen, if we really taught our children to torture and kill homosexuals, I'd do it. You'd do it too."
He began to look genuinely shocked.
I went on.
Not that I don't think it's a deplorable thing they did. But that's just the point. Most people hate it too, that's why this case, this one case, gets national attention. If it was typical, it would be old-hat news -- if we really taught our children to do so you'd be asking me about the one I hunted down last weekend --
'Did he scream?'
'Yeah, Dad, he screamed a lot.'
'Hmm. I like it when they scream. Good work, daughter. Why don't you come down to Kentucky some time over the summer? In Lexington they're having an event at the racetrack where they're going to drag some lesbians.'
But we don't. 'Will and Grace' is a hit show -- and you can see it anywhere, not just in New York. Thirty years ago, it was a truism that a homosexual -- any homosexual -- was likely to molest little boys. Even a straight-appearing accountant who's lived with his high school sweetheart for thirty years -- leave him alone with your five-year-old, and bingo! he'd have his pants down. I don't think that many people would agree with that nowadays.
Not that we have eliminated people's dislike of other people who don't think as they do, look the same, and so on. It's part of human nature. Paint a monkey green and toss him back among his fellows, and they'll shun him. We can't simply legislate, propagandize, and educate human violence and stupidity out of people entirely. But we try, and when it fails, we disapprove when it happens. We punish people.
The Taliban has taken human prejudice, violence, and stupidity and made of it a weapon. They'd like it if we routinely tortured homosexuals. Maybe they wouldn't have bombed the World Trade Center if we tortured homosexuals -- they're crazy. Now we're at war with them. Not with Afghanistan, the Taliban. Some say it's Vietnam all over again. I disagree. This isn't a case of 'protecting our interests'. It's a question of hunting down some thugs. Yes, we've some dissidents here who dislike the war on principle. But we're also enlightened enough to disapprove of people who'd beat them up and punish them if they do.
"I understand that I make you feel anxious and guilty. You look at me and wonder if you could have done something to help me. Or whether you can help me now or whether you'd want to. I understand that. I understand that the reason why you want to drag me here and insult me enough that I'd want to find my own way home is because you feel so anxious and guilty that you want me not to ever want to see you again. But you don't have a right to treat me this way. I'm going to walk around this casino. They tell me there's a video arcade
and a shopping concourse
. I'll be back in two hours. You can use the Prob/Stat
you learned to judge experimental results to play around with dice and all your clinical experience to suss opponents and feel like a big man because you can afford to lose so much."
I stood up.
"If this is the way you feel, all right."
I fell asleep on the way home. Perhaps it was the wine I'd had in the casino bar, or perhaps it was the fact that there was absolutely nothing left to say.
We made up.
In the last few years of his life, I was, apparently, one of the few that still called him.
The last time I saw him, he asked to have a steak with me...I demurred.
He was still an anti-Prohibitionist till the day he died.
He was a bastard. He was a hero. My face shines when I talk about him. He's my Dad.