Saturday, January 27, 2007

Father-in-law Fable

Desire is the master of ghosts,
desire turns us into ghosts.
We are vines of air on trees of wind,
a cape of flames
invented and devoured by flame.

--excerpt from "A draft of shadows" by Octavio Paz

My father-in-law told me a story from his childhood as part of an admonition never to leave Gumbo and Gumba unsupervised together. When he was just another eight-year old scallywag soaking up the swelter of Valley Center in Southern California he came across an abandoned outboard motor. He managed to lug it home, find some gasoline, and get it started. The rusty old propeller spun freely in the open air, nothing between it and the several other kids he had with him who were all running around it, screaming, laughing, shoving, and making a terrible racket. The racket got worse as the motor started to burn up and exude large quantities of smoke from lack of the resistance it would have had in the water. That brought his upset father out of the house, who gave him a good old fashioned yelling at, and orders to clean up the mess he had made. His dad went back in the house. The next part is where the lesson in the story supposedly lies: he saw that not all the gasoline that he had put into the old outboard had been used, so he dumped it out nearby, then, even though the memory of having just gotten in trouble staid fast in his head, he watched himself whip out a pack of matches and spark the puddle up. Apparently it was no small fire, and when his dad came back out he was not only pissed, but completely non-plussed, and just kept shaking his head. My father-in-law says that to this day he still couldn't tell you how he arrived at the spark it up decision, but that this type of thing runs in boys. Of course, I think I know why he did it. He did it for the same reason that I as a child lit every liquid I could lay my hands on that had a label that read FLAMMABLE or EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE, and for similar reasons to those that draw us to Burning Man. All the same, good fable Pops.

Photo courtesy of Laura


arualis said...

somehow i thought there would be fork-throwing in that story, since that's what happened shortly after this photo was taken. hee.

Fourth Musketeer said...

yeah, i left that out because I thought it might come off as negative toward you, but since you brought it up: Laura sat opposite the boy making nice dinner conversation until the boy got down to a few noodles left and decided that it was time to switch from fork to fingers. Laura then calmly but insistently tried to persuade him to not go to fingers. He threw a shrieking fit and his fork (hard) before eventually returning the table to finish the noodles with his fingers. Getting other peoples kids (or subcontractors) to do what you want is similar to getting other peoples pets to do what you want - unless you're some kind of whisperer it's quite hit and miss. Laura intimated that he needed more structure, but I explained that good old-fashioned parents like us shut their ears to any kind of parenting advice, preferring to become dismissive of others concerns and complaints, letting our kids run amuck. Hunter S. Thompson (long live Hunter) experienced a similarly themed fable with the Hell's Angels I do believe.

LIS said...

I actually thought it was quite brilliant on his part. I approve of self expression. You left out the afterstory--how he ate two more helpings of noodles served by his lovely tia lau with his fork.