Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day

My father is a rabid anti-Communist.

Or was. I don't know if one can be rabidly anti-Communist anymore, but if you can, he is.

I found this out the hard way as a child. Every morning, my father smoked his Marlboro Reds in his underwear, drinking a Coke and watched the news on a large dial television on the tallboy in his room before work. Our family have always been a group of early risers, so the lot of us were up before 7 am shooting the shit before work or school. My sister and I would wrestle on the bed, as my father would lean on his dresser, smoking and my mother drinking coffee and paying bills. It sounds terrible now. I couldn't imagine, even if I was a smoker, smoking in my house, or the car, with my kids within inhalation distance. My father didn't care. Truly. In fact, the pediatrician told my dad he should take his smoking outside because of my asthma and he said, "No one is going to tell me where to smoke my own goddamn cigarettes in my own goddamn house."

At the time, Iran factored majorly in the news. This day, though, I remember a news story coming out about the egregious misallocation of funds by the American government in which a hammer cost $2500 dollars and a ream of paper $300. I don't remember exactly the amounts, but the story was how government contracts paid ridiculous amounts for ordinary things because of corruption, or bureaucracy or, perhaps, even ineptitude. I was a kid, so cut me a break on the specifics.

Still, the story played out and my father stood, mouth agape. "Sons of bitches."
"So, Daddy, why don't the people who make hammers just give them to the president?"
"What was that, babes?"
"Uh," I suddenly felt shy unsure if I was asked to repeat because he didn't hear, or because I said something wrong. "Why don't the people that make hammers just give them to the government? Why does the president have to buy them? Why don't the hammer makers just give the hammers to the president so he doesn't have to spend all his money on hammers? It just seems like the government could help the hammer makers out or something, and the hammer makers could help the president out."
My dad stared at me like I had two heads and they both looked like Fidel Castro.
"Are you a Communist?"

I didn't know how to answer this question because I was seven and I didn't know what a Communist was.

"No. I just wonder why people don't just trade with the government. We all are living here together. And if everyone was nice to everyone else and gave everyone what they needed, no one would fight."
"There are no pinko Commies living in this house. Are you learning Russian too?"

I was not the contrarian of our house. I was the pleaser, and as such I found my father's tone upsetting. I didn't know what pinko meant, or Commie, but I didn't want my father to continue his line of questioning. Am I or have I ever been a Communist? Probably. I am a twin. I was a born Communist. My sister, on the other hand, jumped right into the fray.
"I am a Communist."
And my father laughed that upsetting I-know-something-you-don't-know laugh. The House of UnAmerican Activities was going to have a field day with this shit, his smirk said.

My father is the type of man to dunk on a seven year old girl. I only know that because he did it to me. He whipped my ass everyday in P-I-G and delighted in it. He pointed at me after each successful shot and said something to the effect of "Booooooya". He taunted me that I couldn't ever even shoot on him and he said it in the way that only a six foot one warehouse worker can, "You aren't even trying, Ang." He absolutely does not think that childhood gives you an out from, well, anything, let alone being an asshole, and he defines asshole as anyone who disagrees with him.

My sister stood with both hands on her hips, staring at him with the kind of bravery that eludes me even now, declaring herself a Commie. This was the time of the Cold War. I'm sure now kids being Communists are welcomed by parents, "She is thinking about politics!" At least, perhaps, that is what I would think.

My father drove a forklift and voted for Nixon. He fought in Vietnam. He believes and perhaps still believes in the domino effect. Having a bunch of little brown girls arguing with him about the inherent righteousness of a classless and stateless society based on the communal ownership of property was probably last on his list of things he wanted to argue about in his Fruit of the Looms first thing in the morning. So, he just gave a dismissive laugh. "Communists are assholes. Now go get ready in your Red little outfits."

And we left his room. The last thing we wanted to be at age seven was an asshole.


Every year we had a picnic on Labor Day. I'd feel remiss if I didn't mention that it was the hugest, most amazing potluck in the history of suburbia. My father bought lime and made a regulation size volleyball court in which to whoop himself some neighbor ass. He made people cry regularly. And sometimes created rifts that lasted for years. Usually there were two kegs, and a keg of root beer, and they were all gone at the end of the day. My father made an ass of himself most years, being a drunk and a jerk and all, but it didn't stop us kids from having fun. We created full shows for the parents, played in the cornfields, spun bottles, stole blueberry schnapps, and organized mile long games of Grey Ghost with twenty kids.

One year we found a dog. He was a red and white Irish Setter. He named him Labor Day Picnic, Labor for short, and fed him hot dogs until he vomited and re-ate them.

He lived with us for six years or so before our creepy inbred farmer neighbor came over in the middle of Amityville Horror to report in typical hick fashion, "Yur dog is dead. Someone hit it on the road."

He wasn't dead, in fact, but neither me nor my sister or cousin has ever rewatched that cursed movie. Labor lived a blind and disabled life for another year until my parents took pity on him and decided it was time.

Still, Labor Day always reminds me of our dog. My father, in his sickness and disability now, has a picture of a dog that looks like Labor hanging in his room amongst the pictures of his Communist girls and his pinko grandchildren. And of course, that dog may have made our neighbors think that my father was himself a Communist.

Happy Labor Day. Wherever you are.


  1. Ang, your dad and my dad would get on like a house on fire.

    I really love how you write. I can see and hear it all so clearly in my head. You have a gift there.


  2. Weaving your storytelling magic tonight, Ang. What a great post.

  3. Coming here via after iris. I love your writing, I think I'll hang around for a bit!

    Tatjana from

  4. This post is up there among my favorites.

    Love to you from your friendly neighborhood Socialist. My family doesn't get it either.

  5. Thinking of Labor today. Funny how the word means work, and critics seem to turn it into the height of sheer laziness.

    And your dad of course. I'd love a beer with him just to push some buttons and chat history.

  6. Communism is such a nice idea, isn't it? Everyone sharing. It's too bad that it doesn't work like that in reality.


What do you think?