Saturday, March 18, 2006

My Father, the Arsonist

THE SCENE: LAST THURSDAY, at my parents' house, for Taco Night. The conversation turned, as if urged on by the hot 'n' spicy meat and salsa, to the recent series of wildfires on Staten Island. My mother observed that the authorities believe them to be of mischievous origin.

My father then offered, "Me and my friends used to set fire to the dry grass in [insert wetland section of 1940s Bronx whose name I forget]."

My mother looked stunned. "You never told me this!"

"Sure I did. We called it, 'Burn the Swamp.'"

I began laughing. My father is such a straight arrow, it is difficult to imagine his taking part in even the most innocent youthful mayhem . . . to say nothing of torching a couple of acres of dead reeds.

"You're an arsonist!" hollered my mother.

"There was nothing there," said my dad.

"No, not after you got done with it!" I said.

"I can't believe I'm married to an arsonist," sighed my mom.

"This coming from a tax cheat," I reminder her. (Decades ago — well outside the statute of limitations, IRS — my mother claimed on her taxes that she "lost" her "fishing equipment" on a "fishing trip," and also deducted some "dental work" done by one "Dr. Goldcapp.")

All I can say is, I am well behind schedule on my youthful felonies. Even if I started now, I'd hardly call them "youthful." My dad probably would have caught worse from his parents than the cops of the day. If I even looked funny at a pile of leaves while carrying a Zippo, I'd have ATF officers dropping onto my lawn from black helicopters, get knocked on my ass with the microwave weapons they're using on riots now, and wake up 5 weeks later in a dungeon that makes Abu Ghraib look like the Wonka works. Complete with menacing midgets.

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