Fluid as Water

This Tuesday would have been my father’s 90th birthday. Of the many memories I have of him, one in particular stands out that sums up our relationship, although I wish it didn’t. Actually, I should qualify that and say that it doesn’t sum up our entire relationship, just a portion of it, albeit an important one: the teenage years.

During those years, life with dad wasn’t complicated. I tested boundaries and acted out. He held his ground and reacted to my antics with patience and as little drama as possible. Of course, sometimes it wasn’t possible. I can think of a few times when he could have gone through the roof but didn’t.

To wit, when my mother had to pick me up from the police station for asking people outside a liquor store to buy beer for me and my friends (otherwise known as the yocomere); when I crashed our station wagon into a stone wall late one night after an evening of mischief; when I left another family car abandoned in a blizzard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

It’s hard to dismiss the idea that behind much of this lay a rivalry for my mother’s attention, not that I was aware of it. Most teenagers are hardly aware of anything. I never tried to one-up or out-do the old man, but I am the first born in the family and male. In a traditional Italian, immigrant culture, that put me a rung or two below Jesus Christ in the pecking order. So, it was his St. Joseph to my Jesus. Butting heads was inevitable.

If you know anything about Italians or Italian Americans (I include Italian Canadians for my relatives in Montreal), then you know that a ritual system exists at dinner. This ritual consists of starting out slow and friendly in the discussion, increasing to an excited pitch, and exploding in a crescendo of emotion only to come settling back down again in a gentle stream of burbling niceties. This ritual can be repeated several times depending on the length of the dinner and the topic under discussion. The topic can be as varied as Japan’s role in World War One, the benefits of a diesel engine over a conventional gas engine, and whether or not ten pounds of shit can fit into a five-pound bag, which was a common expression at the time. Believe it or not, all three were actual dinnertime topics at my house.

I took all the science and math courses I could get my hands on in high school and thought of myself as a budding chemist/scientist/something or other ending in “ist.” This meant I took the “ten pound-five pound problem” seriously. My father insisted it was impossible. I told him anything was possible and that I would prove it to him by the time he returned home from work the following day. We could discuss the results at dinner.

Here’s the thing. The expression, “You can’t put ten pounds of shit into a five-pound bag,” wasn’t meant to be an observation on volume, mass, or the properties of matter. You may have gathered that. I lost sight of this in my drive not only to disprove the expression but to show my father how wonderful science could be. Whether that was a ruse to get one over on the guy, I’ll leave to the reader. I’m sure my mother was watching.

My solution was as ingenious as it was simple. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds (remember this the next time you buy those plastic monstrosities. You actually could work out with them). So, I took a gallon of water, added a quart, which brought the total weight to approximately ten pounds, and froze the water. Then I broke up the frozen water into shards of ice that fit easily into an open, five-pound container that my mother used for flour. I had to transfer the flour into several other containers, but my mother had plenty of Tupperware. I put the five-pound container into the freezer and waited for my dad to come home.

Years later and knowing what I now know about fatherhood, I can forgive the man for being less than appreciative of my experiment. He was, after all, a practical man, and I’m sure he wanted to see his son pull his head out of the clouds (he put it somewhat differently at dinner) and figure out that you can’t force anything in life, even something as fluid as as water.

Image credits: feature by Joshua Earle; refrigerator by Jorge Torres. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” 

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