ONE SIDED ARGUMENT
We argued over dinner last night. Above the sounds of clinking forks and my little brother slurping applesauce off his plate, the state of the world was hotly debated. It was a spectacular discussion between Father and I. Well, sort of. I argued with all the self-righteousness of any respectable high school senior and ranted to do my Celtic heritage proud, while Father silently disagreed.
The American Dream is a nightmare, I insisted. I cited The Great Gatsby and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men asirrefutable evidence. Clearly, I had done my research to back up these revolutionary claims. After all, I didn't even use Sparknotes; I knew what I was talking about. Father said nothing, simply glancing at the promise ring I wore on my right hand. The unvoiced challenge called my tirade to a sudden stop, and I remembered all the boys—like my boyfriend, whom I swore I loved—fighting to defend the freedom I dismissed so easily. The freedom to live a life of literature and romantic daydreaming.
Why can't we all help each other? I asked, beginning an idealistic succession of Socratic questioning. Why must we step on others, push everyone else down, to race to the top? What's up there that's so great anyway? I echoed the questions I read in socialistic save-the-world tracts online that were decorated with pictures of homeless kids in Philadelphia. I've never actually been to Philadelphia… or at least not parts like that. I've been to the steak-and-cheesecake parts, on my way to visit the University. Father said nothing, simply glancing at the acceptance letter proudly tacked to the bulletin board. I thought about my granddad, who made his own way, starting at the bottom, working up. A self-made man, paying my first year of college tuition.
Blessed are the poor, I quoted in a housebound crusade against corrupt CEOs and the stock market. The homeless don't get ulcers because the economy is bad; their stomachs hurt because they are hungry. So we should give everything to the poor, and then we can be poor with them, and our stomachs can hurt for better reasons too. Mother Theresa did this, I explained, and the president did not. Who is the better of the two? Father said nothing, simply taking a drink of his hot water. He drinks hot water because coffee eats away at the lining of his stomach. Remembering this, I thought of the coffee can labeled "For Charity" on a shelf in my closet. I sometimes borrow money from that can to buy a Reese's or a new pair of jeans. I don't think Mother Theresa did that.
The government does nothing to help, I complained. I was feeling anarchistic, which often happens on Wednesdays. For all their fancy suits and budgets too big to count, politicians do nothing for the people of this nation. Maybe they should ask what they can do for their country, instead of diplomatically putting that question off on pilots and farmers and homeless alcoholics who are on step three of ten. I knew this side of the debate by heart, taken from the Opinion section of the New York Times and an interview I once heard on NHPR. Father said nothing, but glanced at the calendar, where a trip to Six Flags was written in pen over my penciled-in soup kitchen day. Following his eyes, I asked myself, "What are you doing for Americans?" The image of me, throwing up on a roller coaster was the only response I found.
Looking away from the accusing calendar, my eyes fell on my little brother, and I noticed his starched-collar brand-name shirt. Having found a new sinner to reform, I switched my rant to the evils of vanity. How could someone spend so much for a shirt, for God's sake! Don't people know about the sweatshops in Indonesia and Brooklyn, where minimum wage and overtime are nothing but the daydreams of suffering workers who are probably underage, anyway? Certainly I knew—I saw a 20/20 special on it several months ago. Father said nothing, but I caught my reflection in his glasses, and I thought about the hour I spent this morning flat-ironing my hair and fixing my makeup. Vanity is vanity, and which is the greater crime: wasting money or wasting time?
The forks continued to clink and the world moved on, unchanged by my impassioned speeches, unimpressed by my evidence, and uninterested in my revolution supported by idealistic terminology rather than actions. Hypocrisy sat beside me and seemed to ask if I was finished with that ham, or would I like to share? I pushed my plate away, more confused by all my concrete proof that now seemed as solid as the mushy apply sauce. I, for all my words, lost the argument to Father's silent wisdom.