Most folks tried at least once as a kid to play one parent off another. As for me: My spider-sense went off at full volume the first time I heard a friend talk about asking for a “yes” from one parent when the other parent had already given a “no”; that sort of action would have earned me an instantly butt-kicking so the idea never really came to mind on its own. However I finally tried it, but only after being goaded mercilessly (see Wikipedia entry “peer pressure”). I got caught in the deception almost immediately and was punished “almost immediately” as well. It wasn’t a kicking my butt got, but it was close enough.
After some analysis and interpretation (a spook even as a kid!) after the swelling went down I reasoned that there could be an alternate method. By trial and error I figured out that that if I wanted to get permission to go some place Dad was the person to ask. At the same time you could forget asking him for any sort of “financial backing” – so if I needed money Mom was the “go-to” parent – in fact she was pretty open about the difference between the two types of permission. The system worked well for most of my youth, but sometimes there were situations that required special handling- times where I needed both pocket money and the “dad-passport” to wander all over town unimpeded. Such was the situation when I got invited to my cousin Gary’s birthday party – when I had to put a bit of a spin on the usual route to gaining permission to roam.
It was in 1962 when we were living alternately with my Grandma Esther in Grass Valley, California and Great Hilda (my great grandmother) in Nevada City – also in California. We were waiting for Dad to come down and move us to Alaska; he had been hired by the employment service up there and had gone up earlier in the year to get things set up before the whole clan made the move. As I said I was invited to my cousin Gary’s birthday bash; Aunt Doris and Uncle Roy had set up a party for him at one of the many ice cream parlors that lined the bottom of the main street as you first got into town. That was simple enough, but there was a wrinkle, a statue in a small park a couple of blocks east of the party site with a statue of a soldier shooting what looked to be a machine gun, and I wanted a closer look. I had just moved out of my Civil War phase into a World War 2 phase and up to this point all I had for reference were comics – hence my interest in the statue.
Unfortunately I knew there was no way I could talk anyone into talking me down to look closely at the statue, so this party was my golden opportunity. When quizzed about the logistics of the event I assured my mom that Uncle Roy would make sure I got to the party – but when I talked to Uncle Roy I gave a fuzzy answer that basically meant I’d show up at the scheduled time – without going into details. I assumed (correctly)that they’d all be too concerned with getting the event going to double-check on me.
The day finally came and I took off for the party. Unfortunately I have always struggled with processing the passage of time and even though it was a down-hill trip it took me a little longer to get to the soldier with the machine gun than I had thought. As I said before I was just then developing an interest in World War 2 and my knowledge was very limited, but even so it didn’t take me too long to realize that the “soldier” with the “machine gun “was in fact a mine worker using a water cannon to loosen dirt and rock as part of the gold dredging process that had been so prevalent in the area in an earlier time.
I fussed and fumed – though my disappointment with the statue was nothing compared to my disappointment with myself…then with a start I realized that with Uncle Roy’s strong left-brain sense of punctuality the party would have already started and anyone that may have been standing on the sidewalk – waving in late arrivals like myself – would have gone into the ice cream parlor for the festivities. I‘d have to figure this out on my own.
I ducked into the first place I saw. My heart leapt – there was a party going on! My heart sank – everyone was Chinese. I edged my way back out into the street trying to erase any sort of excited Caucasian expression that would instantly show me up as a fraud in the wrong party and walked up to the next shop.
There was no heart leaping at this place; there had been a party but it was over and the store employees were cleaning up. I walked back outside, my lip trembling and a curse in my heart for the fake machine-gunner/water cannoneer who made me late when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a kid-party at the third parlor up the street.
I ran up the street and inside the door to find a spectacular view of cake and ice cream dished up and party favors sitting out for all the attendees. There was music playing, all sorts of party games going and there was a huge crowd of kids, but then I figured that my uncle Roy knew everyone in town from the mayor on down. As an out-of-towner I wasn’t worried about the fact that I didn’t know any of the other kids,until after an hour or so when I realized that I didn’t recognize anyone. I didn’t see my cousins or my Aunt Doris and Uncle Roy…and when they introduced the very non-Garyish birthday dark-haired boy I knew that I was in the wrong party. I quietly finished my ice-cream and cake, cleaned up my plates and utensils and edged my way out the door.
At this point I was pretty much of the “screw the party” frame of mind. I was tired, my feet were sore from all the walking and as it looked like I was going to be late getting home it would be my behind and not my feet that would end up the most sore. I groaned a bit and had just turned towards home when I heard “Gus – GUS! Where ya been?” It was Gary, yelling from the door of what was the final ice cream parlor, the one hosting Gary’s party and after a short lecture from Uncle Roy about punctuality and manners I tucked in yet another serving of ice cream and cake and scored another set of party favors.
As I was drifting off to sleep later that night I thought back to how the day had gone. Yes, my feet were still sore from all the walking, I was disappointed about the statue, and there was some mild residual embarrassment from ending up in the wrong parties. However on the plus side I‘d gotten two servings of ice cream and cake, I got to hear Happy Birthday sung in Chinese, but most importantly Uncle Roy and Aunt Doris just dropped me off instead of coming in to visit when they drove me home. My mom remained unaware about my little deception and as a result my behind remained “un-spanked” that night.