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The art of fooling people

A father's lessons are learned later in life

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The other day I was passing pile-ups on one of the car-encrusted shit smears Atlanta calls a freeway onramp when a refreshing realization came to me: A big benefit I enjoy having been the daughter of an alcoholic traveling trailer salesman is the heightened sense of driver awareness I acquired in my role as my drunk father's front- seat lookout while he lurched us home in the family Fairlane every day.

"Dad, STOP!" I'd yell at red lights.

"Watch OUT, you're swerving!"

"Police car, Dad, POLICE CAR!" I'd scream. On these occasions my father would rifle around for one of the emergency packets of peanuts he kept strewn about the front seat, because peanuts, he'd whisper to me conspiratorially, mask booze breath better than breath mints. So you can't say my father never taught me anything, because that there is knowledge. It must have fooled the police every time, because my father drove like an over-medicated mental patient but never got arrested. In fact, the worst thing I recall happening is the time he drove over a lady's foot. She was trying to save the last parking spot at a popular picnic area until her husband returned with the car. My father must have fooled her into thinking he wouldn't run her ass down, because she sure took her time getting out of the way.

"That's my quarter in the meter," she whimpered as she limped away.

"And I thank you for that," he called after her cheerily. By my father's demeanor, you'd be fooled into thinking they were friends.

And fooling people, after all, was my father's forte. His buddies at the bar thought he was independently wealthy, that's why he could afford to hang out all day. The bartender, Kitty, knew differently, and her pet name for him was "Worthless Sack of Crap." Regardless, there was genuine affection between the two, probably because my father tipped her heartily with my mother's money. He always laughed when she called him a worthless sack of crap, which fooled me into thinking I could address him the same way. But when I did, he surprised me by beating the crap out of me.

And my father fooled me in other ways, as well. He had me thinking that he wrote all the words to "Puff the Magic Dragon," that he could speak fluent German, that he was brilliant and tall as a tree. I'd run across the yard and meet his car when he came home bleary-eyed and smiling. He'd carry me back into the house under his arm, talking about all the trailers he sold that day when really he hadn't worked in months. I hugged his neck and looked up at him with gleamy young eyes of admiration.

Then one day the school nurse discovered I had strep throat and needed one of my parents to drive me to the doctor. If she was surprised that I gave her the number of my father's favorite bar she didn't show it, but when he arrived I guess he'd forgotten his peanut remedy because his breath was like a blowtorch and she refused to release me to him. Unable to charm her, my father unsuccessfully tried intimidation instead. It fell upon our big biology teacher, who had once fed a bunny to a boa constrictor, to command my father off the property. He was about to argue, but then he saw my face, and right then he knew he couldn't fool me anymore.

Looking back at the sad man he became after that and at how, instead of coming home smiling, he came home searching because I had taken to hiding when I heard his car pull into the driveway and at how he died so young in a one-room apartment soon after his family left him, looking back I realize how desperately he needed his child's gleamy eyes of admiration to fool the most important person of all: himself. Looking back I wish I had known to let him keep his illusions, but I was young and had yet to learn the art of fooling people.

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