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Mon Jan 21, 2013, 09:14 AM

Good-time Charlie

Reread President Obama's Dreams from My Father yesterday. My favorite passage from the book.
Ann would've been proud of Bar.

Except my mother hadn’t looked satisfied. She had just sat there, studying my eyes, her face as grim as a hearse.

“Don’t you think you’re being a little casual about your future?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean. One of your friends was just arrested for drug possession. Your grades are slipping.

You haven’t even started on your college applications. Whenever I try to talk to you about it you act like I’m just this great big bother.”

I didn’t need to hear all this. It wasn’t like I was flunking out. I started to tell her how I’d been thinking about maybe not going away for college, how I could stay in Hawaii and take some classes and work part-time. She cut me off before I could finish. I could get into any school in the country, she said, if I just put in a little effort.

“Remember what that’s like? Effort? Damn it, Bar, you can’t just sit around like some good-time Charlie, waiting for luck to see you through.”

“A good-time what?”

“A good-time Charlie. A loafer.”

I looked at her sitting there, so earnest, so certain of her son’s destiny. The idea that my survival depended on luck remained a heresy to her; she insisted on assigning responsibility somewhere-to herself, to Gramps and Toot, to me. I suddenly felt like puncturing that certainty of hers, letting her know that her experiment with me had failed. Instead of shouting, I laughed. “A good-time Charlie, huh? Well, why not? Maybe that’s what I want out of life. I mean, look at Gramps. He didn’t even go to college.”

The comparison caught my mother by surprise. Her face went slack, her eyes wavered. It suddenly dawned on me, her greatest fear. “Is that what you’re worried about?” I asked. “That I’ll end up like Gramps?”

She shook her head quickly. “You’re already much better educated than your grandfather,” she said. But the certainty had finally drained from her voice. Instead of pushing the point, I stood up and left the room.

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