You can read this series from the beginning here.
I made it back to New Haven for the start of the major holiday that falls a week before the first day of the Gregorian calendar. (My mother objects to Christmas, the Gregorian calendar, and me and my brothers not being home for the last week in December, although not approximately in that order.) I’d steeled myself and made it across Texas on Amtrak without any injuries, and everyone was nice to me except one old guy who kept shushing me in the Quiet Car even though I wasn’t making any noise. Then I rode the rails up and down the Pacific Coast corridor, and made the long journey back across the country. The only trouble I had was when I got off the train at Penn Station to get a Krispy Kreme donut and forgot which train I was supposed to go back to New Haven on, but I had my dad send the chauffeur down to pick me up and bring me home.
So I did make it home for the holiday season, but my mother was still nettled at me. It turned out that she reads my blog, and she was unhappy with me about it. Part of the reason was that I’d dumped my last girlfriend, but she was mostly steamed about how I’d portrayed my conversation with the Amtrak gate agent in Atlanta. She thought that my account fit in too closely with the white-male capitalist hierarchical construct of Amtrak as a failure of central planning, and that I should have tried to advance a narrative more consistent with social realism and the need for additional Amtrak funding. I tried to explain to her that I’d written the blog post based on what actually happened, which got me a lecture on the difference between objectivity and advocacy in the pursuit of social justice for the downtrodden proletariat.
"But she wasn’t a proletarian," I said. "If anything, she was petty-bourgeois."
I got a long lecture after that about mystification and revolutionary sentiment and code-switching, which I wish I had recorded now because it would have made for an awesome episode of that NPR podcast everyone is listening to. (Note: if any of my faithful Making a Difference readership has a short non-technical explanation as to how I can subscribe to that podcast on my phone, that would be very helpful.) But it all worked out in the end. She gave me a large oil painting that she’d bought in Havana, featuring Che Guevara giving orders to a firing squad that was executing some counterrevolutionaries. I gave her a book I’d bought from an independent publishing collaborative in Seattle that was an oral history / poetry collection about the World Trade Organization protests. It was supposed to have been autographed, but everyone who’d signed it just used the anarchy symbol, which Mother thought was a nice touch. We both went out and sang 20th century union protest songs for Boxing Day caroling, which is a family tradition, and now you understand why I know all the words to "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night."
We got back to the house as evening fell, and shared a pot of organic fair-trade shade-grown cocoa in the kitchen. Then Mother went upstairs to work on her monograph, which is about the international community’s role in encouraging culturally appropriate pathways towards lessening the impact of state-sponsored patriarchy for female North Korean artists and writers. My brothers were watching the pre-game show for something called the "Bitcoin Bowl" on the big-screen in the living room. I wandered into the library to see if I could find something interesting to read. Dad was already in there, on the phone as usual, but he hung up when I walked in.
"Looking for me, sport?" he asked.
"Looking for something to read, really."
"Sit down, will you? Talk to your old man for a minute." He smiled, with the smile of a man who had just sold seven hundred million dollars in Malaysian government bonds to the California teacher’s pension system (which I found out later was actually the case). "You have a nice vacation?"
"I don’t know that I’d call it that," I said. "It was more like social science research."
"That’s what I told your mother when we went on that two-week vacation to Barbados. It was all supposed to be about observing other vacationers and how they interacted with the natives. I was just there to swill rum punch and soak up Vitamin D, myself."
"I wish you wouldn’t make fun of her like that," I said. "She’s very committed. She cares very deeply. It just doesn’t express itself very effectively all the time."
"I know that," he said. "And I love your mother, very deeply, but she can get overly focused on political causes, and it isn’t always a good thing for her when she does that. She knows it, too, but she won’t ever admit it. I’m just worried that you’re doing the same thing, trying to be like her."
I hadn’t ever thought of that. "I am not like her," I said. "She’s a neo-Leninist. She believes in internationalist proletariat-led revolution through the mediums of poetry and interpretative dance. I’m more like a pragmatic Trotskyite, but with a commitment to social change through established constitutional processes."
"I am not talking ideology here," Dad said. "Far from it. I’m talking about your approach to things political. Totally immersing yourself in politics is no way to live a balanced and fulfilling life."
"And trading bonds over the holidays is?"
"I just made sure your grandkids could go to private school with that last trade," he said. "Don’t knock capitalism until you’ve tried it."
"I’m not trying to sound snarky," I said. "But you’re every bit as committed to what you do as Mother is to what she does."
"That may be true," he said. "But I don’t let the bond market run my life, either. In a couple of minutes, I’m going to go in the other room with your brothers and watch a little football, Okay, maybe in the commercials I’m going to check the ratings and see if I need to put a little extra money in Disney stock if it looks like ESPN is bringing in better advertising revenue this quarter. But I’m at least capable of relaxing and enjoying myself. You seem to want to make everything in this world into your own private progressive crusade. That’s not healthy, son."
"I know," I said. "But it’s how I was brought up. It’s how I was taught. I want to fight for what I believe in, and what I believe in is progressive social policy."
"My understanding is that you had a rather successful internship," he said. "Since you did so well there, I can try and get you an entry-level position with one of the hedge funds here in Connecticut if you want that. Or maybe we could send you to grad school, where you’d learn something useful. I know a few people at the University of Chicago, if you want your economics degree. Expand your horizons a little."
"You’re throwing me to the Straussians?" I said in horror.
"Okay, fine. Maybe we could get you something at Yale, if you wanted. What I’m saying is, you’ve been to Washington, you’ve participated in the process, you’ve proved something to yourself. But you don’t have to keep doing that. You can do something more productive with your life than just politics."
"I want to go back to Washington," I said. "This is a pivotal election coming up. The Republicans beat us last cycle, and if they take the White House, it’s the end of everything progressives have worked for throughout the postwar period. I can’t sit this one out, Dad. It’s the best way for me to make a difference."
"If that’s what you really want," he said. "By all means. I think you’re setting yourself up for a giant disappointment, particularly if Hillary wins the nomination–you’re not going to get what you want either way the election goes. But if it means that much to you to try to influence the outcome, I’ll support you a hundred percent."
"Do you think I can get my old apartment back?" I asked.
"Son, who do you think owns that building? Of course you can."
"Thanks, Dad."
"Don’t mention it. Oh, and Merry Christmas."
"Don’t tell your mother I said that, though."
"No problem."