THE DAY MY SON KILLED THE LION
Deep in the Northern Malaysian jungles there’s a maturity rite in which the young Malaysian male must track down and kill by hand the giant Poison Quilled Porcupine, an irritable creature cursed by nature with a one-day mating season. And this ceremonial kill must take place on THAT day. Twenty-four hours of intense concentration for the Poison Quilled Porcupine.
Sociologists tell us that this custom only exists among the inhabitants of the Northwest. Further south they do the “lion thing”. Armed only with his flimsy, 6-foot, Balsa wood spear, the challenged adolescent must bring home a lion skin. And it better not have a price tag from one of those tourist shops. The victory announces the maturity of the youngster. These kinds of rites, sociologists tell us, are found in every society; metaphorically, the dive into the blue lagoon for the perfect pearl.
The young Swiss male must eat four pounds of milk chocolate at a single sitting. Natives of Taiwan must assemble twelve VCRs with no defects. Honduran youths must knit a gross of plaid shirts with a maximum of three irregulars.
In our country there’s no formal ceremony. But after tithing for my kids’ meals and entertainment for twenty years, I decided that the day my son bought me and his modestly-dressed mama (due to years of parental sacrifice) a meal - well, - forget the lion skin, that would symbolize his admission to adulthood.
You parents know how it goes. When the family goes out to eat, Papa pays. That’s nature’s way. The eagle brings the tender pigeon, untouched, to his nesting fledglings. The mighty lion lugs home gazelle burgers. Even the scaly and psoriasis-cursed crocodile brings home the catch of the day for it’s young.
As I say, that’s nature’s way. And it also seems to operate in our urban society; because here I am at the head of a large table at the ritziest restaurant in town. It’s a Roman banquet scene out of a Dino DeLaurentis movie and I’m buying the spiced wine and roasted peacocks. One child at the end of the table - who I dimly recognize through my tears as a grandchild - is talking directly to the waitress - without any parental control - about entrees. Frightening! His sister playfully sips a five-dollar bowl of soup with her Coca Cola straw. Those numbers on the right side of the menu might as well be written on their play blocks.
Glasses full of cola, milk, and unidentifiable, but expensive liquids crowd the table. My God, is that 7-up in front of my oldest grandson or a triple champagne cocktail? MY glass contains water, which I need to flush down aspirins between each course. Nobody’s paying any attention to the right side of the menu.
Everybody’s talking. Ordering, or even worse, replenishing their initial order with seconds. But when the check arrives - as thick as a paperback of Gone With The Wind - a hush falls over the room. The waitress, who lugs in the book with both hands, is reverential. But her eyes seem to say, “Here you are Sucker”.
It’s that final dramatic moment of the auction when chatter and sneezes and coughs stop - for fear any sound can mean “over here”.
So, my smiling messenger of financial death brings the bill to me. How strangely this circus contrasts with the last meal I enjoyed with my oldest son.
I’ll never forget that shining occasion. The stage for our father-son drama was an elegant establishment with a menu full of high-blown descriptions. We were having a great time reading the menu when finally we were aware of the waitress awaiting our pleasure. I hope she’s rude, I’m thinking. There’s nothing like a shrew of a waitress to make a man feel good about a lousy tip.
We were at a trendy new restaurant near Five Points. My son and his new wife ordered first. And with abandon - unlike their usual modest taste and tender concern for my retirement years. Then when I ordered - he even urged upgrading. And his thoughtful wife, when the meal was over, suggested a cordial for her loving and long-suffering father-in-law. (Why hadn’t I noticed before how beautiful she was? A splendid addition to our family.)
It was only then, that I noticed the strange new light in my son’s eyes. Ah, the day had come - it was time for the ceremony. The maturity rites - the Lion hunt - the dive into the blue lagoon seeking the perfect pearl. It was graduation day and he was valedictorian of the wallet.
As the waitress approached with the check, I kept both hands on the table. The check - a document of many pages - came to rest in front of my son. Instead of hiding in the men's room, he had preinstructed the waitress!
Somewhere over the chatter of the dining room conversation I could hear a lion roar - mortally wounded.
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