In my house the pecking order determined who got to talk, and I was always at the very bottom.
Storytelling was a revered art form. Mom favored quips. Quick stories that ended with an arch punchline, a tilt of the head and a raised brow. Dad went in for the long-haul: stories with multiple asides, which could last a good ten minutes before returning to the central narrative. Depending on the time of day and his level of intoxication, he’d declare his style came from an upbringing in Texas or his Irish heritage.
He lived for an audience.
That’s what I was throughout most of my childhood, but sometimes I just needed to talk. I’d wait for the opportunity to get a word in edgewise and then would chatter box out all the words I’d been storing aside me — all of the kid stuff that my parents really didn’t care too much about, but would indulge listening to until they’d rested their tongues long enough to go another round.
There was an art to timing my entry into their conversations. A certain winding down of the narrative. Often I’d get agitated waiting for that opening. I’d kick the table legs or scuff my foot on the sidewalk if we were on a walk.
When that happened, Dad would turn to me and say, “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around.”
I don’t remember when I figured out that he was quoting the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime.” Maybe it was when we first watched STOP MAKING SENSE as a family. Maybe it was when I got into Dad’s vinyl and discovered the greatness of FEAR OF MUSIC. But I remember hearing that driving beat and David Byrne’s singing, and wondering how the hell my dad might equate a toe tapping, paranoid song about living on the run with parenting.
He’s been gone almost ten years now, but sometimes, when I get particularly anxious to take the lead in a conversation or go full monologue-mode just like my dad, I can hear him quoting “Life During Wartime” in his growl of a voice. Later on, when I’m alone, I put on the song and dance my nerves out.
Try it yourself.
(Song recommendation by Sarah Skiles)