year of the cat (roll tide) (from October 4, 2018)
Peter Yoon began to suspect during the campus tour.
From the time he was little all his dad talked about were his years at the University of Alabama. Every Saturday they would watch the Crimson Tide squash whatever hapless opponent their football team were facing and his dad would stomp and yell and rejoice with every touchdown.
Peter never met his mother. “She was from Auburn” was all his dad would say on the matter. Well, that’s not exactly all, he would sometimes add “Never trust a woman from Auburn.”
His dad’s name is Zhang. For the longest time he thought that his parents, first generation immigrants, had picked for him the most American-sounding name they could but later found out he was named after Peter Lorre.
More on that in a minute.
Peter’s grandmother was killed by a mule, much more common than you think, and his grandfather’s English was poor so when he came to visit their conversations seemed forced and awkward. Plus, his grandfather’s name was Wang and Peter had a hard enough time being Asian in the South without having to suppress a laugh every time he thought about that name.
Which made the upcoming conversation he had with his grandfather even more odd.
More on that in a minute.
When he was a young boy his dad told him that the first song that he danced to with the freshly-minted Mrs. Yoon was Year of the Cat. At the time he assumed that this was something to do with Chinese zodiac. When he was a teenager he found out that the cat is not one of the twelve animals but did show up on the Vietnamese calendar (taking the place of the rabbit). This led him to believe that his mother was Vietnamese and that his dad had been lying to him all along.
“Why didn’t you tell me that my mom wasn’t Chinese?!” he thundered at his surprised dad.
That’s when his dad told him that she was and that the Year of the Cat was a song by Al Stewart.
His dad hummed “While she looks at you so coolly… and her eyes shine like the moon in the sea. She comes in incense and patchouli. So you take her, to find what’s waiting inside” quietly to himself and got a very lost look in his eyes.
Content with that answer and wanting to let his dad enjoy whatever flashback he was having Peter turned to walk away when his dad added “And you were named after Peter Lorre.
Assuming you read at a normal rate you’ll find that it’s been almost exactly a minute since I promised to explain the Peter Lorre reference.
I’m good like that. (although who looks at “almost exactly” and decides to leave it as is?)
I’d like to boast more but I have another explanation coming up in about exactly thirty seconds.
After the Peter Lorre revelation Peter watched all of his movies and became a bit of an aficionado on films of that era. If there is any more on that it will be on your end after this tale is over. Not only don’t I blame you for giving it some additional thought but I highly encourage it. It might be the most interesting part of the whole story.
After years of hearing about the various exploits of his dad at U of Alabama Peter found it curious that his dad got lost getting there. When they finally arrived his dad had no clue where any of the buildings were. “A lot has changed since I’ve been here” was all he said.
“What could have changed so much?” wondered Peter as every building looked a hundred years old.
By the time the overly-cheery people responsible for shepherding prospective students and parents through the grounds were wrapping things up he was convinced that his dad had never stepped foot at the school before.
“Why did you tell me you went to Alabama?!” he thundered at his befuddled dad. I’m going to come right out and say it; Peter was a bit of a thunderer.
This time his dad had no reply.
Furious, and fresh off his thundering, Peter ran off and ended up taking a two hour taxi ride home.
When he arrived home he found his dad wasn’t there but his grandfather was.
“Your dad went to Auburn” he said with a thick accent.
“But… um…” was all Peter could come up with.
So his grandfather explained that a long time ago his son was wildly in love with Peter’s mom but she was only wild. When she left his dad was so broken that he rejected everything about her, himself and their brief life together.
“That’s crazy” said Peter.
“What is love but insanity?” countered his grandfather.
After digesting this Peter said only one thing; “Roll Tide.”
A few miles away his dad sat alone at a bar. A familiar song came on the jukebox as a result of a few quarters he’d deposited moments earlier.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat
Glassy-eyed he lifted his bottle in the air… “Roll Tide.”