It was an all-too-common situation; cocky college kid comes home eager to impress his blue collar parents with his newly acquired knowledge. The topic? Not politics or religion or social values. The topic was…whales. Dad was wise enough to rise from his chair and scurry from the kitchen before Mom and I drew our weapons. In my defense, I had no idea this topic would prompt a yelling match, or that I’d resort to yelling out the “F” word in our house for the first time.
It started out as a harmless comment. “We’ve been studying whales in my zoology class. They’re certainly incredible creatures.” This was back in the early Seventies when whales were being hunted to extinction.
Mom agreed. “They certainly are.” It wasn’t a given that she’d agree because Mom, to my shame, liked to broadcast that her Portuguese grandfather had been a whaler.
“We need to do all that we can to protect them,” I said.
She nodded, and pulled a drag on one of her Virginia Slims.
So we weren’t going to have an argument after all. Finally, we agreed on something. Mom and I had argued about everything under the sun, but here at last was something we could agree on. Her next statement was also something I could agree with. “The Japanese are the culprits. They’re the reason whales are going extinct.”
“The Japanese are certainly contributing to the problem.” I admitted.
“That’s because whale meat is the mainstay of the Japanese diet.”
I had to take issue with her on this one. “You’re right about Japan killing the most whales, but rice and fish are the mainstay of the Japanese diet.”
She looked down her sharp nose and said, “I don’t know what they’re teaching you at UCLA, but everybody knows Japanese people eat whale every day. They survive on it.”
Granted, Mom was a voracious reader, and even if she didn’t go to college she was knowledgeable about many things, but what she was suggesting was impossible. “Numbers don’t back up what you’re saying,” I said.
“I don’t care about numbers; I know what I’m talking about.”
In my mind I saw a giant McDonald's in downtown Tokyo with a sign that read ten million whales served. We went back and forth on the issue for nearly two hours, screaming at each other as usual. She remained adamant; Japanese kids went off to school every day with whale blubber sandwiches in their lunchboxes. As far as she was concerned, every morning when the sun rose over Mt. Fuji, the Japanese tucked into a breakfast of whale and eggs.
I became exasperated, as I often did when stuck in these vexing situations of my own making. My final argument was a long winded shriek that went like this: “Mom, you’re right about the Japanese being culprits in the destruction of whale populations, but the Japanese don’t eat whale meat every day! It just isn’t possible. There are twenty million people in Tokyo alone! There are 120 million people living in Japan, not to mention another fifty million scattered throughout the Pacific rim. Conservative scientific estimates put whale populations at only 100,000, and I don’t give a flying F*#K how big whales are, a 100,000 whales can’t feed over 200 million Japanese!!!!”
Since we’d started arguing about whales, she’d burned through three Virginia Slims. She dropped a butt into a nearby ashtray, a curious expression spreading over her face. I wondered if my brilliant logic was about to pull off a rare accomplishment—convince my mother to change her mind about something. But I was wrong. She pointed her finger at me and said, “Young man, what was that word you just used?”
“The one after…flying.”
I repeated the word. That was when the conversation really heated up.