I'm back from college for winter break, and as if that's not punishment enough, my dad asks me to write his dopey column for him again while he goes off to the auto show.
"Lazy people need days off, too," he tells me.
"What do I get paid?" I ask.
"Breakfast, lunch and tuition," he says.
Each year, he goes off to the auto show like this with his friend Paul. My dad says that Paul's heart has four doors and a sunroof and that if he doesn't go to the auto show, winter settles into Paul's heart like a heavy snow.
"And the new Z is out," his friend Paul says.
"And the Mini Cooper, too," says my dad.
"Who's she?" says my mom.
"See ya," says my dad, and off to the auto show they go.
It's always the same with them. They go off to the auto show, Dad and Paul, sort of quiet and stuff because the Christmas bills are coming in, and they have no money or any hopes of ever having money.
At the auto show, they sit in every single car they can find, even the American ones. Pontiacs and stuff. I swear. Buicks even.
"It's excellent exercise," he tells my mom later.
"Yeah, right," says my mom.
Here's the thing I've discovered about men. In college, they do as little as possible. Then they joke about it. Then they get older, and they still do as little as possible. Then they joke about it. It's like a pattern with men.
"Mom, someday can we discuss men?" I asked her one night, and she laughed for like an hour, then poured herself like this humongous glass of Chardonnay.
"What would you like to know, honey?" she finally asked.
"Just the basics," I said, and she laughed for an hour more.
Then a couple of nights later, I asked my dad about men. We were up watching Letterman, and I just flat-out asked him.
"Hey, Dad," I asked. "What's with men anyway?" Like that.
And he says "You really want to know?"
And I say, "Sure. Knowledge is power, after all."
So he goes into this long, ridiculous explanation about men being really complex creatures with huge appetites and how they constantly evolve and stuff, which is why women have such a hard time understanding men, on account of they are constantly evolving.
"With men, you can tell our age by our addictions," he explained. "Plus we belch a lot."
"Know what, Dad?" I said when he was done.
'What?" he said.
"I think I really understand men now," I said.
"Terrific," he said, then fell asleep on the couch.
It's been really great being back from college. My little sister runs around all day singing Enrique Iglesias songs and e-mailing Mickey Mouse.
My brother, I don't know where he came from, maybe Mars or someplace in Nevada. He's into snowboarding now. Mars must have lots of mountains.
Then there's Mom and Dad. Oh, my God. There was this one day, I think it was Christmas, where my dad comes jabbering into the kitchen, going on and on to my mom about some touchdown he just saw on TV, real excited as if it'd never happened before.
My Dad: "Yada yada yada! Yada yada yada! Blah blah blah!"
My Mom: "Um, don't you think ... "
My Dad: (interrupting) "Yada yada yada! Yada yada! Yada ... "
My Mom: "Will you just shut up for one second! Just for one lousy second!"
That was Christmas Day. She told him to shut up for one lousy second.
I think it's great how they can work out their disagreements right away like that.
Mom explained that if Dad comes blabbering into the kitchen like Red Buttons then he deserves what he gets, even if it is a major holiday.
"Sweetheart, someday you'll understand," she told me.
I think the reason men and women sometimes don't get along is that when men are ready to communicate, women are always on the phone. And when women are ready to communicate, men are always watching some ballgame. It's like international relations, only you live together.
"I'll bet Donna Reed never told Jimmy Stewart to shut up," my dad mumbled as he went back to his game.
"I'll bet she did," said my mom.
Since I've been back, it's been really crazy around here. I mean, I live in a dorm, so I'm used to crazy people. But not this many.
Dad keeps telling Mom that if the Chicago Bears make it to the Super Bowl, he and my brother are going to New Orleans no matter what, even though we have no money or any real prospects.
"We'll rely on the kindness of strangers," he tells my brother. "And cheap bar food."
"I want to go to New Orleans, too," my little sister says.
"That's the spirit," says my dad, and then he teaches her the Super Bowl Shuffle, which apparently was some popular dance back in 1792.
Oh, my God.
Last night, I helped my mom with the dishes. She only had to ask me twice, which is like a record in our family.
"Mom," I asked, "do they get better with age?"
"Who?" she asked.
"Men," I said.
She laughed for like an hour.
Chris Erskine's column runs on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is email@example.com.