Staff List: Stories Our Parents Told Us

The Bureau Staff on their parents’ tallest tales.

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I love to hear my dad talk about what he did after graduating from Stanford in 1969. This might sound like the introduction to a nauseating list of accomplishments, but for my father it’s quite the opposite.

After being kicked out of the Peace Corps for possessing hash brownies, he worked at a plastic bag factory feeding defective bags into an enormous machine which melted them down “for a second try.” He was fired in less than a month for failing to show up on Mondays and Fridays. He claims the long weekends were necessary to maintain his sanity.

Although he didn’t know how to drive a bus, he was a school bus driver for a brief period. He recalls quitting after one stormy night when, delivering a grade-school basketball team to their game, he nearly drove the bus into a canyon. “When we finally reached the school alive, I was so nervous I just stood outside the whole time, pacing and chain smoking.”

He worked as a door-to-door Pony Picture Salesman. Two little old ladies would go around neighborhoods with a pony, causing children to flock into the street. The ladies would take pictures of them with the pony, and weeks later my dad would show up to get the kids’ parents to shell out some cash for the evidence.

This is just a small selection from his humiliating resume. It seems there is nothing too degrading for him to fail at, no job too disgraceful for him to disgrace further. And he loves to talk about it. After all, he’s a writer. He’s just happy to have what really matters to him: great stories. — Art Director Hallie Bateman


Where do you put your disappointments? My mother tells me to put them in my bag of experience. From debt to divorce to death: “Well, put that in your bag of experience.” How do they all fit in there?

She never gave me the properties of the bag. Perhaps that is up to the holder. My bag of experience is a deep black color. You might mistake it for a shadow. Some days it grows heavy and I slouch with the weight of it as I drag it behind me. Other days the bag feels like a fantasy game “bag of holding” — a convenient, small sack with a pocket universe that holds entire years of tragedies, attics-full of mistakes, all the dead friends whose lives seemed to be bought cheaply by cancer or accident. And yet the bag remains magically light.

My daughter is just a kid with a Hello Kitty backpack of experience. But she has started packing it up with petty disturbances that seem large to her and a few Big Deals that we both lived through fine. The bag chaffs her shoulders and makes her cranky. I am confident that she will find a way to carry it comfortably. Most of us do. — Writer Jonathan Gourlay


When I was first getting interested in comedy “seriously” (as seriously as you can be at 13?), my dad bought me a George Carlin book. I said it was cool — only cooler if it were signed. A few days later, he presented me with a Jerry Seinfeld book. “It’s signed,” he said, and I flipped to the front eagerly! Not only was this book signed, Jerry knew about my theatrical aspirations because he had written “Keep up the good work, Alice.” I loved this book, and I brought it to summer camp with me. I was reading a passage aloud, and I shared the inscription with a friend. “Huh,” she said. “It’s weird that Seinfeld signed in pencil though.” That was weird. Almost as weird as how the S in Seinfeld looked exactly like the S in my dad’s signature. — Writer Alice Stanley


My dad is a finance guy and, like most finance guys, has been since he graduated from college. His stories have always reinforced a lot of stereotypes I’ve had that finance is a sort of boys’ club where the common denominators are greed and excess. But it does make for great storytelling. The best anecdote he tells takes place in the ’80s, when his broker took him and a couple coworkers out to lunch at the Bostonian Hotel, a ritzy place near Fanueil Hall where they convinced the broker to purchase an extremely expensive bottle of port.

The first time I heard my dad tell this story, years ago, the cost of the bottle was $5,000. The next time, it was $4,000. When I called him last weekend, the price had plummeted to a measily grand.

“I don’t want to exaggerate,” he says, now, suggesting that I try googling the cost of an 18th-century bottle of port. “But I remember it was the most expensive bottle on the menu.”

Originally, my dad said he had pressured the broker into getting the wine. Today, he says the broker had just gotten carried away after my father pointed to a bottle on the menu, noting that it was around during the American Revolution.

“I think he got fired shortly afterward.”

My dad explained that it was the ’80s — an era of excess, one I might not relate to in our current world, grounded in pragmatism. But I felt like his stories also used to be full of excess, in that they were bloated and exaggerated for effect. Those tales might’ve been taller, but they were funnier too.

Still, the punch line is the same:

“When we opened the bottle, I swear ghosts came out. It was like drinking history. But I couldn’t taste any difference. That bottle tasted like any other wine I’d ever had.” — Editor Kevin Nguyen


I was 15 years old and my mom was driving me home from school. Though ordinarily I wouldn’t have cared about cars one way or another, I’d gone to a car show the previous weekend with my father. So I stepped out of character and told my mom that someday I wanted to get a Nissan Z.

“You can’t get a Z,” my mom replied.

“Why?” I wondered, genuinely confused.

“When I was 18 and working as a cashier at JCPenny, a man came up to the counter and asked me if I wanted to travel across the country with him. I left right then and we drove across the country in his Nissan Z, having sex the whole way.”

I didn’t say a word for the rest of the drive. I do not own a Nissan Z. — Contributing Writer Ben Bateman


Illustration by Hallie Bateman