Kim Porter's Ham Taco Christmas
My dad was hilarious and brilliant but also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Sometimes he could shine his light on you and tease you until you peed your pants laughing. Other times he could become so mean that you felt dirty with the shame of your own shortcomings. But, as long as he had access to marijuana he was okay.
After my folks split, when I was eight, I saw him only on the weekends . We ate in restaurants and saw ridiculous movies like "Ape: in 3D" or "Empire of the Ants." He was sometimes mean, quite mean, but it was worth it because he was also wonderful.
Through high-school and college I sat cross legged on the floor with my dad and watched him use a Pink Floyd album cover to separate seeds from stems . As he rolled and smoked his perfect little joints, he told hilarious stories which always ended with a lesson.
One story he told was about a school bully who called him fat. Dad went home crying from school and his mom said, "Paul, you aren't fat, you're just barrel-chested." The next day at school dad confronted the bully, "I'm not fat, I'm barrel-chested". The school bully laughed and said, "Who told you that? Your mother?"
"Kim," he told me as he nudged ash off the tip of his joint, "That boy was the best friend I ever had, because he taught me that people will bullshit you, even your mother. " He shook his head meaningfully as he inhaled, seeds popping dramatically, " 'Ere, want some? It'll put hair on your chest?"
Sometimes when high he would confide his deepest unfulfilled dreams to me. He longed to invent a hovercraft park, to tap dance at the grocery story, or to host a TV show in which he was a sort of Mr. Science who taught his young viewers how to make batteries from potatoes.
One Christmas when I was in my mid 20's he came to visit me for a week in San Diego. He wore a cable-knit sweater and I said he looked like an old sailor. "Barnacle Bob," he called himself. I made a name tag for him --"Hi my name is Barnacle Bob"-- which he wore defiantly the whole week, until Christmas eve when he clipped it, like an ornament, to the Christmas tree.
He didn't have any pot on the trip and he was starting to get antsy. For the first time in my life I could see how sad it made him to be at the whim of his dark moods. He was really trying to stay even.
By the day after Christmas, Dad seemed brittle with the effort. We were discussing what to do for lunch and I could feel his restlessness rising dangerously. Suddenly he disappeared into the kitchen leaving a vapor trail of anger.
"I'm going to make ham tacos from the leftover Christmas ham like my mother used to make." he shouted from the kitchen. Ham tacos?
He cubed the ham and fried it. Then added lettuce. When the lettuce was wilted and the ham had a nice color he stirred a little sugar in some vinegar and sprinkled it all over. He served them in soft corn tortillas.
Turns out, ham tacos are delicious, even if you don't have the munchies. And they are exactly the right thing to eat when you have leftover ham but aren't in the Christmas spirit anymore.
As we ate them he told me an hilarious story about the time he got trapped inside the cab of a rusty old pick-up truck with a swarm of angry wasps.
My dad died suddenly just a couple of years after that when he was only 51. I never got a chance to tell him one last time that I loved him, anyway, despite everything, just the way he was.
Every year when I get out my box of ornaments to decorate my Christmas tree the first and most important ornament I clip on the tree is a plastic name tag which reads, "Hi my name is Barnacle Bob."