“I Think About This a Lot” is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
As a decidedly unsentimental queer, the nuclear family has always felt inscrutable to me. The whole enterprise seemed dated and suburban, and I recoiled from the claustrophobic two-parent, two-kid structure. That is, until I saw Meadow Soprano’s terrible parallel-parking job in the series finale of The Sopranos.
I began watching the show while I was staying with my parents for four months. Our instinct had been to come together to make one another’s quarantine less lonely. But I began regressing to adolescence, picking fights about everything from my parents’ coffee preferences to the state of my childhood bedroom. After these arguments I would watch teenage Meadow and A.J. Soprano bicker with Tony and Carmela and feel disgust: for the characters on The Sopranos, for my family, for myself.
In the last scene of the series, Tony, Carmela, Meadow, and A.J. go to dinner at an unremarkable Jersey diner. In true boomer fashion, Tony puts Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” on the jukebox. In quick, constant cuts, Tony looks up to see people walking in the door: a woman in a black frock coat, a guy in a trucker hat, Carmela. A.J. walks in at the same time as a Dustin Hoffman knockoff in a Members Only jacket. A.J. looks bored, and the knockoff looks suspicious.
Meanwhile, Meadow pulls up outside and has to parallel park. She’s in her early 20s at this point, dating a capo’s son. She’s also a future lawyer, a high achiever. She tries to park her sedan, backing into the curb and pulling out again and backing in again and pulling out. She struggles so much that the camera cuts from the rest of the Sopranos inside the diner back out to Meadow three separate times. The knockoff goes into the bathroom, not unlike Michael Corleone did to get a hidden gun before a restaurant massacre in The Godfather. If the knockoff were to come out of the bathroom ready to assassinate Tony, he’d find him sitting alone on his side of the booth, no Meadow by his side. The knockoff would have a clean shot.
Finally, after an eternity of backing up and pulling forward and backing up, Meadow parks. The Sopranos eat their onion rings. She runs towards the diner. Tony looks up, but the camera cuts to black and Journey stops playing. Was he shot? Was Meadow the last thing he saw? Did David Chase just want to infuriate us? Either way, Tony’s gone.
Tony’s kids fit the middle-class millennial stereotype. They want for nothing— a nice house, fancy cars, expensive educations —because their long-suffering dad does whatever it takes to secure this life for them. It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a poor, put-upon Mafia boss who spends every day defrauding people and busting kneecaps only to come home to his whiny kids. Do you know how many people I had to kill to put you through college? I imagine him saying. How many teeth I had to knock out to buy you this goddamn car? But when I saw Meadow’s pathetic park job, I felt some sympathy for Tony. Here he is, risking his life every day to support his family, and his daughter is running late to what might be her last dinner with him.
Watching the scene, I thought of all the times I’d met my parents for dinner when I lived in Chicago. They’d arrive from the suburbs unfashionably early and I’d arrive fashionably late — sometimes even struggling to park — and plop myself down in front of them, immediately launching into a monologue about my life. They’d listen happily, thrilled just to get a scrap, now rare, of together time. Growing up, I balked at the idea of hanging out with my parents: Why would I force myself to enjoy a game of Clue when I could be checking out Tom’s profile on Myspace or vagueposting about the hot English teacher on Xanga? The distance between my world and my parents’ felt unbridgeable, and it seemed no amount of board games or hot cocoa could fix that.
If I was Meadow Soprano’s sibling, I’d be rolling my eyes right along with her every time Tony and Carmela talk about the importance of Italian pride or all the money they’ve donated to the church. I’ve rolled my eyes at my own parents plenty of times, but after those months together, I’d begun to realize how much they love me, how completely dedicated they’ve always been to my growth. Nowadays it seems I can’t express my gratitude enough, can’t get the words right. I try to say how I’m feeling but struggle to describe the enormity of what they’ve done: “Thanks for the happy childhood” hardly feels sufficient. Meadow and I both know that we only have so much time before some cataclysm, be it a Dustin Hoffman knockoff or a deadly pandemic, interrupts our happiness. But luckily I still have time, and I can still keep trying to get the gratitude thing right. After all, it’s not over until Journey stops playing.