“Come on! Let’s get going! I’m not on this planet for my health!”
It is not my father or his “church” that help me recall his presence. There was no “house of god” to answer my request to be let in.
He is with me in every adventure, every step into the wild, for it was the wild that we shared, and I knew him better than all others because of the love we had for living and tasting and leaping into the unknowable possibilities that can only be experienced. It is in daring that the door swings wide and the flood that is him sweeps me off my feet. I have only myself and he has me alone to build him a body made of words.
It was he that pushed me into Death’s open arms and when I rose, it was his plan that saved me from a future as the living dead. It is his voice, still, that says “come on, get up, the pain isn’t going to get better by lying around with it…………Bend Over – Grab a Root – and Growl!”
That was his saying, his way. And he used it with himself as well. He said that throughout his Chemo and Radiation treatments and the many surgeries. Then he would buy a ticket to somewhere he had never been and dive into the experience of life. My favorite picture is from his last adventure, he is on a camel in Egypt with the pyramids in the background, desert sand stretching wide, his burnt skin and Salty Dog look, and the smile of a true Viking.
He is buried in a graveyard called Valhalla.
To continue this story, I hold an object that brings a part of him back to me. The object is a gold coin – sunken treasure from a 17th century Spanish Galleon.
We shared a passion for water, in all its many forms. Oceans and seas, lakes and rivers, hot springs and pools, showers and bathtubs. Water.
Neither of us drank much of it. It was more of a sensory experience. His insides transformed along the way from being mostly water to mostly Scotch, and my insides from water to Coffee. But on the outside, we loved water.
For many years we lingered in surfaces. Surfing, water skiing, snorkeling, speed boat racing, catamaran sailing, fishing, swimming, floating. It wasn’t interesting if it was easy. The adventure had to be present. Water isn’t ordinary.
There are great sea creatures like Mer-people, and Sirens and Sea Dragons, and Serpents. There are the times when everything glows, and tiny faces look up at you casting spells with ringing bells that put you into dreams and call you to come deeper, sink farther.
There is magic in the tides, the swells, the currents. If you float in them long enough and the water is deep enough, and you relax into the motions that are so much bigger than anything that can be fought, the tense moments at the start become hours of weightlessness and dreams and letting goes and being held.
Out there, in that vast sea……….She Is.
This immortal being that is nowhere and everywhere. We both felt connection between life embodied and life beyond body when we were uncaged, unbound, and especially, in the sea.
Once I was grown, he was rarely by my side during great adventures. But we shared our stories with each other. Sitting in his hot tub in Pasadena, he with a Scotch in one hand and a Marlboro cigarette in the other, me with a glass of red wine, we would tell our tales and swear like sailors.
His laugh was contagious and always threaded with taboo so that when I would begin to laugh a secret would pass between us and he would wink.
One particularly exciting story was told during levels of intoxication that are not, apparently, humanly possible. High tolerance to alcohol is another thing we share.
This story took place in the Caribbean. At the time, he was living on a yacht in the Bahamas. Being an undercover agent for the U.S. government had its perks and he had a terrific imagination and aptitude for designing each persona he was taking on.
I was to find out later that the government doesn’t like extravagant personification due to the obvious financial impact that can occur. And my dad loved extravagant. His feeling was, if they aren’t going to pay a decent salary for dangerous work, then he would live the dream during that dangerous work. And he did.
Living on a yacht was as fantastic as he and I had imagined it would be. The Caribbean is incredibly beautiful, the water warm and inviting, and the group of illegal drug traders that he was “working with” knew all the great places. One of those places was the general area of a long sought-after 17th century Spanish Galleon that had notoriously sunk due to a pirate attack.
As the work he was doing wound to a close, he took his chance. Befriending a pair of treasure hunters, they set out together on a mutual quest. Knowing him, it was really the hunt that was special. The fact that there was something out there with a history in adventure and travel and risk and passion, involving guns, and violence, and fire on the high seas. This was all very Viking.
Sadly, after a few weeks, the couple decided to move on without him. Apparently, he had far too much “verve” for their taste, and one day one of his guns fell out of his side pocket while taking off his jacket and this was more than they could embrace.
He and I laughed. He had many guns, always strapped to a variety of places on his body. Even sitting in the hot tub listening to his story, there was a gun next to his pack of cigarettes not more than a pinky’s swipe away, also nearby, the bottle of Scotch with its amber liquid reflecting the pool lights.
I looked up at the starless night sky. That city light glow with its turbulence in astronomical lingo bouncing off the smoggy haze. “Why do I love it here?” I remember saying aloud and then just as quickly I answered my own question, “Because L.A. is a beast that understands us, you and me; somehow, she understands how we are to be digested.”
And for once, my dad laughed into what I had said, and this marked a change for us. He was no longer the only leader. We were equals in this world and the many possibilities it houses.
I thought his story had ended.
Just before getting out of the hot tub, he tossed me a coin. I looked at it and stunned, disbelieving, shocked, I asked “This isn’t….is it?” His look of pride gave him away. It was indeed the real deal. On the last days of his yacht, near a small uninhabited island, just where the drug dealers had told him to go, he was diving alone.
Scanning the sandy bottom, a glint caught his eye. He picked it up and stuck it in his divers’ pouch. He looked for more of the same, still not realizing what he had found. There was nothing more, so he surfaced. Sitting on deck, he opened the pouch and as he said, “I fucking howled! Made a sound like a damned wolf!!”
Then came his contagious laugh and that smile that will surely carry me to the gates of Valhalla.
Compelled to go on, I decided to interview someone who knew my father.
She and my father were divorced when I was 4 years old. There has always been a profound dislike between them and at the same time a loyalty that saved each of their lives more than once. They were connected by something ancient and psychically powerful.
On one occasion my father was about to enter federal court to testify against an infamous Italian mob boss and his equally famous attorney. There were media oozing out of every crevice. Just as he was about to enter the court room and reveal himself, the private phone line rang.
To be clear, the government had phone lines readily set up in any location allowing those who had knowledge of the number to access the line at any time. It was a lot like a mobile phone in that the agent or agency could remain mobile so long as the line was anchored to a current site. It is also interesting to note that mobile phones, while enormously huge, were in use for those with enough influence to obtain them.
Meanwhile, back in our suburban safety zone, my mother started running around in banshee mode, screaming to herself “where’s that phone number? Where’s my purse?? Help me find my purse!!”.
I was 16 years old and in the throes of choreographing what I considered to be my masterpiece as a cheerleader. The shock of her hysteria was a punch to my adrenal glands and I launched into the search. Finding the purse, she dug out the phone number and dialed.
The year was 1983, so dialing took a while as the phone was a rotary.
I just stood staring at her while she mumbled, irritated, like this whole event was the fault of whoever she was calling. Someone answered, and in her “I’ll always be an angry teenager with rude comments” voice she said (slowly – as though this was all just a passing thought), “Hi, just thought you should know that T.C. is married to J.K. and she always goes to his trials”.
I could hear my dad’s voice on the other end of the line. He was yelling.
From my perspective, keeping in mind that I was a dedicated cheerleader, this phone dialogue made no sense, so off I went to complete my masterpiece.
My interview begins here and with this question: Mom, remember when (please reference the story above)? What the hell was that all about? (This was the necessary approach. She would never have become involved in something legitimate like: “I would like to interview you about dad”).
The approach worked, and with a big Cheshire cat grin she said, “Get me my coffee and I’ll tell you….”
My mother can be very entertaining in a cynical and devious sort of way. She is funny and characteristically L.A. She can keep secrets, stay loyal, grind bones, and save you when your drowning as long as it all happens after morning coffee, followed by her hot shower and hair and makeup routine.
The fact that her grin was still present after I had made the mid-morning pot of coffee was a good sign and even more so that she was taking her coffee indoors rather than out by the pool where she believes coffee should be on an I.V. drip to keep actual body movement to a minimum, as sun-tanning requires still, nap-like concentration.
The first half hour required me listening attentively to her describe in detail all the many ways my dad was a complete asshole who never took care of his children and spent all of their money on fancy cars and clothes. This was my payment (and yes, payment is always required…..remember, this interview is taking place in L.A.).
Satisfied, she settled in.
Apparently, she felt that “ZAP” of connection, as she put it. “You know, that thing I do when I know something that’s coming, like I know someone will call before the phone rings and then it does. But with your dad it was also a lot more of that sort of thing.”
The zap, she explained, was the bug zapper of zaps. She was sitting at the piano practicing Chopin for a performance and suddenly she was overwhelmed with panic to tell my dad that J.K. was married to T.C. and attended his trials. The panic was so extreme she felt that if she didn’t speak to him immediately, not only would he be killed, but so would I.
Well, this really got my attention, so I asked, “ME? Why me?”
“Don’t interrupt” she said.
J.K. is her best friend from high school. They still talk every day and now with cell phones they text throughout the day. When she and my dad met and then got married, J.K. was a big part of their relationship, therefore my dad knew J.K. as well. When J.K. met T.C. there was less interaction so T.C. and my dad never really knew each other.
As the years passed, my dad became a mobster hunter. His identity was protected by using false names like “Dick”.
T.C., on the other hand, became an attorney. Being Italian himself, he felt his loyalties lay on the other side of the fence and therefore pursued becoming the greatest mobster defender of all time.
They were equally ambitious, arrogant, and in love with the flashing lights from the media, the subsequent headlines in the paper, and the occasional Time magazine cover.
They both loved fame and glory. And here they were, two lions in a courtroom. For the first time, T.C. was not the defending attorney, but the attorney needing defending. My dad, the unknown gladiator standing over his prey awaiting the thumbs up from the Emperor. And my mom on a phone line rendering him impotent.
Suddenly my dad’s entire case was shattering before him. If J.K. recognized him, as she surely would, his name and identity would become known. Not only was his career at risk, so was his life, and the lives of his children who would become revenge targets.
As my mother says she understood it, the agency reworked their strategy. A privacy box was set up so that his face and body could not be seen. He would get no photo shoot this time (insert my mom making an evil boo boo/sad face). And Time magazine gave the cover to T.C.
What did I learn?
My parents were two Vikings in L.A. – perfect for each other…….. as long as they were divorced!
-Quin de la Mer 2/2018