Diver Down

I wrote the framework of this ten years ago, when my father was alive. It’s been stowed in the dusty back corner of a Facebook server since then, and while I hate to feed you decade-old rations, it’s something I don’t want to lose.

I’m sure I could have edited the holy hell out of it (which I have done anyhow) and presented it as fresh material and no one would have been the wiser. I want to be honest with you, though, so I’ll tell you it was a skeleton of a thing I’ve dug up and slapped new meat onto. Perhaps this authorial Dr. Frankenstein act will bear a living thing (or at least a loping, undead monstrosity). In any case, it’s been an engaging exercise. If this still seems too clip-show for you, rest assured that what you will read below bears little resemblance to the thing that bubbled up from my archives.

Once, when I was 14 or 15 years old, Blake, Lauren, and I were in our dad’s car in the parking lot of the Indian Mall, and “Touch Me” by The Doors came on the radio. Dad told us they (the proverbial they) wouldn’t play the song on the local stations when he was a younger dude because it was too “vulgar.” That was one of his favorite words. “Quit being vulgar,” he’d say.

At the time, it seemed weird that you couldn’t say, “Touch me, babe,” on the radio. Even now, we play repetitive songs about making love and smoking weed over the work PA to an uncomfortable extent, and I’m no prude. It seems to clash with the atmosphere (on weekdays, a mostly empty store dotted with octogenarians, on weekends, invasion of the Hill Folk), and I’m actually not sure how we get away with it. Some New Yorker in a comfy chair makes the in-store play decisions. I just take the CD player off shuffle (my god how do you people stand it) and press play.

Back in Dad Land, “Touch Me” ended and he put on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. He had a multidisk CD setup with a big black cartridge you could load disks into. I have Dad to thank for most of my rock music education. I consider Fleetwood Mac elevator music these days, which might be due to repeat trauma caused when my ex insisted we play “Rhiannon” no louder than fifty decibels, but it was rockin’ shit back in the day. I also wouldn’t have realized how often Japanese video game developers ripped off American pop music if I didn’t have entire 1970s albums committed to memory.

In the early 1990s, when the only portable phone was a brick or a clunky bagged number, Dad had an Alltel phone installed in his vehicle. It had a base built into the console and an actual handset with a cord that came out of the cradle. There was also a speaker built into the roof of the vehicle so you could talk hands-free if you wanted to. Along with the CD player, it was a pretty sweet ride, and his company-paid gas card probably encouraged even more car trips than would have been the case without. Sundays were always time to go look at houses whether he was in the market for one or not.

We watched Courtney Love read Kurt Cobain’s suicide note live on Dad’s big screen television. Dad was my current age then, and he’d subscribed to one of those subscription affairs where you got 10 albums a month for a penny (or so they said) so he was familiar with all the hip tunes. He stood there, in front of that 500 pound monstrosity of a machine, and said, “Stupid. That’s so stupid.”

His collection, part of which I own now, was impressive to a long-haired, flannel-shirt-wearing 1990s teen. He had Metallica’s Metallica, Nevermind by Nirvana, and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, that Van Hagar album with the cover I used to think looked like a basketball. Even though I have the bulk of human knowledge at my fingertips now, I still can’t figure out what it is. It looks like pleather.

For a guy I wouldn’t peg as a Van Halen fan (he was more of a Springsteen, Tom Petty type), he sure had a lot of their albums. Even as a kid, I recognized the flag on Diver Down because I’d seen it on our trips to the dive shop. Dad got certified after the divorce, probably in the throes of whatever midlife crisis. He was outdoorsy in his own leisurely way, which usually involved hunting or hiking (more like strolling), but diving was probably the most hardcore athleticism he ever attempted. His diving career culminated in a trip to Cozumel and the production of a souvenir diving video. He’d whip it out from time to time and pop it in the VCR. My favorite part was when he and his buddies harassed a pufferfish until it expanded, which is pretty fucked up in retrospect, but it seemed cool at the time.

Dad was the Arkansas state chairman of Ducks Unlimited for a short time in the 1990s, and he was always involved in some capacity. Sometimes he’d drag us to the various dinners and auctions associated with his station, but as Blake and I entered our teens, Dad felt comfortable enough to leave us alone for a bit.

One evening when Dad was at a banquet, we came up with a game we called Sock War 2000. Our weapons were balled up socks (generally big wool hunting socks) and we threw them at each other while we bolted around the house. If we scored a hit, we acted like we were wounded in the corresponding body part.

We’d been going at it for about an hour and Blake hummed a huge wool sock at me, but he missed and hit one of Dad’s DU prints on the wall, shattering the glass on the picture. We had just started to discuss strategies for hiding the horrible mess when we heard the garage door open. We froze like deer in headlights.

When Dad was presented with our crime against DU memorabilia, he called the balled-up socks “snowballs” and made a good time of everything. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t angry at us, but he giggled a bit more about snowballs and went to bed. I didn’t have a breathalyzer, but we assumed he was at least mildly intoxicated. We harassed him for years after that by using “snowballs” as a non sequitur, which is something else we’d learned from Dad. Any conversation could be improved, it seemed, by throwing in a random reference, and it was all the more effective because he was embarrassed for having obviously driven under the influence.

Sock War 2000 was fought at Dad’s second domicile since the divorce. His first had been a condo downtown that had a cool swimming pool and a giant white paint splotch in the parking lot where someone had dropped a can. My siblings and I always called it pterodactyl shit (or poop around Dad). We had all these weird in-jokes, which usually referred back to an initial silly statement. If one of us thought a local business looked vaguely like the Alamo, we’d yell about the Alamo every time Dad drove past it. If one of us incorrectly identified a large cedar tree in front of a house as Spanish moss, it was “SPANISH MOSS” and giggles every time we turned down that street. Dad would groan, but I know he enjoyed it. We were just like him.

His next and penultimate home was the aforementioned house atop a hill on Aggie Road where we watched MTV and broke all his shit. I’d steal into his room after midnight, while he let loose wall-shaking snores, and rob his porn stash. You kids have it so easy with this Internet business. We used to have to either wait until everyone fell asleep and cruise Skinemax, resort to perusing a well-worn underwear catalog, or commit petty larceny in order to masturbate.

He also owned a big-ass glass table which, along with his big-ass television, was the hallmark of a bachelor who had enough money to have other people move his shit. I never purchase anything I couldn’t potentially transport alone. He loved to cook, but it was our job to set the table, a task we’d usually completed by his third or fourth yell. One time, I mistook a big-ass bottle of wine for apple juice and sat it on that big-ass table, which prompted him to chuckle and say, “Hell, son, are you having wine for breakfast?”

The original stump of my 2007 post ends here abruptly with, “Here’s to you, Dad.” That was supposed to be a toast joke based on the wine story. If we’re talking about alcohol and abrupt ends, it still fits well enough.

In that spirit, there’s no conclusion here except this one.