It’s hard being the son of a childhood newspaper tycoon.
Although the conclusive history is lost to the ages (he’d be turning 100 this year), apparently Dad made quite a splash back in the day, very early in life. He started as a paperboy on foot, then on bicycle. At some point he got a newsstand on a busy streetcorner near downtown Minneapolis. Soon he had another, then another. And it all happened before he was about twelve years old, sometime around 1927.
His family barely noticed the Great Depression because they all worked–most of all, my dad. While others were jumping out of windows on Wall Street or standing in bread lines, sixteen-year-old Dad was paying cash for a barely-used Cadillac. Soon, he had a travelling orchestra, which also had been outfitted by the proceeds from his childhood entrepreneurship.
I can’t tell you how unbearable it is to grow up related to someone like that.
When I was twelve I was riding my bicycle around my backyard with a tomato juice can tied behind it. I knew my life was over. I was over-the-hill. I was twelve and had nothing to show for it. Might as well tow a tomato-juice can around behind my bike and make Darth Vader noises. Fuck it. Fuck it all.
Now, I hear stories of youthful success, and I know better. The stuff you’re supposed to be learning as a kid gets shunted to the side by your ambition in those cases. It always does. Those lessons go unlearned until later, when learning is a lot more expensive and risky. Along the way, you tend to leave a path of destruction behind you.
He was married three times — the last time to a woman 28 years his junior. It was a co-dependent relationship. They kept each other prisoner. My dad needed my mother for his survival. My mom needed my dad because she needed a dad, having lost her own when she was twelve. By the time she was 20, she was ready to leave college and start a singing career. My dad appeared at just the right time, and soon they had both conveniently forgotten about his wife and kid back in Jersey.
California, there they came.
No relationship is perfect. It’s hard to judge. It’s personally difficult for me to fault this one in particular. But as one ages, one realizes more about one’s origins, if you know what I’m saying.
After a whirlwind final third of his life marked by desperate ambition, Dad died deeply in debt, unknown in many ways to his own current family, unreconciled with his other son (my half-brother) and in most ways friendless. Though I’m glad I knew him as well as I did — and I use things he taught me to get by as well as I do — it’s hard for me to see his newspaper thing as having been any guarantee of later success and happiness. It didn’t work out that way for him. Who knows what might have happened had he been towing a tomato juice can around on his bike at twelve, instead?
On the day he died, my mom, sister, and I returned home from the hosptial to mourn and wonder what came next. But on the way there, we stopped to rent a movie — something to take our minds away from the loss and the upcoming financial shitstorm (no insurance, no savings, titles of the cars all in his name, no credit cards, nothing — he was an eternal optimist). I think I made the choice of videos. I rented Buckaroo Banzai, expecting some farce that would let us forget everything for ninety minutes or so.
But no: I have some sort of magic touch when it comes to such things. Buckaroo Banzai — played by Peter Weller (the original Robocop) — is a multitalented genius scientist tycoon lounge musician. Watching it was stressful at first. Too much like real life.
But then came the wisdom part. He tells the girl in the bar these few simple words: No matter where you go, there you are.
Hey, I’ve made my own mistakes. So has everyone else. Want to read more about them? Check out my debut novel Eye of the Diamond-T.