And it's William R. Eagan at the wire!
"Can I get an extra water for my
looking a little parched."
The waitress looked around the
"Sure. Will he be joining you later?"
"He's right here," I said,
tapping on a
green cardboard box no bigger than a softball.
"Would you like to meet
"I'll get that water," the
I was having breakfast with my
Billy D. at the Pine Cone restaurant in
Sebastopol, California. He was
giving me The Look. It's the look most of my
friends have given me from
time to time, the look that seems to ask, "Could
somebody tell me why
in the fuck I'm hanging out with this guy?"
"You know, Mike, that joke's
Then he laughed at me, loud enough to fill the
room. "Hyuck, yuck,
yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck." He stopped cold, his face
went blank and then
he said, "Seriously, man you're bumming everybody
"Hey, I'm just trying to deal
He took a long sip from his
"Yeah, I'm sorry. Do what you have to do."
Man, it was great! Not at first,
course. At first it was horrible: dad in the
hospital dying, seeing him
three days before his death, ashen and emaciated,
old for the first
And the night of his death, Oct.
came as a shock. Sure, we knew he was dying of
cancer, but the doctors
said he had three months to live. Or so they
thought. Fortunately, my
brother had flown in from Florida in time to see
him alive and my
mother (they split up in 1970) had paid her last
respects. I had taken
the Greyhound in from Austin, Texas and figured on
a nice long visit
with my dad. Three days later he was gone.
The night before my brother was
to go back
to Florida, we got the phone call. Dad died. Heart
attack, the doctors
said (or so they thought). Come identify the body,
sign the papers,
pick the funeral parlor and do it all while crying
your eyes out.
At least my brother Dan was
least we both saw it through to the end.
Yeah, my dad's death was a
horrible experience. He had been my friend, a
bohemian (although he
never knew it), sports fanatic and
semi-professional gambler. A laborer
all his life, his big dream was hitting the
ultimate trifecta. He loved
the ponies. But every year it was the same -- he'd
win money in the
fall and winter betting on football and then lose
it all again in the
spring and summer at the racetrack.
Still, I couldn't have asked for
father. I could tell him anything, things that
would have sent most
fathers to an even earlier grave.
"Dad, I'm gay, a heroin addict,
considering the priesthood, diagnosed with HIV,
entering law school in
the fall and I just killed a guy. "
His reply would have been a
sympathetic, "Jesus Mike, how did that happen?" Of
course, this is what
he would be thinking: "I understand. I play the
So I missed him, still do. My dad
a Saturday night. I had to wait until Monday to
deal with his body. He
was to be cremated at the Neptune Society. I
envisioned guys dressed
like mermaids with pitch forks heaving him into a
huge brick oven.
I'm not sure when I picked up the
Wednesday I think. He was packed in a green (sea
green) cardboard box.
I looked at the box and sighed. I had to stay six
weeks to oversee the
memorial service and get the cash from insurance
and some money market
fund my dad had left my brother and me (I called
it Dead Dad Money).
Incredibly enough, the gambler had died in the
black. During the drive
back to Sebastopol from Santa Rosa, I had a moment
of clarity and
suddenly realized what was going to get me through
the next six weeks.
Dad was gone and I had to accept that, because...
It was all about me now!
The first thing I did was invent
riff that was to be my friend and ally for the
next 42 days. "Have you
met my dad? Come over here and meet my dad...
Billy, hand me that
little green box."
For the next six weeks, I was
given a wide
berth, loads of latitude, carte blanche, the key
to the city -- in
short... sympathy beyond belief. I was a dead dad
addict and all of
Sebastopol was my dealer. Old girlfriends -- women
who despised me,
women who wanted me back in Texas, women who
posted evil messages about
me on the Internet, women who started 12-step
groups about me -- not
only spoke to me lovingly, but offered the hand of
Occasionally, the rest of the body would follow.
I got laid early and often. Sworn
pretended to like me. Journalists who had always
ignored my music
career wrote articles about me. People who had
never heard my name
uttered in public wanted to stand next to me. I
sang on the radio
twice, performed to two standing-room-only gigs at
Pub, ate at the finest restaurants and homes in
West Sonoma County and
never had to stay in a motel one night.
Sure, I was nearly arrested on
of Sebastopol for a long overdue, unpaid traffic
ticket. But I just
whipped out $600 of Dead Dad Money, and the
coppers let me settle it
the next day in court. Life was good. Honest to
god, if I could get
away with it right now I'd call up all my friends
and say, "Guess what!
Dad died again."
So what about dear old dad? Well,
insurance-selling friend Bob (who inherited all 26
of my dad's books on
horse racing formulas) thought we should have a
memorial service, but I
nixed it. I wouldn't have bored my dad in life,
why should I in death?
His other buddy Jim, a newspaper editor, thought
we should get his
friends together for a formal dinner. That was
closer to the mark.
Finally I hit on it: we'd all get together on a
Saturday morning before
post time and have breakfast, then take his ashes
and spread them
around the race track at the Sonoma County
Fairgrounds. The idea was
met with handshakes and high-fives all around.
Jim's job was to find out if we
permission to spread dad's ashes at the track. A
few days later, he
called me and the news wasn't good.
"The people at the race track
said we need
to get permission from the Board of Health. Forms
need to be filled
out. It could take time."
"I say we just do it." He readily
We met at a Greek restaurant just
of Petaluma, the town where my dad had lived.
Although he technically
died of cardiac arrest, his real problem had been
stomach cancer, so it
was only fitting that we had an all-you-can eat
breakfast of bacon with
grease, scrambled eggs with grease, sausage with
grease, biscuits and
gravy with grease and a side order of grease. We
smoked cigarettes. We
looked cancer in the eye. We did it for dad, who
posthumously paid the
bill (more Dead Dad Money).
Most of my dad's friends made it
William R. Eagan Memorial Meal: Jim the editor,
Bob the insurance guy,
Big Billy D. the singing bartender, Diane the
babe, Pete the postal
worker and me -- the professional mourner. Only
three were missing from
the group: Richard (a lounge piano player who once
ran for mayor of San
Rafael on the socialist ticket), Bob (a Damon
Runyan figure who had
died a few years earlier), and my brother Dan (who
was back in Florida
cramming for his final exams).
We pigged down the meal and
headed to the
race track. Saturday featured off-track betting in
the main pavilion,
but no live races were being run. Since it was
November, there weren't
even golfers playing on the nine-hole golf course
in the middle of the
track. The track was all ours.
I had mixed feelings about
ashes. First, without the box of dad's ashes, I'd
have to come up with
a new pickup line. Second, it would be nice to
take the ashes to Austin
and run the riff there. Third... couldn't we go to
jail for this?
Once on the racetrack, we had to
where to dump the ashes.
"Why don't we spread them at the
line," Bob said. Good idea. I opened the box and
grabbed a handful of
ashes. Somehow I felt like I should say something,
but I wasn't sure
"This is for teaching me
baseball," I said
and spread a few ashes along the finish line. I
grabbed another handful
and said, "This is for all your friends here." I
grabbed some more
ashes. "And this is --"
Bob broke in. "God damn it, hurry
we're gonna miss post time!"
"This is for you dad," I said and
dumped the ashes in as straight a line as I could.
We fled the track
and hurried to the main pavilion. When we reached
the ticket booth at
the entrance, Bob blew our cover.
"We just spread Bill out at the
line," Bob said, loud enough to be arrested. He
babbled like a waitress
on crank. "Did you hear? We dumped Bill's ashes at
the finish line on
Bleary-eyed old men with
and ties approached me, reverently.
"Are you Bill's son?" they said.
your dad. He used to win."
Well, maybe. Dad used to win
football games. In fact, on the last day of his
life he also called his
last shot. UCLA was ahead of Washington State by
two touchdowns in the
fourth quarter and looked to have the game all
"Looks like UCLA's got this one,"
He was nearly asleep and barely
"No, Washington State's gonna get them." Sure
enough, Washington State won.
"He called his last bet," Bob
Not exactly, I thought.
Having once worked as a newspaper
reporter, I still had some connections in the
business. That helped me
get my dad's obituary into several newspapers,
including the Petaluma
Argus-Courier, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and
the newspaper in his
boyhood hometown of Tracy, Ca. I got to write the
obit and they printed
it word for word except for the first line. Every
paper cut out the
The first line read:
Gambler William R. Eagan -- who
that he would live to be 100 years old -- lost his
final wager Oct. 9,
God almighty, I wish that bet had
* * *
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This column aims to be
funny. If you can read anything else into it, you're
on your own. Copyright 1997 by Mike Jasper.