ConstantCommentary® Vol. I, No. 2, October 9, 1997

So Sue Me . . .

by Mike Jasper

And it's William R. Eagan at the wire!

"Can I get an extra water for my dad? He's looking a little parched."

The waitress looked around the room. "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 him?"

"I'll get that water," the waitress said and left.

I was having breakfast with my buddy Big 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 getting old." 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 out."

"Hey, I'm just trying to deal with my dad's death."

He took a long sip from his coffee cup. "Yeah, I'm sorry. Do what you have to do."

Man, it was great! Not at first, of 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 time ever.

And the night of his death, Oct. 9, 1993, 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 there. At least we both saw it through to the end.

Yeah, my dad's death was a horrible, 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 a better 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 genuinely sympathetic, "Jesus Mike, how did that happen?" Of course, this is what he would be thinking: "I understand. I play the ponies."

So I missed him, still do. My dad died on 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 ashes, 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 the dark 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 fellowship. Occasionally, the rest of the body would follow.

I got laid early and often. Sworn enemies 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 Jasper O'Farrell's 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 the streets 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, his 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 could get 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 agreed.

We met at a Greek restaurant just outside 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 to the 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 dumping the 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 decide where to dump the ashes.

"Why don't we spread them at the finish 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 what.

"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 up, we're gonna miss post time!"

"This is for you dad," I said and quickly 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 finish 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 the track."

Bleary-eyed old men with mismatched shirts and ties approached me, reverently.

"Are you Bill's son?" they said. "We knew your dad. He used to win."

Well, maybe. Dad used to win betting on 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 sewed up.

"Looks like UCLA's got this one," I said.

He was nearly asleep and barely whispered, "No, Washington State's gonna get them." Sure enough, Washington State won.

"He called his last bet," Bob said.

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 first line.

The first line read:

Gambler William R. Eagan -- who once bet that he would live to be 100 years old -- lost his final wager Oct. 9, 1993.

God almighty, I wish that bet had paid off.

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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.