You can call me Ray
"Is Ray home?" I asked Mr. Manzano.
"Mr. Useless? The Wasteful-Son-of-a-Bitch?
Yeah, I think he's here. He's in his room with Mrs. Thumb and her four
"Forget about it. Come on in. You want a
"No thanks, not right now."
You have to understand, things were
different in the early 70s. For one thing, I turned down drinks back
then. For another, offering a libation to a high school senior on a
Saturday night wasn't considered the capital crime it is now. Parents
back then were just glad we weren't doing illegal drugs. And believe it
or not, I wasn't doing illegal drugs, unless you count the uppers I got
from my wrestling coach.
In our neighborhood, the fun parents were
Mr. and Mrs. Manzano. The rest of us were stuck with WWII generation
parents, but Mr. and Mrs. Manzano were Korean War generation parents,
about 10 years younger and light years cooler. They liked to laugh,
they liked to drink, hell, I think they even still liked sex, unlike
the rest of the parents in our neighborhood, who made us wonder how
we'd ever been born.
Before the senior prom, the gang met at
the Manzano's home, as we did for all high school dances. Mrs. Manzano
would give us advice on how
to pin on corsages and how to treat a lady like a lady. "Don't go to
bed with any girl you wouldn't be proud to marry," she'd tell us. Which
would have been good advice had we actually been getting laid. Of
course, me being me and all, I always wanted more clarification. "What
if she jerks me off? Just how proud of her should I be then?"
Mr. Manzano would give us even better
advice (sorry, Mrs. M., it's true). His advice was more along the lines
of, "If you do sleep with a girl you don't want to marry, for god's
sake, use a fuckin' rubber." This seemed to make more sense to me.
While Mrs. Manzano helped the other guys
adjust their cummerbunds so they'd look real sharp for the final dance
of our high school careers, Mr. Manzano took me aside. "Mike, can I
talk to you a minute?"
"Sure," I said. He took me down the hall
to the master bedroom and I thought, man, this is going to be great.
What's he going to do, give me a porno magazine or a swig of the good
stuff? We got to the room, he took out his wallet and said, "Here, let
me give you 20 bucks. I know money's tight for you right now, and I
want you to have a good time."
I was floored. I told him, "Thanks, Mr.
Manzano, but I have plenty of money." I opened up my wallet and showed
him 60 bucks. He was genuinely surprised. Come to think of it, so was
I. He said, "Okay, I just wanted to make sure you had fun."
You see, Mr. Manzano was my unofficial
Godfather. He knew my parents had split up and I was being raised by a
single mother, so he looked out for me. I'm not Catholic or Italian,
but for some reason, Mr. Manzano and I connected. He liked me because I
was an athlete and a wiseass with a quick joke. And I liked him
because, like my dad, he was a big Sinatra fan and seemed, somehow,
like a lost member of the Rat Pack.
One day he asked me, "Hey, whipsnake, I
hear you caddy. Want to caddy for me?" I told him sure. "What do you
charge?" I told him ten bucks a round, but quickly added, "For you,
We went out to the Rohnert Park Golf
Course and played the 18 holes. At the end, he handed me ten bucks. I
said, "Mr. Manzano, I said I'd do it for five." He said, "Yeah, I know.
But you weren't the pussy sonofabitch I expected you to be."
As we walked up the hill to the clubhouse
after the 18th hole, I heard someone say, "Hey, Ray's here." Soon six
or seven guys surrounded us, waiting to hear one of Ray's notorious
jokes or put-downs. I tell you, the only person I ever saw more popular
on the golf course than Ray Manzano, Sr. was Lee Travino, Jr.
"Hey, Marty, how's the divorce working
out? I heard you were still seeing Mrs. Thumb and her four daughters."
Or, "Bob, you're as useless as two tits on a boar. I see you got new
clubs. I guess the old ones are in the lake, where you threw them when
you figured out how well you play the game." And then the stories came,
"Hey, I got a hole-in-one on 14, just ask the kid."
"Ahhh... yeah that's right," I said.
"See? I've got a witness. And it only cost
me ten bucks."
Although very athletic, Mr. Manzano was
only about 5-foot-8, tops, and I'm probably being generous. Every
chance I got, we'd arm wrestle, but he always won. The last time I
tried I was 25, he was 47, and I still lost.
"Hey, whipsnake. See if you can do this."
He had this little trick where he'd lie on the floor, grab a leg of a
chair with one hand and lift it up. I never could do that and still
can't. It takes unbelievable wrist strength.
We kind of lost touch after I went into
the Air Force, and that's my fault. I always thought I'd come back and
see the Manzanos after I was successful, but since I never became
successful, that meant I only saw them at weddings -- mine, Ray
Junior's first wedding, and his second one.
But one night I happened to wander into
Michelle's Restaurant and ran into Mr. Manzano. He waved me over,
bought me a drink and introduced me to some of his goombahs at the
bar. How cool was that? After we had a few drinks, four or five I
guess, I excused myself. "I've got to get going, Mr. Manzano." He said,
"Hey, whipsnake, you can call me Ray." I looked at him a minute and
said, "You know, I really can't. See you later, Mr. Manzano."
To this day, the Manzanos are the only two
people on the planet I call Mr. and Mrs. It's about respect, I guess.
The last time I saw Mr. Manzano was at
Ray's second wedding in 1990. He seemed glum. "You know, Mike, I've had
a good life."
"What do you mean? What are you, in your
fifties? You still have a lot of life left."
"Naw, I've had a good life." I couldn't
understand then, but I understand now. Getting old sucks.
There's more to this story, but the e-mail
I got from Ray Jr. last week tells it better than I ever could:
- Hi Mike,
- Well, it finally happened. My dad drank
himself to death. He died at 10:25 P.M., October 31, 1999 on Halloween
- We had done home hospice with him. It's
a great program for the one dying, having all his loved ones around
when he goes instead of a cold sterile empty room of a hospital. But
for the living, I'm not so sure. I watched dad turn yellow as his liver
gave out. He went from 198 pounds to about 150 pounds in a matter of
weeks, and was nearly in a comatose state, with all the drugs we were
- He still kept bringing up his two empty
fingers to his mouth, like he was trying to take a drag from a
cigarette. Then it got worse as he labored to breathe and his lungs
filled with liquids. He made those gargling sounds, gasping for deeper
breaths every so often. This went on for about two days. Of course,
about a month and a half ago the doctor said he only had about a week
- I remember visits with him when I
served him at least five drinks, and when I stopped he'd get into his
walker and go make some more himself. Some people are just too
stubborn. Anyway, tomorrow we're having a memorial service for him.
It's going to be hard for this wasteful-son-of-a-bitch to say the right
things about who my dad was and how he was.
- Mom and I came across photos of you
from proms, turnabout dances, and homecomings -- you were so pretty
when you dressed up. And mom remembers when you came to live with us,
and the night you came home drunk. While you were outside the house in
a bad state, she went back inside and made you a martini, since you
were such a accomplished drinker at that time. Of course, you began
throwing-up all over the front lawn.
- Anyway, I just wanted you to know about
dad, because even though you weren't his son he was proud of you and
your wrestling. You know how athletic he was. He boxed and played
football for the Navy, held the NBL record for pole vaulting at Santa
Rosa High for a number of years, and played semi-pro football for the
Petaluma Leghorns. Not to mention all the bar fights he got into.
- Well, maybe you can make some kind of
joke out of this for your column to remember dad by.
No, man, I can't make a joke at all. But I
will add this: the ranks are thinning, the walls are closing in, and
the Jack Daniels doesn't taste quite so good tonight.
* * *
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This column aims to be funny. If
you can read anything else into it, you're on your own.