“Swamis” & RSRD; A Cutback Wraparound

I continue to tighten my manuscript. This is something I cut. Because, some day, in some quite obviously self-imagined and delusional future, publishing it here might be prove to be instructional; and really, truthfully, because I have severe Written Stuff Retentive Disorder (RSRD), and hate to just throw stuff I’ve written into some dark void; because I feel the need to explain where stuff came from and why I thought this stuff needed to be in “Swamis,” the novel, originally. But, without explaining why it now needs to be cut, here’s… this:

No, not quite yet. I steal stories from other people’s lives, rearrange stories from my own. My father is not the same person as Joseph DeFreines. No, but the story is stolen (or adapted) from a real life incident, one in which my father was sent home, quite bruised up, after an altercation on his Civil Service job with the then phone service on Camp Pendleton, run with civilian workers and Marine supervision. My father’s boss was always a Marine. The phone service has long been since taken over by corporate providers.

One of the Marines assigned to the crew did refuse my father’s kind request to get off of the backhoe. Somehow, in the incident, someone wrapped a chain, at speed, around my dad. He came home bruised. There was an investigation; mostly, I have to guess, on how polite my father actually was in his request. The “So, not a fair fight then?” quote is probably pretty accurate.

My father kept his job, retired from it.

The story was meant to show something about the character of Officer and then Detective DeFreines. The story of an incident between Joseph DeFreines, Junior and another Little League player was one of several anecdotes showing how Joey/Jody DeFreines, particularly when he was younger, was capable of violence. That background information would, hopefully, set up some tension going forward in the novel as the situations become more intense.

I took (or stole) the nickname Shiner from a guy I was in the local Volunteer Fire Department with. I never asked him where the name came from, never really had a run in with him… except that one time, when I borrowed his turnout gear and climbed under a car with a severe gas leak. Shiner was pissed, the gear was… well, it may or may not have been salvageable. Shiner and I do exchange nods or more when we run into each other at the Quilcene Post Office. So…

Stolen image: Other kids’ parents misbehaving

My father didn’t tell war stories from the World War II or Korea. “Long gone,” he would say. He created new stories. With the driest, wryest sort of expression he would retell ‘The Kindly Step Out of My Car’ story.

I was thirteen, had just started board surfing, and my mom promised she would take us to Tamarack, but only after we went to Freddy’s little league game. I had been removed from my team after an incident. The discussion between the coach and my father ended with my father saying, “No, I won’t let him quit; you have to say you’re kicking him off.” Decided.

My mom guilted my dad into meeting us at Freddy’s game. “It is in Vista, Joseph. You work in Vista.” He showed up, fourth inning. Some kid’s dad was three innings drunk and belligerent, screaming at players and coaches and umpires from the right field fence.  

To calm the Drunk Dad down, my dad walked him over to the parking lot. He did not invite Drunk Dad to sit inside his brand-new unmarked car, and especially not in the front seat.

“With him ready to puke and all, I did, politely, ask the gentleman to, kindly, step out of my car.”

At this point there would be a pause or a switch in tone, or an actual wink.  

My mom and some Fallbrook folks and I watched from the left field bleachers. Vista folks grouped up on the right field side. We couldn’t really hear what was said. Pantomime. Several Vista Dads headed toward the show. A Friend of the Drunk Dad, also drunk, hit my father across the back (three cracked ribs) with a bat (all were wooden in those days- hickory, mostly), and, when my father turned around and requested a fair fight, politely; smack (severely bruised left arm).

In telling this story, my dad, in his professional and quite monotone voice, would say, “At that point, the gentleman did get out of my car, but decided to tackle me from behind. So, I’m on the ground, I look up at these two, um, citizens, and I say…”

On the various occasions when my dad would break into this story, someone would finish his quote. “So, not a fair fight, then?”

Both of the Drunk Dads ended up on the ground, a foot on one (broken jaw), a bat (in my dad’s left hand) tight against the chest of the other (bruised sternum). 

My father’s next line was, “So, the judge asks me if I’m sure I said, ‘kindly’ in a polite sort of way. Since he’d already given the Drunk Dads total exoneration and the Sheriff’s Office, worried about being sued, had paid for all their medical expenses, I said, ‘Judge; when I say kindly, I don’t always say it… politely.’” 

He told the story enough times that the pauses were appropriately placed, the timing perfect.  “Politely.” 

Because I do tell stories, here is “More Tits, Bobby:”

“You shouldn’t have run,” my father said, “it made you look guilty.” Oh, we were. I was eleven (1962), my down the block neighbor, Bobby Hudson (who got away, temporarily) and I had been digging through my dad’s assortment of “National Geographic” magazines in one of the big greasy drawers in the old Post Office oak desk that became the base for the garage workbench.

“It was Bobby’s idea. He was finding the pictures, I was just…”

“Looking? Yes. Junior, I heard ‘More tits, Bobby,’ from outside.”

I didn’t consider, at the time, why my dad kept those particular issues, each one containing at least one topless ‘native,’ in that drawer.

The “Just Smile” story:

This was, again, the summer of 1965. I was almost fourteen, had started surfing, but was expected to live up to my commitment and to graduate from Little League to Pony League baseball. That didn’t happen.

“Anger is almost always because we’re mad at ourselves,” my father said. I hadn’t told the Coach and wouldn’t tell my dad why I punched out the kid from Rainbow, wouldn’t tell him what the kid called me. I knew I didn’t have to.

“The next time someone gives you… guff,” my dad said, as he exited and I was about to enter the one bathroom at our Magarian tract house, “just smile. Really. Laugh; it’s even better.”

“So, he wins?”

“He’s still on the team. Is that winning?”

“But Dad, see; I did do that. I did… smile.”

I wanted to cry; knew I couldn’t cry in front of him. He knew I’d cry if he left. He stayed. We practiced my smile at the bathroom door mirror, trying to find, so we could eliminate it, the one I gave the kid from Rainbow before I smacked him with his own glove.

“That one, Junior; that is one scary fucking smile.”

It was the first time he used any swear word at all in front of me. It was an evil, crazy smile. I tried to hold it, broke into a laugh. And my dad laughed.

“Half of that, that would be perfect. People like that; they have to know you mean business but you’re holding back.”

“Here’s my… on-the-job smile.” Confident, with a faked friendliness, his eyes moving, calculating. Anyone receiving that smile would have to know Joseph DeFreines was capable, if necessary, of violence. “Practice, Junior; and, really, don’t feel like you have to get even. If you knew that kid’s family, um, situation, you’d… save your guilt and, and your anger… for something bigger.”

Guilt?  I hadn’t felt particularly guilty for hitting the Kid from Rainbow, or for striking out of Little League.

“Oh, incidentally,” my father said, with a slightly less friendly version of the same smile, “since you’re freed up from baseball, I’ve signed you up for Devil Pups.” He did a little marching move on the way out of the hallway. “One two three four… one two… three four.”

“Nip,” the Rainbow Kid called me, again, two days later, in the cafeteria; loud enough for those in the vicinity to hear. He was smiling, others were laughing. “Jap,” he added.

I sat down next to my tormentor, squeezing another Rainbow kid over. Rainbow, for reference, is an area East of Fallbrook, out on highway 395, now Interstate 15, south of Temecula, which is now huge. I set my metal tray of food in front of me, looked at each of his friends until they looked away, looked at him, at his swollen eye. If he didn’t look as if he’d take his words back, he did look a bit worried as I moved even closer.

I know I had my new smile on my face. Practice. “Shiner,” I said, and laughed.

There was a pause. I waited. Patiently, eyes on the Kid.

“Shiner,” someone else said; then another; everyone at the table except Shiner laughing.

And then Shiner laughed. The nickname stuck. Shiner. Never surfed. Became a civilian Firefighter at Camp Pendleton.

Okay, so the “More Tits” portion: True stuff, based on my neighbor, Bobby Turner, and me going through Bobby’s father’s collection of “National Geographic;” definitely porn for eleven year olds.

I have, incidentally, figured out a way to include a condensed version of the “Kindly” story in with the STUFF currently in the manuscript.

PREVIEW: I am working on a piece on the most disputed part of surf etiquette; THE BACKPADDLE. No, I am not admitting to any guilt; merely pointing out the subtleties. Soon.

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