where the writers are
Father's Day

My dad lives in a series of old moments, endlessly looping. At the nursing home we talk about sneaking into the Foothill Theater in Oakland, Sea School at the San Diego Marine Base, shenanigans at Waikiki before the war, driving the length of old Highway 61 with an injured dog in the back seat, memories pretty much all recorded by 1950.

My dad also exists in my own mind a series of old moments. Responding with a genial "Oh yeah?" as I retold funny Bullwinkle lines through the bathroom door, hiking silently up the endless slope to Swiftcurrent Pass as I babbled out some inchoate tale of high adventure I'd just thought of, driving me to see King Kong at a revival house in the depressed heart of San Jose and telling me how he first started noticing that directors had personal styles watching Warner Brothers movies in the '30s (probably at the Foothill Theater he'd just snuck into).

He was emotionally pretty remote but physically present when I needed him and mentally present when I'd talk about something he cared about. He taught me a lot of little things and two big ones. A certain toughness, an ability to guard yourself just enough so you could keep taking punches until the other guy wore down (there was a Marine Corps story about about that too, the day he earned the nicknamed "Rugged Jones"). And how to see things critically but with affection: why good stories work, how characters come to life, when passions turn phony, how to love what you love no matter what it is. Bullwinkle, King Kong, Gunga Din, Benny Goodman, Ernie Kovacs, Mel Brooks, Moby Dick.

The first one has gotten me through a lot, although I learned it only half way; because I also picked up my mom's tendency toward self pity and drama, and, really, because I've usually learned more by getting hurt than by not. The second, though, that's still central to me. It's what makes me write and how I look at my own writing.

My dad and I can't share any thoughts about that anymore. We still have Gunga Din, though. That brilliant scene where Cary Grant struts alone into a temple full of murderous Thuggees and calls, "You're all under arrest!" Watching that together, and him making me notice it, is still in his loop of moments and mine.