Wednesday, March 28, 2007


John was born in San Francisco in 1920 to Irish immigrant parents. He had two brothers and two sisters. His stern, devoutly Catholic mother, Mary, worked as a telephone operator. During Prohibition, his cheerfully alcoholic father, Frank, ran a speakeasy near Seal Stadium. After Prohibition was repealed, Frank ran a legitimate bar called The Balboa Club in The Sunset District. Mary never once set foot in either establishment.

John likes to say, "There are three kinds of Irishmen. The ones who are too friendly, the ones who aren't friendly at all, and bartenders." Eventually, Frank gave away too many drinks and lost his bar, so he began working as a bartender. "Everybody liked him. He worked all over town. He was known as the life of the party." He was also known to pass out drunk at work, although John refers to it as, "sitting at the bar, sleeping." It was my father who usually had to carry him home. "But," he says, "that's OK."

John speaks romantically about the Great Depression. I suppose that's because both his parents had jobs, so they weren't as badly off as many. He went to St. Ignatius High School and two years of Junior College before Pearl Harbor was bombed and he and his brothers enlisted for service. Fran joined the Navy, Bobby joined the Marines and John joined the Air Force, serving as a bomber pilot in the European Theatre. All three sons came home alive and relatively unharmed. To this day, John talks about his experience in the war almost constantly. When I was a kid he told me he personally killed Hitler. He also once told me he designed our swimming pool to look like a part of some river he flew over in Africa, and I believed him until someone told me it was just kidney-shaped.

After the war, John returned to San Francisco. John loves the city, but he likes to tell you how the beatniks ruined it. I'm not sure exactly what he did there between the end of the war and the late 50's, when he met Trudy, but I do know there was a lot of drinking, clubbing, and, "running around with cute broads." Once in a while he likes to show me the clipping from Herb Caen's column calling him an, "eligible bachelor about town."

John is 6'2 and slender. He has one brown eye and one green eye. He can wiggle his eyebrows one at a time on command. He can't lift his right arm over his head since he broke his collarbone in a plane crash during the war. He always carries a handkerchief in his pocket and he was a snappy dresser until sometime during his late 70's, when he took to wearing Sansabelt slacks, loud Tommy Bahamas shirts, Adidas with white socks, and giant eyeglasses he must have picked up at Rite Aid, which are always smudged and look a little crooked.

John smokes cigars. He gave up cigarettes before I was born because, "Cigarettes'll kill you." Cigars, he is convinced, won't kill him because he doesn't inhale. Trudy doesn't allow smoking in her house, so he used to spend most of his time at home smoking in the backyard with a book, or in his car in the driveway, listening to the radio.

John sings all the time. He loves Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and any mixed tape I happened to throw in the cassette player in the car as a teenager. He doesn't care for Frank Sinatra and was once thrown out of a Vegas Casino showroom for heckling him.
He says country music is for rubes, but that's only because Trudy listens to it. To tease her, whenever John sneezes he yells, "Aha! San Antone!" Trudy loves Bob Wills, Maddox Brothers and Rose, Hank, Lefty, Buck Owens, Patsy and Loretta Lynn because, "She's a coal miner's daughter too." She hates Tammy Wynette because, "She's such a victim."

John is an atheist. He taught me that believing in God is exactly like believing in the Easter Bunny. "Except people who believe in the Easter Bunny don't go out and kill other people in his name!" Whenever Jehovah's Witnesses came to our door, he'd invite them inside and then lecture them on how they were being oppressed. Both my grandmothers regularly gave my dad grief for not having me baptized. I finally suggested to him that maybe he should do it just to make them happy. "I mean, what's the big deal?" He stared down at me, smiling, and said, "You want to be baptized?" Then he dipped his fingers in his scotch and splashed me on the forehead and on both shoulders. "There you go, kid. You're baptized."

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