The following is an excerpt from our upcoming memoir, Song of the Lukewarm Potsticker. It is about the father shared by both Matt Ufford and Spencer Hall: a poet, a madman, a city bus driver, a man fond of grooming himself with a soldering iron, the color orange, and the man who made us who we are today. For the first time, we share excerpts from the intensely personal story of our father, who is currently fighting a mail fraud charge we are sure he is innocent of in every way.
My father would drink. He liked to drink. When he became drunk, he became mean. He would curse at only the brown tiles on the floor, because he was a racist, and would slap my mother until she bled. And by my mother, I mean my father. He would slap himself.
It was indescribably brutal.
To please him, I played sports. At first, I tried diving. I remember my first diving match event. My father screamed at me from the stands. “Where’s your helmet?” I tried to explain to him that in diving, you didn’t need a helmet.
“The little man in the aquarium has a helmet!” he insisted.
“We’re not in an aquarium!” I screamed back.
“Don’t question me in front of your mother!” he said, pointing to a man in his mid-fifties named Harold sitting in the stands.
I jumped that day with a forty-five pound diving bell around my head. When I hit the water, I broke my jaw and fell unconscious to the bottom of the pool. My old man had a way of teaching me lessons about determination like this. He also carried a cattle prod with him, and would use it on anyone who disagreed with him while insisting they call him “Neptune Jones.”
Neptune Jones, you dreamer you. I can’t hear a bug zapper without feeling the warmth of remembered love spreading through my pants. Love is what I call it, at least, and it gets me thrown out of public pools who don’t understand my story.
Then I played baseball. I remember my first game like it was my last game, like it was the last time I would be with my father, like some golden flake of divine forehead dandruff floating from the head of God, if God had God-eczema and really had to scratch, and it all fell from his forehead, but you know without burning like big asteroids made of dead God-skin when they re-entered the atmosphere.
Also, when the flaming chunks of God-skin came down, they didn’t crush anyone or fall into anything critical to national security. If my father taught me nothing besides determination, it was faith.
In addition to this, he taught me how to clean a fish with a set of standard house keys.
I tried to make him happy playing baseball. I stood there, dazed in right field. The ball headed right to me. Thinking of Proust, I smelled madeleines, and not the urine of fear running down my leg, nor of the wolves standing mere feet away.
Where I played baseball, wolves were an unending threat. There was also a French bakery in right field. This phantasmagoria was my childhood.
I struck out, a perfectly common embarrassment made humiliating by the fact that I hadn't noticed my teammates had switched my bat with a three-foot salami
My father was so drunk and angry that day. He left the stands and walked home all the way to his native Finland.
He killed many bottles along the way. And men. And whales. And men inside of whales. My father was his own Jonah, and alcohol was the whale, except that he drank the whale, presumably from a huge metaphorical chalice or paper bag.
Trying to understand him, I joined the crew of an illegal Japanese whaling boat. They taught me love, the art of tattoo, and how to fire 120 pounds of rocket-propelled metal through the heart of a slow-moving sea mammal. It's why I've been divorced three times.
I left the boat with a strong back and a weakness for Asian schoolgirls. I miss it sometimes. I'll go down to the Florida Keys, rent a tuna can with an outboard motor, and cruise inlets looking for manatees. You can stroke them, and they'll let your scratch their bellies. They're like big, amiable sea cattle, really! Just like a cow, especially in the way they bleed for hours when you shoot them with a gun.
Oh, I guess I should mention that my dad divorced my mom forty years ago, rejected me as his son, re-married, raised a healthy happy family, and died peacefully in his sleep having never spoken to me again. Not exactly the closure I was looking for, but whatever.
He was also not the man I referenced earlier. That was Steve. Steve's pretty cool, actually. My god, can that man smack the scabs off a leper!
Guess I should have made that clearer. I apologize.
Song of the Lukewarm Potsticker by Spencer Hall and Matt Ufford will be released by Harper Collins later this summer.