When my dad turned 50 he was a Pizza Hut delivery man. I was 16. I worked down the street at Chuck E Cheese — making pizza and entertaining kids in a costume. Prior to being to being pizza guys my dad was a machinist and I was an idiot teenage chicken fryer and cashier.
My dad’s career ended with union busting, computers and robots in the 80s. He’d started a business with his dad fixing cash registers when they were still made of lots of Babbage like gears and springs. It was precious work for those with the patience, eye, and engineering chops — it isn’t right until everything works perfectly. I was an apple that definitely fell further than the tree of machining. Mostly doing talent shows, comedy bullshit and putting pickles on my head to irritate nearby adults, I wasn’t an engineer. Sure, I was an eager and early math wiz doing my sisters’ algebra in elementary school but that was always for show. I am an actor, a bullshit artist. My real career started by a dare from my older brother to “see if [I] could get a job when [I] turned eligible” and my willingness as a provocateur to do anything for attention. Obviously that’s why my first w2 job was for “Chicken Plus” frying chickens and making crinkle fries while telling jokes and doing all manner of things to “sell more.”
The summer leading into my junior year of high school my parents decided to return from my mom’s job-driven tenure in Miami, FL to Aurora, CO. (the story of my mom’s journey is beyond the scope of this essay.) It was a jarring move (hell, it was a bizarre couple of years in Miami… my dad had a heart bypass at age 45, and that was the smallest issue.) As a family we had taken a beating getting back to Colorado. Luckily I’d earned enough from that job and various other odd jobs to afford a down payment on our family’s rent for a town house back in Colorado. Yup. Full on 6 kids in…my mom, with her Phi Beta Kappa honors and some law school under her belt and my dad with that associates degree, start up with his dad experience, and incredible engineering knowledge couldn’t completely afford a move into a neighborhood that had a decent school and available work. It was 1993, before dotcoms and apps and every other way to “make money online.” We were strapped and couldn’t bootstrap it.
As a family we figured it out then, by a hair. — I sort of learned early on in my formative years that your own two hands can provide an incredible amount for those you care about. (I’m skipping over a tremendous amount of family history with my many brothers and sisters, but by 1993 it was me, my younger brother and my parents as the at home nuclear family.)
And then someone shot my co-workers in the face at Chuck E Cheese (another long story I’ve written about and hate to revisit.) My dad was the sole pizza guy in the family after that. I couldn’t work more as I wanted really badly to be a high school kid and graduate and do theater… and everything you hope you can do when the world still tells you the world is your oyster. My dad kept delivering pizzas.
I hate the smell of pizza hut pizzas because my dad, in his crooked visor, always smelled like broken cars and old luke warm pizza hut. I often think of his withered wrinkled face after a night of shitty tips and races around the city. I’d be watching Letterman or something and he’d be there in his maroon fake polo. That’s my dad, doing whatever it took. That’s me, doing whatever I could. “Don’t spend more time bitching than it takes to do something,” he once said when I was washing a car when I was in 5th grade… and that statement hangs there between us evermore.
Back then even in the shit times my dad made sure I had books that blew my mind. I always remember when he gave me “A Brief History of Time.” In all my dad’s failures to be The Most Amazing Guy Ever he found a way to get that book into my hands which changed the course of my life more than anything. That book lives on my front shelf today, in faded pages and earmarked ideas. Back then even though I was struggling to make ends meet with my parents I knew that if you thought hard enough some things would be revealed to you.
My dad went on to be a cashier at casinos and a variety of other “get it done jobs.” I went onto get a mathematics degree and do a variety of insanely crazy and cool science and business things. When we talked during the “cool” years he was always counting someone else’s money and I was always in the midst of doing something great. I always thought about him with his crooked grin and gapped tooth and his aphorisms that seemed so quaint but right. No matter the situation his always hard worked greasy hands and face and neck and hair stood out, working. My dad always looked like he worked hard, with his hands.
My dad isn’t dead. I know, it seems like it based on the tense of this essay. I like to violate subject tense verb and every other grammar rule… on purpose…. Because of my dad. We live outside of time, he and I. We’ve always sorta just had a thing. He picks on me, I pick on him. Mostly we just insult each other in make believe — but out of love, as love. We were facebook before facebook. Because that’s what you do when you’re making ends meet when your dad is 50 and you’re a teenager and you both keep trying.
And so, after all these years and all these words, you, the reader, and my dad, the subject/object, wonder, What The Fuck is the point of this.
Ten years ago or so, I was talking to my dad on the phone, walking down the Santa Monica Promenade. It was a nice day and I had a smokin dotcom job. He didn’t. He had my mom. And they lived Somewhere Not In California. We talked a bit and it got heated. I was outside the Apple Store. I stopped.
He shouted and my ear-piece rang out:
“If You Don’t Have Money For Me You’ve Fucked Up!”
I killed the call. I killed my dad right then. I fucked up. I FUCKED UP. Fucked UP. Obviously he was wrong then and he’s wrong now. He’s so wrong. After a decade he’s wrong. So wrong. His Bernie Sanders hopes are wrong. His machined away by robots hopes are wrong.
I didn’t talk to my dad for weeks and months after that. My being was so scared. I’m sad now even thinking about that conversation he probably doesn’t remember now. I was devastated. I’d worked my fucking hands and face off for years to prove to my parents I could make it and how dare my dad not be able to acknowledge that and worse, not be able to do it himself. I did everything he urged me to do. I worked hard and I learned Stephen Hawking like science. I’d gone through University of Chicago Mathematics and done theater. MY DAD WAS WRONG.
Years later, you know with me having more jobs. (a career! God, so much career! Tech and Data and Science!) and two daughters, etc, my dad, as usual, turns out to be right. In 2011 I ended up spending a weekend in Houston with one of my best, lifelong friends. I entered his home and went straight to a chair. I wept for the first 4 hours, without much explanation other than I was exhausted. I was exhausted. Leave me alone and let me exhaust. How can one work 35 years and still be ungodly in debt, totally out of sync with any passionate career, and yet be well on the way in all obvious defined ways (amazing college, degree, corp career, family, housing…)? Yes, it’s possible I’m a lazy fool without any knowledge of econ (not!).
… but really my dad was and is still right. We Fucked Up. We Can’t Pay for Our Parents. We Can’t Pay.
We, as a culture, can’t at all pay for what we promised anyone. We keep doing that, as a culture. We tell anyone and everyone that the future is coming, just trust us. And yet, that future never comes. I am that future. I am the Super Awesome Republican Story of Making It Happen And Getting Independently Wealthy And Supporting Your Family And It All Works Out.
Except, it doesn’t.
You see, I’m 39. I’m half way done and I barely got out of debt. And really, not at all. I care about my parents and my wife’s parents and so we will take care of them and assume their debt, health and otherwise. That’s how life works, you ultimately pay the debts of those that made you, literally made you. That’s how you avoid that conversation from the future in which your kids call you, “dad, if you can’t help me you’ve fucked up.”
The political party matters less than you think. The ideology matters not at all. The philosophies are all sorta garbage. It’s really about what we all do on the ground, each day, that matters. And we have to all start needing and demanding less stuff. We need to have a revolution of LESS without the political system making that ok. Then again, like my dad before me, what do I know, I’m just a pizza guy. My dad and I are very good at making sure anyone that calls gets what they want as quickly as we can deliver it.
Until we can’t.
I love you, Dad. It is, indeed, a brief history of time.