If asked about God, the 10-year-old inside me would pull a picture of my dad.
Even today, I relate my highest and happiest moments with Him. Granted, my father’s mythical majesty was often fueled by a potent combination of coke, booze, pot, pills, horse…and any hottie he could get his hot blooded hands on.
My mom used to say, “Ya’ dad has a Mars in Leo, and a Venus is Scorpio. That’s PROSTITUTE astrology!”
Dad taught me a lot over the years: how to drink…how to drive…how to drink and drive; how to get through customs with a dozen joints in my underwear; how to seduce women – probably the least practical for me (especially at 12).
My dad was so smooth he seduced my mom’s sister after he and my mom separated…
So smooth, he talked my mother, his ex-wife, into setting them up. I guess mom, being part of the free-love era, figured at least it’s a family affair.
So she told her sister, in a touching letter, to “embrace the love.” Well…not long after mom bestowed her blessing, the pot and positive vibrations wore off. A 20 year epic battle ensued that could rival the romantic tales of Mt Olympus.
Dad played hard, but he also worked hard. He was an uptown boy, but a self-made man. He was first at his college to graduate night-school in 2 years (while working full-time and pumping gas on the weekends).
When he was 23, he converted the ol’ Buck 49 steakhouse into another New Orleans classic, finishing the renovation in two weeks…
Thankfully the restaurant was an instant hit, despite being told by his own father days before opening, “Ya’ gonna’ fail.”
No matter how successful Dad became, like his Sicilian grandparents before him, he continued to build his fortune with his hands, cooking over a hot stove, and on his knees with no gloves scrubbing the floors with boric acid.
Silver Hawk, Chaya’s lover, who stayed with us one summer, once called Dad a “capitalist pig”, which prompted Dad to enter frame at the farm in the biggest black Cadillac he could rent, fish-tail-parking on the gravel driveway, blasting Peter Gabriel and drinking a Heineken.
Knocking the wind out of me with a big bear hug, he whispered in my ear: “I gotta’ box of Snickers in the car.” Then he winked, shot me a high-five, while I covered a growing grin with my hands.
As Mom watched the scene unfold, she slowly exited, rolling her eyes while murmuring, “Daddy Warbucks is in town.”
When I visited New Orleans, I spent most of my time in Mandeville, with Dad’s entourage of friends and rotating girlfriends.
Dad lived on 90 acres of marshland about 30 miles outside of New Orleans, where pine trees and ancient oaks stretched for miles.
There was an old abandoned mansion on the land with a watery dungeon we called “The Castle”. It was built, but never finished, in the 1930s by a Louisiana politician who embezzled state money.
There were alligators, snakes, deer, fox, bobcat, coyotes and lots of bugs.
Once, during a wild party at the Castle, my Uncle Mark was chased into the bayou by a boar.
Almost everyday we’d take a slow boat ride through the bayou, inhaling the same atmosphere as thousands of flowers and trees. Sometimes Pink Floyd would play softly in the background, and other times we’d quietly watch the white egrets, while floating under twisted wooden canopies and cascading grey moss…
Here is the heart of the Ozone Belt, an area known for its healing air and highest lightening-strike frequency in the country.
As soon as we’d hit the lake, Dad would gun the accelerator, turn the music up, and yell above the racing winds, “Wooo hoooo!” Frankie and I would trade turns taking over the wheel, as Dad would follow, zigzagging behind on a solitary ski.
Sometimes Dad’s friends would come along for the ride, and when everyone had enough of the water and had drunk all the beer, we’d turn the music down again and watch the moody sky turn many colors…
I felt so alive back then. It was like life had background music…
*Video edited by Tom Vanasse
Dad’s creativity was often on overdrive:
“Wait till ya’ read this rock opera I’m writin’ Deli. It’s about Diana, Goddess of the HUNT. And wait till ya’ see what we’re gonna’ do to the Castle! I’m making it into a 5-star resort. It’s gonna’ be called FOUNTAINHEAD…”
“Glass brick, stainless steel, and chrome…the walls’ll be transparent so ya’ feel like you’re in water. I want a BIG beautiful onyx statue of Neptune, pointin’ a laser beam into the stars to guide people comin’ across the lake on hover crafts to the mouth of the bayou. I’m gonna’ gut the island and build a Greek-style amphitheater with torches and state-of-the-art light and sound. Everyone’s gonna’ want to play here: U2, Genesis, even Olivia Newton-Ja’wn if you want. And me and ma’ baby girl will always have the best seats in the house!”
Granted…much of Dad’s energy was being stoked by certain substances Frankie and I knew were “bad”, but also expensive – so while we diluted his drinks, we usually spared the plastic bags of white powder from disappearing down the toilet.
Sometimes these substances caused him to see things. But somehow, Dad could turn scary scenes into fantastic fantasies:
“Deli, get this…I was out in the woods last night and I swea’ I saw a space-age army of aliens truckin’ through the trees, comin’ straight for me! They had these little lights swirlin’ all ova’ their uniforms, circlin’ their shoulda’ epaulets…then I realized – it was the FIREFLIES. It was too cool.”
Life with Dad could be as dangerous and unpredictable as it was exciting. One minute, we’d be driving through the Desire projects, while throwing footballs to kids out the drop top…and the next, he’d have a fist fight on the Causeway bridge with a man twice his size.
I now know my dad was much more than the God-image I created. He was quite human with many demons. Despite my efforts to keep the fantasy alive, a heartbreaking reality began to reveal itself.
Yet, at one time, he was my lifeline. As long as we could stay high above the stormy waters that lurked below his spirited surface, I felt safe with him. Maybe it was that I felt loved. Whatever it was, as time moved on, more and more of my energy was spent trying to keep him safe from himself. I continued to dilute his drinks, monitor his speed…his drugs…his state of mind…. When he’d lose hope, I’d always be there reminding him of how great life was…with him in it.
He became my addiction. When he was high, so was I. The rock n’ roll background music was ON! Yet, when he was down and under, I absorbed him even more, doing everything within my young powers to bring us back for breath. At some point silently, I promised: You are not alone. I will suffer along side you.
Eventually the weight of his pain was too heavy for either of us to bear. As with any high-speed ride, a terrible crash was around the corner…