Part 3 of The Genre of Silence, an essay.
My father drove a bus. Growing up he had been a night cook at the place where Westlake Mall now stands called the Copper Kitchen. It was a Seattle dinner with the theme of copper implements. My dad wore a white double breasted chef’s coat and a chef hat. Working nights, he had his days free to go hiking. My father was a cranky man, but the two things that he professed a deep love for were marijuana and the woods. The first time he smoked a joint in the late sixties, he said, was as if someone had removed a film from reality and revealed to him how existence was supposed to feel. He wanted to be that way all of the time. He liked the woods because they didn’t change. He could count on them to be as they had been and they would be that way when he came back to them. Naturally he liked to hike and smoke. My father kept a row of joints in his breast pocket and kept one going pretty much the entire he was in the woods.
It is fair to say that I wasn’t exactly sure what my father was like as an un-stoned man until my mid-twenties when he had to stop smoking because of his job driving the bus. He started driving the bus in 1979. My mom had gone back to school and taken a job in an office park earning more than him and that freaked him out. So, he got a job driving the bus. He liked driving bus. And for most of the 1980s, and into the early 1990s, could drive and smoke. Like any fastidious stoner – and one thing about real stoners is that they are a fastidious people when it comes to preparing and smoking pot –he knew where all of the greenbelts, vacant lots, and other secluded spots were where he could smoke. It was only because of truly random testing–and he told me they were being a bit suspicious of him already–that he had to stop in the mid-1990s. But he could not wait to retire and when he retired he wanted to be in the deep woods of the Central Cascades with a neatly lined up row of hydroponic joints.
My father, however, told stories about his hiking trips and they were the verbal equivalent of his photographs. They would go something like: “Well I got a late start that morning. I meant to wake up at the trailhead at 8:00 a.m., but actually slept until 8:00 and then didn’t get there until 9:30. I don’t know why I don’t just say that it was 9:30. It always takes me until 9:30 to get started.” And then he narrates the trip in painful detail up the switch backs, the state of the trail, and finally he arrives in the back country and he talks about his route across some remote ridge, and if you had a map — wait he’ll show you on the map — that it looks like a blot of contour lines and shading — and then he arrived at a lake he’d never been to before. He may describe the fish in the lake — rainbow and brook trout nearly every time. And that’s only half way, because he must narrate the entire trip back.
My father had been a chronic and in the 1980s began to sell hydroponic to a cocaine dealer. And so he had issues with his mood. He’d mellowed out to a highly functional alcoholic in his later years, but he was still a dick.
He got great delight from doing really mean things to people. He told me this story one time about driving a car off the road. People hate to get stuck behind the bus and so they would do all sort of strange things. One time there were two guys in a red convertible who were trying to get around his bus and my Dad wouldn’t let them pass. Finally, they entering 405 on a ramp and gunned their car to zip on the shoulder around his bus. My father edged the bus out slightly and their car tapped the front side of the bus and bounced. The bus was a large object planted firmly on the on ramp. The car tapped the bus at a poor angle, and was sent down the grass bank. They crashed with so much force the hood flew up. My Dad had pulled to one side and then checked the bus. There wasn’t even a scuff. The two guys were coming up the bank toward him, so he got in the bus and kept driving. Later the police pulled him over and he said, “Yeah they drove off the road. People do the weirdest thing around buses.” My Dad thought this story was hilarious.
And so being the son of a man like this wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.
Around the time I stopped talking to my Dad, he was visiting and in the middle of his hiking stories. My daughter, who was about six, wanted to get his attention. She kept waiting for a hole in his conversation. It didn’t happen. She made some kind of face. He kept going. Finally, she kind of gave up and went to another room. My dad was still talking about the trip.
I would listen, thinking presented with so much detail, so much that seems so important to this man, there must be something I don’t get in the trips up and down mountainsides. There must be something.
In 2011 my father died while at work. He was sixty-one years old and about four years off from his dream of getting into the woods. He had a heart condition, but didn’t know it. In the last months of his life he was in pain and drew a picture of how he imagined his tormentor. A chronic heart condition can result in acid-reflux and his throat was scarred and in constant pain as a result. He was in the bullpen at the King Country Metro East base and was on his way to a second shift–an overtime shift. He stopped and then spiraled his arms and collapsed and was unresponsive. Although he was still alive when the EMTs arrived, he died before he reached the Overlake Hospital next to 405 in Bellevue.
Among his papers he kept referring to a creature that lived in his throat, and here is a picture he drew of it.