My sweet and unfamiliar trip down memory lane
by Gary Huerta
I’ve never been accused of being a saccharin writer. I generally shy away from happy endings. Well, not all happy endings. In truth, I’d like to think my columns come from the intersection of a Venn diagram containing the elements of sarcasm, irony and disdain.
To illustrate the point, the original incarnation of my first novel was a 476-page rant about the messy nature of a vindictive, bitter divorce. I viciously dissected my main character, his future ex, his lack of moral fiber, somewhat questionable career choices and his obsession with “manscaping.” In an attempt to put a positive spin on my volcanic diatribe, I called it a fable.
My weekly column regularly confronts and eggs on local political figures. And at work, I’m not known as the guy who walks down the halls skipping and dancing. But come to think of it, no one where I work is that guy.
So it was with a large amount of self-astonishment that I found myself gazing fondly at the collection of memorabilia sitting on the shelves behind my desk. It was this visual stroll down the memory lane of my own life that inspired me to attempt writing a column with a sugary aftertaste. Perhaps it was the Jack Daniels.
Or maybe it was a morbid curiosity to see if I could actually challenge myself to write a thousand words that didn’t end with me calling someone or something a Douchey McShitenberg.
Yep. It was definitely the Jack Daniels.
Before I shoot my verbal wad on the sweet, sentimental climax of this story, I should further divulge that I am not a packrat and possess only a handful of items that I consider truly worthy of keeping until I take my last breath in this body.
From the very beginning, I’ve always maintained what I consider to be a relatively healthy detachment to worldly possessions. When I was about 15, I gathered up a token amount of things from my life up until then, and put them in a box approximately 10x10x6 inches. That’s right. 15 years of existence into less than ½ cubic foot of space. Ironically, I stored it in the attic of my parent’s house and when my father sold it last year, I tried to retrieve it but it was nowhere to be found.
Among the items lost forever were an autograph obtained from Merlin Olsen while he was still playing with the Los Angeles Rams, a few ticket stubs to some of the more significant events in my young life and six small Spanish knight figurines I got in Madrid during my only trip to Europe when I was 11. The remaining contents of that little box are unknown to me – which only reinforces my nihilistic attitude towards memorabilia.
So what items have I deemed worth hanging onto here in the adult version of myself? I’ve got a few pictures of me as a younger, fitter man atop horses, running marathons and riding in 50 mile bike rides through Mexico. I keep these to prove to myself that I was once capable of athletic feats that would today kill me. I have pictures of good friends and of course, pictures of my children during the various happy moments of their lives.
There’s a nice picture of my girlfriend flanked by a prosperity Buddha and an elaborate MacDonald family crest painted and carved in wood. Side note: In 4th grade I once tried to pass the crest off as my own creation. Because of the intricacy of the piece, this was a lie so preposterous to this day I don’t know what I was even thinking trying to convince people the crest was the work of an 11 year old.
Maybe I was drinking Jack Daniels.
I have a framed note from Jeff Bridges thanking me for writing material for him when he hosted a tribute to former Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald. There’s an autographed boxing glove from Oscar De La Hoya and yet another frame holds the signature of legendary lyricist Bernie Taupin.
As tribute to the few items I lost from my youth, I have a collection of six highly detailed model cars I got from a former client. The 1:18 scale classic replicas occupy prominent space on my shelves, standing in proxy for the Spanish knights, who were accidentally banished forever from my gaze and lost forever in the attic of he home where I spent the salad days of my youth.
I think the above sentence may have been my first real tinge of “Awww shucks” prose. And I even laced with Shakespearian allusion!
Of course there are various other tidbits, which have no real meaning to anyone but me – the menu I stole one New Year’s Eve from El Coyote, the first martini glass I ever bought, my Big Lebowski talking keychain and a small stone I picked up from my mother’s gravesite, which now sits in front of a framed photo of her. I gathered that stone during a solitary visit to the cemetery two years ago on her Birthday.
I’m really picking up the sentimental, honey-like pace, now.
But the aforementioned items of personal value pale in comparison to the two objects I treasure most of all. The first is a little drawing entitled “Cable Car” which innocently depicts a man holding his daughter’s hand as they ride one of the iconic symbols of San Francisco on his 50th birthday. The spare details of the illustration depict what was most important to the girl. The car is void of people except for herself, the man, his girlfriend and the cable car operator who stands diligently at the controls. The girl and father are standing happily on the outside, smiling and taking in the sights while the girlfriend happily watches.
And the most important memento — the one that eclipses the personalized autographs and Super Bowl ticket stubs and even my first novel, which I purposely placed between the works of my heroes Chuck Palhaniuk, Hunter S. Thompson and Cormac McCarthy — is nothing more than a three-inch circle of yellow construction paper hanging by a think felt braid of black string. On it is scrawled the words, “Coolest Dad.”
It’s the only medal I’ve ever won. I received it from my daughter’s 4th grade class after writing a column in our local paper about the experience of attending a performance where they portrayed historical figures in California history at their open house.
The medal dangles proudly down the front of the bookcase, help up by my souvenir cap from my trip to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans last April.
Every time I look at my little yellow seal of approval, I think of the 1955 movie, “Mr. Roberts,” which was based on a play and novel of the same name from the late 1940s. In it, there’s a scene where the title character writes a letter describing the feeling he gets when he looks at a fake medal given to him by his former crew as a symbol of their gratitude.
“Right now I’m looking at something that’s hanging over my desk. A preposterous hunk of brass attached to the most bilious piece of ribbon I’ve ever seen. I’d rather have it than the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
Now most of us have thought about what we’d take from our home if it were to catch fire. It’s one of those no-win questions. I can say with great assurance that if I were to have only a few seconds to get out safely, I’d grab my “Coolest Dad” award and my most valuable piece of art entitled “Cable Car.” The Rauschenberg hanging in the hall can burn for all I care.
As confessed early on: I am a man who cares little for personal belongings. But I would very much like to have those two things with me for the rest of my life.
And with that, I close my one and only sugary column, and end this short journey down the unfamiliar waters of pleasant prose. I now happily turn back towards the sardonic shores I call my literary home.