Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Subconscious

I found myself at the aquarium, once.  I don't remember having children with me, so I must have been on a date.  Probably not a good one.  Surely, I'd have remembered more fun.

In a section of the building where they keep the big fish, my attention was drawn to a yellowing poster - an org chart of aquatic creatures.  Right in the middle of the diagram, large in scale and monochromatic in color, an illustration of a curious water beast known as Dall's Porpoise.

Among its fascinating physical attributes, those of which include being mistaken for a Killer Whale and in turn, experiencing difficulty making friends, I was struck by one thing, in particular.  The Dall Porpoise never sleeps.  It swims continuously without ever stopping.  Not even to be interviewed for a poster.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  They were describing my dad.

I stared into the adjacent tank, hoping to see this exquisite animal with my very own eyes. But the pool was empty.  I remember thinking to myself, "He must be at work."


Early one morning in 1979, Gene Dall fell asleep on the subway, going to the job. Around 3:45, he woke up to find some dude standing right in front of him.
"Hey, man.  Give me a dollar," the guy said.
My dad closed his eyes again, trying to mind his own business.
"Are you deaf, motherfucker?  I need money."
"I ain't got a dollar," Daddy told him.  "Take a walk."

I wish I knew what my father was thinking at that moment, but he never told me this story. My mother did.  What I do know is that Gene Dall was always tight with a buck.

"Listen, you're gonna give me your money.  'Cause if you don't, I'm gonna take my dick out and piss in your mouth."  Dude started to unzip his trousers.

My father looked up and down the length of the train.  There were two people seated, a man and a lady.  They were not traveling together.  In addition to the creep hassling my old man, there were two other punks, standing in each of the doorways that connected the cars.  One of them carried a metal pipe.  Dad was screwed. 

When Gene reached into the back of his pants, he pulled out his police issue Smith & Wesson Model 10 and pointed it at the guy's junk.
"You're not getting my wallet."

I've made a movie in my mind many times over, imaging what this scene must have looked like.  It is filmed in black and white, and my father's blood is red.

The Number 6 Local proceeds along Lexington Avenue, stopping every few blocks as it travels downtown.  At 116th Street, Gene Dall took the first of many blows from that pipe.  At 110th, those two other passengers bolted out of the train and up the stairs.  Remarkably, in the uneven exchange, my father managed to shoot one of the thugs in the shoulder.  But by the time the doors opened at 103rd Street, they'd beaten the living shit out of him.  They took his revolver and fled down the platform.

At 96th Street, the doors opened and closed.  86th and 77th Streets, the same.  He laid on the floor of the subway car, bleeding.  At 68th and Hunter College, he crawled to a pay phone, called in his shield number and passed out on the concrete.

When a police car stops in front of your house, it's never a good sign.  When they ring the doorbell and your dad's not home, it's fucked up.

"Mom, it's the cops," I yelled.
Big Mare took the stairs two at a time.
"Is he dead?" my mother asked the officers.  That's the only question you really need answered at that moment.
"No, ma'am.  He's been mugged."
I turned to my mother.  "Can we stay home?"
"Get your asses to school," she growled.


Later that afternoon, Judy and I rode into Midtown in a patrol car.  I suppose I tried to reassure my mother that everything would be okay, but I don't recall. Somehow, she'd gotten used to this kind of thing, and she dealt with it alone.  I couldn't help her.  No one could.  Emotionally, we were all pretty much on our own.

It was difficult to look at my father, laid up in that hospital bed.  His nose and jaw were broken, and he was missing some teeth.  They'd fractured his skull, and one of his eye sockets was dislocated.  With his jaw wired shut, Gene couldn't speak. He scratched a few things down on a little notepad the nurse had given him.

They had me.

Forgot my head.
Protecting the gun, he wrote.

He handed the paper to Big Mare.  She called him a stupid son of a bitch and thanked God that the train wasn't running express.  My old man probably would have been killed.

Another note:  Shouldn't have gone to sleep.

He smiled.

I pressed my forehead against the big glass window in my father's room.  I wrote my boyfriend's initials in the smudge that my oily teenage skin left behind.  I looked down into the dumpsters below the building.  I turned around and slumped down into a chair.  I don't know what I was feeling - kinda excited and kinda bored, I guess.  There was a cop standing in the hallway across from where I sat, protecting the man who tried to protect the gun.

Anxious and powerless, I couldn't wait to share what had happened with my friends.  To get a little comfort from somewhere.  Three guys were still out there, screwing around on my father's dime.  They made all this noise and mess.  Then, they disappeared, just like that.  They shook things up, boy.  That's for sure.  But we couldn't know just how much, not at the time.  Maybe not ever.  I'm still trying to figure it out.


How do you fix something like that when you're sixteen years old?

You can't, really.
How do you make it better?
You get high.  That's what you do.  At least, that's what I did.

And you teach yourself to stay awake.  I felt like I should.

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