1 – In the Car
We’re driving to this canyon trail along the Colorado River that ends in some hot springs. It’s the most familiar thing, Daddy, sitting in silence next to you on our way to a trail or a sauna – in this case both.
Is it ok that I still call you that? I like the truth of it, how it makes me feel aware of my childishness. Maybe when you go I’ll feel like an adult.
Sorry to bring up death so easily. Do you think about it? You call me morose, but I’m just saying what’s on my mind. You say you cried when your own father died, and that was the last time you cried.
Down the road, white bright sun… snow melting down the distant caramel crags… I’ve been mulling over my life since quitting the startup, and I welcome the cool objectivity of colors… earthy yellow desert lit up by blue sky.
It’s your 61st birthday, March 24, 2023.
In the car, you talk about your new pickle ball business and selling the buildings. I talk a bit about my job search, but mostly about music. I continue even after I know I’ve lost you.
When you would sit and talk with your father over a drink, was the air between you thinner? You who were born in the same country.
Now we find ourselves here, outside of Las Vegas, descending into a strange valley… the high water mark of Lake Mead and the water that’s left… the time that passes as we hurtle down the road.
Why so cynical?
You know, maybe I am. That’s why I didn’t want you to get into the real estate business – I’m dealing with people’s base needs, people at their worst, bad tenants, crooked politicians. I work in the gutter in a way.
I sit on this for a while, write it down. I don’t know who for. I’ve felt an odd responsibility to record my relationship with you, your fixation on land, money, and power. In the essay “Sauna,” I wrote about your love of the Godfather and the Gladiator and how Maximus runs his fingers wistfully through the dirt before battle, your love for “the romance of gravitas, competence, and brutal charisma.” I’ve said this so many times before, I thought I’d address this one to you.
I didn’t say it then, Daddy, but it speaks to me too. I watched a documentary about Miles Davis last week, and whenever they talk about “Miles,” I feel they’re talking about me, as he follows his music and ruthless ambition into fame and addiction and violence and, eventually, a broken marriage, a crashed Lamborghini, a final croaking creative push before his death. The anger of that man, the style and the grandeur.
Don’t worry, I don’t intend to live this way; it just speaks to me – the romance of the man who does what’s in his heart even if it kills him.
Things are different now. When I wrote that essay, I was a big child at home, finishing up college during the lockdown. I wanted to escape and live like Miles.
I have my own life now, in a bright room in San Francisco. I’m not an angry or forceful person. Sometimes I wish I were. Things are different, we can leave it at that.
Driving out of a city as manicured as Vegas, it’s a strange thrill to see bare infrastructure at the outskirts, the forests of pylons and rivers of high tension wires cutting through the landscape at an inhuman scale.
Living off the land… we all live off the land, don’t we.
2 – Down the Canyon
I keep checking to make sure you slide down the gaps safely. Odd to say, but I feel protective of you now, remembering how you used to lift my little body across the boulders in Red Rock Canyon. Wind blows at our backs.
We proceed gap by gap, pushing into the interior.
Finally, we start seeing trickles of water and algae. You bend to touch: hot. We walk past the steaming pools and make our way to the river. I take off my clothes and swim out through the snowmelt.
Basking on a rock, I feel a swell of pride over my stringy, muscly body. I wonder what your father would’ve thought seeing me like this, in the peak of my youth, walking barefooted over stones and swimming in cold water, deep in the American canyon – while his son, older than he ever lived to be, waves and smiles at me from the shore.
When Spencer proposed to Sabina, you responded in the family chat with a picture of your parents at their wedding. “Spencer is the same age as Dad in this picture.”
It was a shock – I’d seen the black-and-white photograph nearly every day of my childhood; it sat in the living room of every house. The man beaming at the day of his wedding seemed so far away – in another country, back in time, but also at a stage in life far in the future.
Now it bleeds into my life from the side, from a brother of mine.
Do you remember our talk about the uncanny patterns in our lineage, the repeated story of the powerful man who loses everything and starts over right around the age of 40? I’m proud of this tragedy, of the doctor and the politician and the businessman, swept through the Japanese occupation and the Korean War and the American Dream. And they were proud too, and hubristic, and probably cruel at times. I shudder at the image of your father in Vietnam.
And maybe in their off time they sat in the 찜질방 like us, swaggering silently between the boiling hot water and the ice cold.
And when you had that headache on that same spot on your temple where a stroke killed your father, I was scared like a little boy.
I don’t think I’m the one to repeat the story, soft and star-eyed and directionless. Maybe Spencer is. In the story we don’t know what happens to the brothers.
You’re calling to me from the shore. Your voice echoes in the canyon.
We go and sit in the hot water, and for a time our mission as men is one and simple and accomplished.
3 – The Way Up
As we approach the trailhead, the sound of the highway grows louder. Wires start appearing over the crags, and during the last leg a massive overpass appears in the distance, grungy and futuristic at once. An airplane cuts a line of smoke through the wires.
We pass right underneath the corrugated belly of the bridge. The sounds of invisible cars fly over like ghosts dragging their bodies over a guiro. Soon we can return to our lives, Daddy, but for a moment longer, we’re in the bloodstream.
Thanks everyone! Makes me really happy to know that a few close people are engaging deeply with this.
This may be my favorite piece thus far. Wonderful prose from a wonderful writer. I love this.