Unvarnished, unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to read previous chapters.
A shitty end to the day before the shitty day to end all shitty days (my words, not his)
Following graduation from San Bernardino High School, Dave spent the summer of 1973 working as a lifeguard at the high school swimming pool. A fun job where he enjoyed looking out for people and of course enjoyed the cute girls in bikinis.
Dave attended San Bernardino Valley College in the fall. He signed up to play Football as he had every fall since the 7th grade. Like many 18-year-olds, he didn’t really have a life plan yet. He had attended junior college as an easy way to defer those thoughts for a while and maybe find an idea along the way. It was also one way to extend his time playing the sport he loved. This year was a complete change up with a new school (college), new coach, new team. Some of the rivals from the past were going to be teammates. Definitely a change-up.
Fall can be VERY hot in Southern California. It is not uncommon for temperatures through October to remain over a hundred degrees. It doesn’t always happen, Dave braved another one more blazing hot Indian Summer football season playing with this new team .
Something had taken place that brought the team under question, and the entire season was going to be disqualified. I am not sure if it was recruiting practices or what but Dave was disappointed with everything about his experience playing that season. He was a great athlete, but he had no illusions of “going pro.” He was falling out of love with playing football and growing up quickly thinking about the answer to the “What am I going to do with my life?” question.
What would be next for him after football? He didn’t really love academia. Did he even need to attend college for the kind of job he thought he might obtain? Because he was such a physical being at that time, he considered himself to be in the “all brawn” category of the “all brawn and no brains” descriptive phrase commonly used to describe athletes. He had to explain what that phrase meant when I was a kid of about 10 in response to me asking him what he thought he might be doing if he hadn’t broken his neck. This was the first time I had a conversation with anyone about judgment or prejudice, people deciding who you are based on your physical attributes. He told me that he thought he may have applied to work for the Railroad as a dock worker or some physical type of job. I specifically recall that when he used this phrase, he never referred to himself as the ‘no brains’ part of the phrase.
He decided he was going to quit the team and focus on…growing up. He went to tell the coach. His coach unloaded a litany of obscenities at Dave from the top of his lungs the way only a football coach can. That reaction paired with our parents’ life lessons drilled into each of us that “if we start something, we have to finish it.” left Dave conflicted. He felt bad enough about the idea of quitting anything and left the coaches office feeling…pretty shitty.
Not all things were bad that day. Dave was a bit shy with girls. He was very popular with people in general but was a shy, gentle giant when it came to girls. He bravely made plans to watch TV at a girl named Susie Andrews house that night. Her parents were not home. His friends, Paul and Steve, joined him.
Paul was a year older than Dave. Paul changed schools in his junior year of high school due to boundary changes. They met playing baseball that year and just clicked. Steve was Paul’s cousin, who attended another high school in town. Dave and Steve met through Paul, another lifelong connection clicked. I don’t know if there were other girls at Susie’s house, but Dave said two friends were with him and Paul couldn’t remember when I asked him. Paul drove.
The boys had made themselves comfortable in front of the TV at her house. They spread out, had taken their shoes off…they got comfortable. For a while, they enjoyed the time spent visiting, watching TV. However, all good things must come to an end. It was bound to happen since her parents lived there. But, they came home, early. Quite unexpectedly early.
The boys were there unbeknownst to her parents and could not remain or simply leave via the front door because they would definitely cross paths. Susie panicked and suggested the boy’s exit out a window on the side of the house to escape undetected. The boys quickly grabbed their shoes and rushed out the window in the dark, barefoot.
Dave was the last one out the window. As he made that first step out into the dark, he stepped right into a fresh, warm, soft, pile of dog shit produced by what e could only imagine had to be a large-sized dog. He felt it squish in between his toes, filling every possible space imaginable. He felt the warmth. He detected a thick gooey texture. He shuddered with disgust.
Ahead of him, Paul and Steve sprinted their asses back to the car parked incognito a few houses away while Dave awkwardly limped and hopped, wiping his foot on the grass, in complete horror at having stepped in dog shit with his bare foot! He was embarrassed that it was not a very smooth way to end an evening when he was trying to connect with this girl he had a crush on. As he was telling me this story, I was crying with laughter, and could not pass up the opportunity to state the obvious, “OH MY GOD! Smoothe move Ex-Lax!”
Paul had started the car. Dave said it seemed like forever was stretched out between him and the car. Dragging his foot through the damp grass all the way back to the car, he finally made it, jumped in and shut the door. They sped off like a bat-outta-hell.
And THEN…Paul and Steve were slapped across the face with the stench of the lovely warm dog shit. The exceedingly fresh nature of its consistency, the way that it had oozed up between all of Dave’s toes made it impossible to have wiped all of it off without thoroughly washing his foot with some caustic cleanser. Paul and Steve were both retching with disgust and in hysterical laughter, relentless in their teasing Dave of “the world’s shittiest getaway.”
About a year before Dave left the building, I was meeting with him specifically to coach him through the writing development process for what should have been something like this book but of course, in his words. That is when he shared this warm dog shit between his toes story with me. He said “Of ALL the things to remember about physically feeling anything in this world, the irony of having stepped in warm dog shit being such a strong and memorable feeling before becoming paralyzed is annoying and hilariously ironic to me.” This is why I just loved this guy, his hilarious sense of humor and the was he just dealt with shit.
I was already laughing, but to see him relive the memory of that feeling with such a shudder of revulsion, and the hilarity of having to muffle his scream of horror because her parents were inside made me lose it. He played all the parts of the three people trapped in this small car perfectly, at full volume for accuracy. The expression of downturned frown with flared nostrils, head cocked to one side, holding very still as he portrayed Paul and Steve’s reactions, sensing something bad and internalized the information, were so perfect.
I laughed so hard at his physical comedy performance, how they recoiled in their horror and disgust by jerking his head back with those flared nostrils as they did from the smell slapping them across the face. Then dividing their reactions between disgust, hysterical laughter until they lost their breath. Then yelling at him in tandem, alternating and in tandem again as they were repeatedly laughing until they ran out of air was all beyond hilarious to me.
Dave was barely getting each sentence of the story out between running out of air himself in that high pitched, can’t finish a sentence because I am experiencing an uncontrollable fit of laughter, story-telling voice.
“And then Paul floored it,” (snickering with high pitched voice running out of air). Long quiet pause as he laughed hysterically, long since out of breath, trying to both breathe and continue telling the story. Keep in mind that his diaphragm does not work as efficiently as every else’s, so it was work to laugh this hard.
“And then the smell overtook us in the car.” (higher pitched, labored breathing due to lack of air laughter). “Oh God, the LOOKS on their FACES!” attempts to mimic the scowling faces of his friends while trying to hold that scowl for one second for comedic effect, failing terribly into more completely uncontrolled silent out of breath laughter.
I was writhing on the couch, holding my sides, hysterically laughing, coughing, wretching, running out of my own air, tears rolling down my cheeks as I was watching, listening and envisioning the story unfold. I was simply overcome by infectious laughter caused by him laughing so hysterically. It was unavoidable and why in the hell would I want to avoid this hilariousness anyway?
He reached a point where he was no longer making noise for more than a few moments he was laughing so hard and so far beyond breath. His face was red with a huge ear to ear smile chiseled on his face that was stuck. He practically convulsed from whatever you call that level of laughter that you are uncontrollably, unapologetically, crying, retching-but in a good way. I have yet to find a word that means this exactly. But that.
The story was hilarious on its own but watching him tell it, then lose all his breath, while his entire body got involved was even funnier, contagiously funny. He laughed himself into a full body spasm, which meant he was definitely having a great laugh. It happened every time he laughed really hard, and he never avoided laughing really hard. Oh My God, we laughed.
I laughed at him, laughing at himself. He knew that I was laughing at him for laughing at himself, and he laughed at himself harder. And then the long wind-down recovery hhhhhhhhuh to catch our breath, cleansed of dog shit tales of smooth moves.
This sort of perspective of his life is a typical day hanging out with Dave. He was so very easy to pass the time with, so easy to laugh at himself. He brought his best to every situation. He didn’t talk about the elephant in the room part of his life in any negative manner which is why it was decades and decades later that he told me this story of the day before “the shittiest day to end all shitty days,” again, my words, not his. He joked about STILL living with his parents when he gave the toast at their 52nd wedding anniversary. His levity is probably what saved him from going insane, that and his optimism that if he ever walked again, he was going to immediately take up ice hockey. “Now there’s an exciting sport!” My response to that was, “OH! Don’t play hockey, you have such nice teeth!”
I talked to Paul to confirm who this mystery girl was. After much laughter as he recalled the events of the evening, he said he thought it was Susie Andrews’ house they had visited. She lived next door to Brian’s girlfriend at the time, Lisa Pepitone. Brian confirmed that Dave had had a crush on Susie, and that would not have been out of the realm of possibilities. Steve unexpectedly passed away before I was able to laugh with him about his perspective on this and other adventures that I had questions about. I have a feeling someone will reach out to me after this is published to confirm or deny Susie Andrews had a dog that may or may not have been involved in this story.
At least the middle part of the evening had been nice. Things were about to get shittier. Way, way, way, way, way-way-way shittier.